Dr. Michael Orosco Discusses His Recent Journal Article on Math Problem Solving Interventions for English Language Learners

PUBLICATION HIGHLIGHT “Supplemental intervention for third-grade English learners with significant problem-solving challenges” Published in Learning Disabilities Research & Practice AUTHORS: Michael J. Orosco and Deborah K. Reed. Michael J. Orosco, Ph.d. Professor, Department of Educational Psychology University of Kansas, Director of AAI’s Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Neuroscience. Headshot, Michael J Orosco, Ph.D.

In the Achievement & Assessment’s Publication Highlight series, we chat with staff, researchers, and faculty across AAI about a recently published article.

In our inaugural edition, we speak with Dr. Michael J. Orosco, director of AAI’s Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Neuroscience. Dr. Orosco discussed the challenges faced by English Learners, his transition from public school educator to researcher, and his recent article, “Supplemental intervention for third-grade English learners with significant problem-solving challenges,” which appeared in the journal Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. Finally, he finishes up by briefly talking about his center.

About Michael J. Orosco

Michael J. Orosco, Ph.D., is a Department of Educational Psychology professor at the University of Kansas. He is also the director of the Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Neuroscience, where he leads the online graduate certificate program in Mind, Brain & Education. Dr. Orosco's interdisciplinary research includes developing a theoretical model of learning development for English learners with or without learning disabilities, including the social and cognitive mechanisms that moderate mathematical and literacy performance. In addition, his research program includes designing interventions to facilitate social and cognitive processes related to mathematical and literacy comprehension in English learners. Finally, his research program also includes enhancing the sustainability of social and cognitive mathematical and literacy interventions through professional development.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

AAI: Before we get into the study, can you give us some of your professional background, which sets the stage for the research?

Michael Orosco: My first career in education was as a public elementary school teacher in Colorado, focusing on bilingual education and bilingual special education at the elementary level. Spanish is my first language, and English is my second, so it was a natural fit for me to serve Hispanic children. I decided to pursue my PhD when the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was implemented, as I wanted to deepen my understanding of scientific research in education. Achieving a PhD was essential for this goal. One significant aspect of NCLB was identifying what instructional methods work in education. During my first few years of teaching, the experience was enriching but challenging. We attended meetings where teachers shared information about how and what to teach, but then we returned to our classrooms to teach with little or no guidance or emphasis on the scientific basis behind these teaching methods. I always wondered as a teacher, “Were there practices effective for English Learners?”

In the early 2000s, the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences began funding effectiveness studies to determine which evidence-based practices might facilitate student learning. However, I quickly realized that most of these studies were conducted on English-dominant speaking populations. Meanwhile, there was a growing English Learner (EL) population with very little research to support their specific needs. This realization prompted me to pursue a PhD. I stepped down from my position and enrolled in a PhD program with the intention of returning to the classroom after completing my degree. I performed well in my PhD program, and my advisor encouraged me to pursue a position as an assistant professor at an R1 university.

Consequently, I joined UC Riverside as an assistant professor. I started writing, secured some grants, and my career took off. For nearly 20 years, I have been building a research program focused on EL populations. Hispanic ELs are among the fastest-growing demographics in U.S. public schools, making my research highly relevant nationally. I enjoy my work and am committed to continuing to serve this population.

AAI: That sets the stage well. So, the broad challenge is that the education structure needs to be built to account for everybody.

Michael Orosco: Yes, I agree with that statement. We are in the early stages of developing a science of education specifically for English Learners (ELs). There are approximately 5 million ELs in our public education system. A significant challenge has been that we have predominantly tested evidence-based practices on English-dominant children and assumed these practices would automatically be effective for ELs. However, education is more than just a one-size-fits-all scenario, especially in our diverse classrooms. We are discovering that children learning English as a second language require differentiated instruction for these methods to be effective. My current study, which you are highlighting, addresses this need.

AAI: Can you briefly summarize the study covered in the article and its objective?

Michael Orosco: My study explored the impact of teaching comprehension strategies focused on evidence-based math and reading practices on third-grade English Learners' ability to solve word problems. Problem-solving skills are crucial for good algebra skills because they help develop cognitive areas such as logical thinking, conceptual understanding, cognitive flexibility, analytical abilities, and abstract thinking. In my study, I developed a supplemental intervention demonstrating how to read word problems, identify and restate the questions, differentiate relevant from irrelevant information, and collaborate with peers to apply problem-solving steps. The study contributes to the science of reading and math at the elementary level by highlighting the effectiveness of comprehension strategy instruction for English Learners with math learning difficulties. It emphasizes the importance of targeted, culturally responsive (differentiated) instruction. It provides evidence that structured, strategy-based interventions can significantly enhance problem-solving abilities in ELs at risk for math learning difficulties. These findings support the development of more effective educational practices and interventions for diverse student populations, ultimately aiming to improve academic outcomes in both reading and math for elementary ELs.

AAI: How does this connect to your Center on Culturally Responsive Educational Neuroscience?

Michael Orosco: This study aligns with the research mission of the Center on Culturally Responsive Educational Neuroscience by emphasizing the importance of culturally responsive teaching methods and tailored, differentiated, evidence-based interventions to meet the diverse needs of English Learners (ELs). The research highlights how comprehension strategy instruction, with evidence-based practices and culturally responsive pedagogy, can significantly improve the problem-solving abilities of third-grade ELs with math learning difficulties. The study demonstrates the effectiveness of targeted, differentiated instruction and underscores the need for educational practices attuned to students' unique cognitive, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. The findings of this study provide evidence-based support for the center's goal of promoting educational equity and improving academic performance for students from diverse backgrounds.

AAI: Also, can you tell me how your center’s graduate certificate in Mind, Brain, and Education is going? I hear it is going well.

Michael Orosco: It is going well, thanks to AAI support! I've had graduate students from various departments take my Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) courses. For example, this past semester, I had two PhD students from engineering complete my certificate, and they told me that they found it helpful for their future in management. I also have KU employees and individuals from out of state who have enrolled in my courses. Although my research is on Hispanic English Learners at the elementary level, I did not want to push my research agenda. I designed my certificate courses to be interdisciplinary, allowing me to cover a broad spectrum of educational neuroscience research relevant to human development. This approach ensures that students walk away with a sound conceptual MBE framework, which they can apply to their respective fields. The feedback from students taking my courses has been very positive. One of the advantages of how I designed my certificate is the ability to update it with new research continuously. AI has me thinking about how I can further improve my courses. Please click the Mind, Brain, and Education link to learn more about my certificate.

Publication Highlight: Article: “Supplemental Intervention for Third-Grade English Learners with Significant Problem-Solving Challenges”
Journal: Learning Disabilities Research & Practice
Authors: Michael J. Orosco, Deborah K. Reed.


Mon, 06/17/2024


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