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UW Professors Awarded $1.7 Million Grant for Literacy Research Program

April 8, 2009
Jim Baumann and Patrick Manyak

Two University of Wyoming College of Education professors have been awarded a three-year, $1.78 million research grant to develop and evaluate a comprehensive approach to vocabulary instruction for upper-elementary school students.

The U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences awarded the grant to co-principal investigators Jim Baumann, the Wyoming Excellence in Higher Education Endowed Chair in Literacy Education, and Patrick Manyak, associate professor of elementary and early childhood education.

Their project, "Development of a Multifaceted, Comprehensive Vocabulary Instructional Program for the Upper Elementary Grades," will be conducted with a third member of the research team, Camille Blachowicz, a faculty member at National-Louis University in Skokie, Ill. She will supervise research work in Chicago-area schools.

UW's research team, which is expected to include at least two graduate assistants, will work with Fort Collins, Colo., teachers and fourth- and fifth-grade students.

Blachowicz will conduct parallel research in classrooms based in Evanston, Ill. Conducting the study at dual sites allows comparisons between classrooms in a large, urban area in the central United States and classrooms in a growing, increasingly diversifying area in the Western U.S., the two UW professors say.

The project's goal is to identify effective vocabulary instructional strategies both for children who speak English as their first language and for an ever-increasing school-age population of students who come to school speaking a language other than English.

A desire to explore the needs of linguistically diverse students led to the selection of school districts in Chicago and northern Fort Collins, both enroll significant proportions of English language learners, the UW professors say.

"Research indicates there are huge gaps in vocabulary knowledge between the bottom quartile of kids on entrance to school and the upper quartile of kids," Manyak says.

A four-component vocabulary program developed by University of Minnesota Professor Michael Graves, who serves as a consultant on the UW professors' project, will provide the framework. Graves' approach to vocabulary instruction includes providing students rich and varied language experiences, teaching individual words, teaching word-learning strategies and promoting word-consciousness.

The three-year time frame -- from fall 2009 through summer 2012 -- enables researchers to engage in a cycle of program development, feasibility testing and program revision for each year of the grant. The time frame also provides opportunities for some longitudinal data collection, as students move from one grade to the next.

"When programs are implemented over time, they are more likely to demonstrate instructional power," Baumann says. "That is one reason for having multiple grade levels involved."

"Promoting the vocabulary development of English learners is a huge conundrum in education and in research," Manyak says. "We have known for 25 years that vocabulary is the critical variable when it comes to long-term achievement of English learner in our schools."

At the end of the grant, the UW researchers and their colleagues will have a vocabulary instructional program ready for evaluation. At that time, they will apply for another federal research grant to test the effectiveness of their program against alternate approaches to teaching reading vocabulary.

For more information, contact Baumann at (307) 766-6366 or or Manyak at (307) 766-2423 or e-mail

Posted on Wednesday, April 08, 2009

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