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Communicative strategies used by effective teachers in mathematics and literacy instruction
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IRN Start Date: May 1, 2015


The purpose of this IRN is to establish an international network of researchers who are investigating communicative strategies used by effective teachers when instructing linguistically diverse students. We would like to expand our current cross-cultural investigation of communicative strategies of primary grade teachers in the US and Israel to include and learn from other studies of P-12 teachers in other countries and cultures where linguistically diverse learners are being instructed. We hope to collaborate with additional international partners to examine the state of research in this field, synthesize our findings and identify areas for future investigation.


The research group proposing this IRN began its work together in 2011. The teacher educator-researchers that make up the current research group all work at universities that prepare teachers to work in classrooms with large numbers of linguistically diverse learners in the US and Israel. This IRN has the potential to engage experienced and emerging international scholars because this research topic is motivated by some important trends and policies in the field of teacher education and teacher assessment affecting educators and students in the United States, in Israel and throughout the world. In the US, we are in the process of implementing a national curriculum through the Common Core State Standards for Literacy and Mathematics (CCSS, 2012). Along with these standards for student learning, it is expected that teachers will be assessed on their effectiveness in producing student success. A similar trend is going on in Israel. While, on the surface this seems to be good idea for maintaining consistency and accountability in education, there are several important flaws in this approach.


One flaw is the assumption that effective teaching consists of a set of generic “best practices” defined by “educational experts” that can be implemented uniformly without regard for cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic differences (Danielson, 2012). We believe that effective teaching is what effective teachers actually do rather than what “experts” think they should do. Another flaw is the assumption that effective teacher behaviors will be the same across disciplines and that instructional strategies do not vary with academic content.  We know that an effective teacher is one who distinguishes the differences among learners and can adjust teaching strategies to suit the learner (Abbas, 2011).  It is our contention that before we can assess teachers’ effectiveness, we need to better understand what it is that constitutes effective teaching in varied contexts and cultures and that this needs to be done by studying effective teachers in a variety of schools and communities across specific subject areas.


This perspective is consistent with the work of Shulman (1987) who more than 25 years ago wrote a seminal paper about the kinds of knowledge and behaviors that teachers needed to possess and use in order to be effective practitioners who approached teaching with “educational reform” values that emphasized comprehension, reasoning, and reflection. He called for research that was based on actual observations in the context of specific teaching and learning situations of novice and expert teachers.  Shulman’s call was heeded by some educational researchers, but the majority of studies on what makes teachers effective tended to focus on documenting the occurrence of commonly agreed upon but pre-determined best practices of teachers rather than on direct observation of effective teachers to determine what these practices were (Beswick, Swabey, & Andrew 2008; D’Agostino & Powers 2009; Graeber 2005; Jamar & Pitts 2005; Konstantopoulos & Chung, 2011; Morris, Hiebert, & Spitzer 2009). Even when observations were done, teachers were compared on pre-determined behaviors and rated as demonstrating or not demonstrating them rather than on studying what the effective teachers actually did (Bohn, Roehrig, Pressley, 2004). Other studies found that when effective teachers were observed, not all used the same techniques even though specific techniques were expected to be indicators of highly effective teacher performance (Topping & Ferguson, 2005; Strong, Gargani, & Hacifazlioglu, 2011). Finally, previous research deals only with either performance in the literacy area or in the mathematics area, but not across both areas at the same time (Flynn, 2007; Hill, 2010).          


Globalization is a worldwide phenomenon that has created an environment that requires all teachers to be aware of the language variation within their classrooms as well as the required pedagogy to ensure that all students learn and prosper.  More than ever, equity in education needs to be addressed in classrooms where students are being educated in a language other than their native language.  Our research on teaching and learning with students of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages will provide information to create an awareness of the characteristics of linguistically diverse students as well as inform teacher educators about effective communicative strategies to implement in the classroom.   

By broadening our investigations to locations beyond Israel and one state in the US, we will develop a better understanding of effective teaching in multiple contexts. It will be interesting and helpful to educators to know the extent to which effective communicative strategies are unique to particular cultures and languages and the extent to which these strategies overlap and are common among different cultures. If we are to better understand and prepare teachers to be consistently effective practitioners with all students in these times of teacher accountability and evidenced-based practices, then we need to study the teachers who are considered to be effective and study these teachers in a variety of schools, cultures and communities.


