KU Center for Research on Learning

KU Center for Research on Learning

Our R&D Focus


Student sitting at a desk writing with a pen on a piece of paper.

How we support adolescent literacy and learning
Since 1978, we have worked with schools and communities, with classroom teachers, students, and service organizations to tackle the serious challenges of improving literacy and learning among the nation’s adolescents. We have conducted extensive research on the type of instruction needed to ensure that students are ready for and can succeed in college or other demanding postsecondary options.

Strategic learning, effective instruction
Our Strategic Instruction Model™ (SIM™) is a research-validated literacy program that helps adolescents learn how to learn, providing a means for them to achieve independence and success. SIM consists of a Learning Strategies Curriculum that responds to the need for direct, explicit instruction for adolescents with learning disabilities and a set of Content Enhancement Teaching Routines that promote effective instruction in academically diverse classes. Learning Strategy instruction focuses on helping students become active learners by teaching them how to learn and how to use what they have learned to solve problems and be successful. We have developed and validated learning strategies for reading; studying and remembering information; writing; improving assignment and test performance; effectively interacting with others; motivation; and math. Content Enhancement is an instructional method that uses powerful teaching devices to organize and present content in an understandable and easy-to-learn manner. Content Enhancement Routines help teachers select and transform key information so that all students can master critical course content. In addition, many of our routines promote critical thinking and reasoning by asking students to make connections to what they already know and to apply new information to real-world situations. Our teaching routines assist teachers in planning and leading learning; exploring text, topics, and details; teaching concepts; and increasing student performance.

Two female students working together at a desk with one helping the other.

Concentrating on what’s best for students
Our Content Literacy Continuum™ (CLC™) is a framework that helps teachers and administrators focus their efforts through the lens of what’s best for students. CLC provides a way of thinking about content demands and the fragmentation inherent in secondary education, minimizing their effects on student achievement. CLC describes five levels of instruction and support—from general education classroom instruction to the therapeutic intervention of a speech-language pathologist—that should be in place in every school, providing guidance in making instructional decisions to help all students achieve at their academic best. CLC leverages evidence-based interventions and programs to meet student needs. It is a data-driven solution customized to meet the unique needs of each school or district. Importantly, CLC fosters partnerships among professional developers, teachers, and administrators, drawing on the strengths and expertise of each to improve the educational climate throughout the school or district.

Policy Work
Center for Research on Learning staff members sit on several national policy boards that focus on adolescent literacy and education. Most recently, Daryl Mellard, director of the Center’s Division of Adult Studies, was appointed to the Committee on Learning Sciences: Foundations and Applications to Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Center director Don Deshler is a member of the National Institute for Literacy Advisory Board, the National Governors Association Adolescent Literacy Advisory Council, Carnegie Corporate of New York’s Advancing Adolescent Literacy Advisory Council, and the Alliance for Excellent Education Adolescent Literacy National Advisory Council, among other national leadership positions.

Technology in education
Two of our divisions focus their efforts exclusively on using technology to support instruction. ALTEC—committed to empowering learners of all types and ages through technology—develops such key literacy supports as instructional web-based resources, program supports, and scaleable online assessment. The e-Learning Design Lab explores new uses of technology to enhance learning environments. For example, its Online Academy Modules are designed to better prepare our nation’s future reading teachers, while its Blending Assessment with Instruction Program offers online student lessons and tutorials in math aligned with state and national curriculum standards.

Professional development methods
We are committed to ensuring that the results of our studies have lasting meaning. Based on our research results, we develop products that teachers and students can use successfully to improve student achievement. We also continue to explore an array of methods for getting these materials into the hands of those who need them. We have established and continue to nurture an international network of professional educators. These individuals, members of our SIM International Professional Development Network, work with districts, schools, teachers, state departments, and colleges and universities to prepare others to effectively use our materials. One of our divisions, the Kansas Coaching Project, is a leader in the field of instructional coaching. This on-site, continuing professional development helps teachers overcome daily obstacles to the adoption of new instructional methods. We supplement our face-to-face professional development activities with web-based applications and other multimedia supports.

Results
Before we promote new instructional procedures resulting from our research, they must meet our rigorous standards: Every instructional procedure must be palatable for teachers or they won’t adopt it for classroom use. Procedures must be powerful enough to make a difference for low-achieving students and must be perceived as valuable by high- and average-achieving students. Students must be able to use skills and strategies in a variety of settings and situations. Finally, our procedures must result in socially significant gains for students. A procedure that results in an increase in performance from 20 percent to 40 percent might be statistically significant, but it is not socially significant because the student is still failing.

Stories of success and innovation

Teacher Quality: Changing how teachers teach is a significant challenge as educators move toward adopting research-based instructional methods and materials for classroom use. A multitude of factors can inhibit teachers’ ability to master new practices. The Teacher Quality project studies the effectiveness of instructional coaching as a means of overcoming this challenge.

Striving Readers: Fusion Reading™, a comprehensive program designed by the Center’s researchers to significantly improve the reading performance of adolescents who have fallen far behind their peers, is the centerpiece of our Michigan Striving Readers project. Fusion Reading bundles strategies for identifying and understanding individual words as well as for understanding entire written passages into one comprehensive package.

Soaring to New Heights: This semester-long course helps high school students with disabilities stretch beyond preconceived notions about their futures and construct new, realistic visions and goals for themselves. The course is built around the concept of students learning to see themselves as capable and competent while developing the skills they need to make a successful transition from high school to work or more education.

Technology Rich Classrooms: This program enables qualifying school districts to purchase technology for their classrooms and learn how to use it effectively with the assistance of a job-embedded coach or facilitator.


Each year, the Center awards the SIM Impact Award to recognize a school or school district for successful implementation of the Strategic Instruction Model™. These videos tell the stories of the past three award recipients and how SIM has changed the way teachers teach and students learn in their schools.

Holland (Mich.) Public Schools, 2010

Connecticut Technical High School System, 2009

Alameda (Calif.) Unified School District, 2008