WIDA Using $2.6M Grant to Help Rural Educators Improve Multilingual Literacy Instruction

December 14, 2021   |   By WIDA Communications

The grant will launch Project RESPECT, a program to help rural K-8 teachers provide effective, equitable literacy instruction.

The grant will launch Project RESPECT, a program to help rural K-8 teachers provide effective, equitable literacy instruction.

MADISON, Wis. – WIDA, an educational services organization within the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education, has been awarded $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education to launch Rural Educators Self-Reflecting and Practicing Equity-Centered Teaching with English Learners (Project RESPECT), a program that will help rural K-8 teachers provide effective and equitable literacy instruction for multilingual learners.

“Demographic trends tell us that multilingual learners are a growing segment of the student population in rural school districts,” says Diep Nguyen, principal investigator and director of educator learning, research and practice at WIDA, part of the school’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research. “Yet a lot of the professional learning resources available tend to cater to teachers serving multilingual learners in urban and suburban schools, which makes the lack of resources for our rural teachers an unmet need.”

In recent years, as many as one out of every seven students in the United States was enrolled in a rural school district, according to Rural English Learner Education, a 2020 research paper. In Wisconsin, where Project RESPECT is housed and where project staff will partner with teachers to pilot their work, 55% of all districts are rural, says Sarah Kemp, a researcher at UW–Madison.

“Rural districts that may have had one or two language learners 10 years ago may have several dozen language learners today,” says Elizabeth Cranley, co-principal investigator and WIDA researcher. “That’s why one of the things we hope to do through Project RESPECT is support teachers who are often linguistically and culturally different from the students they serve.”

Over the next four years, the Project RESPECT team plans to accomplish three key goals:

  • Design, develop, pilot and revise a hybrid professional learning program that helps teachers in rural districts in Wisconsin.
  • Increase the quality of literacy and language instruction in a small group of Wisconsin rural districts through teachers’ participation in the newly developed, hybrid professional learning program over a two-year period.
  • Improve selected outcomes related to school climate, multilingual student engagement and English learner academic performance in participating rural districts.

“I’ll know that Project RESPECT was successful if we have high levels of teacher engagement as we pilot the professional learning program,” Nguyen says. “I’m excited that our teacher partners are going to be experimenting and co-constructing right along with us. We get to learn from each other every step of the way!”

To ensure the professional learning program is sustainable and scalable to other states in the WIDA Consortium, the Project RESPECT team will design 16 online course modules, with eight modules on equity-focused teaching and eight on literacy and language development. The modules will be designed to use together as a stand-alone program, or as individual tools that can be incorporated into other professional learning offerings.

“We want the instruction to promote learning and meaning-making by building on students’ experiences and knowledge, as well as their linguistic, cultural and cognitive resources,” Cranley says. “At the end of the day, we hope to create something that tells our rural teachers and students around the country that they are not alone and that they are very much valued and supported.”