Our research so far has focused on the communicative strategies used by effective teachers of linguistically diverse learners in primary grades in literacy and mathematics.  Effective teachers were identified by their principals and recommended for our study.  We interviewed and observed a total of 4 teachers of linguistically diverse learners – 2 in Israel and 2 in the US.  We videotaped 4 lessons for each teacher, 2 in literacy and 2 in mathematics.

Our active research group consists of the following researchers from the US and Israel:

Randa Abas, The Academic Arab College for Education and Western Galilee College, Israel

Dorothy Feola, William Paterson University, US

Rochelle Kaplan, William Paterson University, US

Geraldine Mongillo, William Paterson University, US

Ari Newman, Western galilee College, Israel

Vered Nusbaum-Vaknin, Western Galilee College, Israel


Our collaborative research has been presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA, Philadelphia, 2014) and at World Education Association (WERA, Edinburgh, 2014).  We have submitted papers for publication to: Teaching and Teacher Education and the 2016 WERA Yearbook.


Research Topic and Plan

Research Topic: Effective Teachers’ Communicative Strategies When Working with Linguistically Diverse Learners

Our research group already has a successful track record of collaboration in a variety of spaces, including virtual spaces (e.g. skype,), email, conference calls, face to face at each other’s campuses and at conferences where we have co-presented on our work (AERA, WERA). We have convened working conferences at both WGC (2012) and WP (2013, 2014) to visit classrooms of teachers in our study, review each other’s classroom videos and reach consensus on how we would code communicative interactions. The goal of the IRN is to expand our research on effective teachers’ communicative strategies when instructing linguistically diverse students to include other cultural contexts and examine similarities and differences or unique and universal features of these communications.


Expected Outcomes

At the conclusion of this IRN, we intend to prepare a report that will 1) synthesize the state of knowledge, 2) share research findings from across international partners and, 3) make recommendations for future research directions which may include:

a)      identification of communicative strategies used by effective teachers of linguistically diverse learners

b)      an examination of the complexity of diglossia and its impact on effective  teaching and learning within specific populations

c)      design for an observation instrument and a preliminary categorization system to better assess these issues

d)      description of how we will undertake new research, collect or examine new data, develop or advance new methods, convene meetings or conferences, or stimulate new collaborations

Our plan is to engage experienced and emerging global researchers in looking closely at effective classroom teachers’ communicative strategies as they work successfully with linguistically diverse and non-linguistically diverse learners.  We do expect to collect and analyze new data from our international partners and will convene at least one in-person meeting annually at a location convenient to the partners.  Our expectation is that we will also have a working meeting at the annual WERA conferences in 2015-2017 where we also will plan to share our research with other interested researchers. Further it is anticipated that through this collaboration:

a)      We will increase the knowledge base through open and ongoing dialogues with international partners about current issues in the teaching and learning of linguistically diverse learners.

b)      There will be a broader understanding of best practices employed by effective teachers of linguistically diverse learners

c)      We will disseminate this knowledge world-wide to researchers and teacher educators so they may prepare future teachers for the linguistically diverse students they will encounter in their classrooms through publications, WERA Focal meetings, and WERA website


Current participant list:

Randa Abas

Dorothy Feola

Rochelle Kaplan

Geraldine Mongillo

Ari Newman

Vered Vaknin-Nusbaum


Recruitment of other Researchers

a). We would invite other experienced and emerging scholars who are interested in this topic and are attending annual AERA and WERA conferences to learn about our research at an information session.  

b). We would invite faculty from our already established international partnerships to participate as co-researchers and attend AERA and WERA Focal meetings.  William Paterson University has partnerships with universities in Belgium, The Netherlands and Namibia. Western Galilee College has partnerships with other universities in the US, Germany and Canada.

c). All of us work with graduate students (master’s and doctoral level) who are interested in this topic and we would invite them to participate by conducting their own research and by attending and sharing their thesis research at AERA and WERA.


