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UGA researchers use area schools as study site
Group aims to spark classroom conversation
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The University of Georgia has been running a study in local schools since the beginning of the year and hopes to see the effort come to fruition as it progresses.

Researchers from UGA have used Gainesville City Schools and Hall County Schools as a test site for their "Instructional Conversation" study, aimed to jump-start intellectual conversation in today's classrooms.

"This strategy has been around a long time," said Karen Samuelsen, a research professor at UGA. "Most teachers who see it would say, ‘Oh, that's just best practices.' But it's never really been studied in a way that meets the evidence standards that the government wants to see."

What Samuelsen and other UGA researchers have done is take a $2.9 million grant from the Institute of Education Services and used the money in an attempt to determine the effectiveness of the pedagogy.

The idea behind "Instructional Conversation" is to spark an educational dialogue between students and teachers, especially in a small group setting.

The focus is mainly on English-language learners in upper elementary grades.

"What we need to do is get kids talking in the classroom using academic language - having conversations like adults have conversations where you question each other, you ask why," said Samuelsen.

She said that English-language learners have a strong grasp of "conversational language," but that way of communicating does not translate well when students take tests.

"Sometimes we mistake that for meaning they are going to be fine in the classroom because they have this conversational language," Samuelsen said. "What they don't have is this academic language."

The program also aims to initiate broader, more in-depth conversations in the classroom, modeling an upper-level college classroom.

Researchers began training volunteer teachers last summer in techniques to implement this pedagogy into their classrooms. Those teachers, or "treatment" group, will have their students' test scores compared to the "control" group at the end of next year.

"In terms of our study, we actually call this our practice year," said Samuelsen. "Practice meaning it's the time for teachers to really become experts."

Samuelsen will present some anecdotal information to the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education tonight, but says the teachers in the treatment group have reacted positively.

"They have found that the English language learners are talking more and they feel like their kids are starting to converse more," she said. "So they're jazzed. They really feel like this is working."


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