Co-conveners of this IRN:

Dr. Geraldine Mongillo and Dr. Vered Vaknin

Dr. Geraldine Mongillo is interested in the characteristics of effective elementary language arts and mathematics teachers and the communicative strategies used by teachers of non-native language learners. In collaboration with colleagues from William Paterson University, Haifa University, and Western Galilee College, the questioning techniques of effective elementary language arts and mathematics teachers were studied and results were presented at juried conferences including AERA and WERA. This partnership will present a paper at the WERA conference in Budapest, September, 2015, using data that were collected in both US and Israeli elementary classrooms of linguistically diverse learners. The focus of this study was to understand the methods used by these teachers to help their students comprehend content when taught in a language other than their first language. Dr. Mongillo’s other research focuses on language and literacy acquisition for P-Adult populations.  She has published studies concerned with at-risk college freshmen and pre-service teachers that suggested strategies to improve expository writing skills (Mongillo & Wilder, 2012; Wilder, & Mongillo, 2007). These studies implemented an interactive online computer based writing program that required the participants to write descriptive passages about the images viewed online and the other participants had to guess, based on the description, what visual was being described. Further studies focused on employing techniques to help struggling college freshmen acquire academic writing skills. The use of hand held devices to tweet were used to help participants organize and outline ideas before writing (Hong,  Mongillo, & Wilder, 2011; Wilder, Hong, & Mongillo, 2012). Related to the connection between literacy and technology, the use of new media literacy projects for P-Adult learners was studied (Lawrence & Mongillo, 2010).  This study examined the effectiveness of various digital projects used by in-service teachers in their classrooms. More recently two book chapters were published regarding the efficacy of using i-Pad apps to teach literacy skills and strategies (Lawrence, Hong, Donnantuono, & Mongillo, 2015; Hong, Lawrence, Mongillo, Donnantuono, 2014).  These research based chapters provided explicit methods for teachers to use i-Pad apps to target instruction for struggling readers. In addition, Dr. Mongillo was involved in several studies that examined best practices for the preparation of reading specialists (Lawrence, Mongillo, & Hong, 2013; Malu, Lawrence, & Mongillo, 2008; Mongillo, Lawrence, & Hong, 2012). These studies explored the empowerment of teachers as leaders as well as preparing leaders to work with diverse populations. Two current projects that are in preparation also examine the cultivation of teacher and school leaders.   


Dr. Vered Vaknin-Nusbaum, Ph.D. is a senior lecturer and researcher in the department of Education, Western Galilee College and research associate, University of Haifa. She also is the chair of the Davison Center of Learning Disabilities and Literacy. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students topics related to reading, reading acquisition, and learning disabilities. Over the last two decades she systematically studied questions related to the processing of written language by typical and poor readers and the way specific characteristics of the Hebrew orthography and morphology modify the reading process. She participated in an international language and reading project funded by the NIH with researchers from the US.  In the past five years, Dr. Vaknin collaborated with faculty in the US and Israel to investigate the communicative strategies of effective elementary teachers. Dr. Vaknin’s other research focuses on the ability to perform phonological distinction by typical and dyslexic Hebrew readers.  She has published studies concerning readers with reading problems and has suggested theoretical explanations regarding phonological and phonetic perception (Berent, Vaknin & Galaburda, 2013). Dr. Vaknin and her colleagues have also investigated cognitive aspects of reading Hebrew among adult readers (Vaknin & Miller, 2014; Miller & Vaknin, 2013). One of the research questions examined the way pointed Hebrew, which is considered shallow orthography, is processed relative to unpointed Hebrew which is deep orthography.  Findings regarding the contribution of diacritics to reading and to the involvement of short term memory in reading may help to understand the cognitive processes involved in reading.  In 2011, Dr. Vaknin and her colleague Dr. Shimron studied the contribution of morphological awareness to reading comprehension among Hebrew elementary school readers. The findings suggest that there are different types of morphological awareness involved in reading comprehension and that readers with low morphological awareness are characterized with poor reading ability. These results raise the possibility that cultivation of morphological awareness is needed in order to improve students’ reading achievement.  Another aspect of these findings may relate to the use of language by teachers in classrooms in different content areas – an aspect we would like to explore further in this IRN


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