Karen Murphy, distinguished professor of education (educational psychology) at Penn State, and a multi-university/institute team has won a Lyle Spencer Research Award to Transform Education. The award is just shy of $1 million.
Murphy will be working with a multi-university collaborative led by Suzanne Donovan, Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), and Catherine Snow, Harvard University, on a project titled, "Academically Productive Talk: Strengthening the Infrastructure for Research and Practice." The project will explore the nature of academically productive talk, as well as conditions that support such talk, with the goal of enhancing teaching and learning in classrooms as well as preservice teacher preparation.
"What's particularly exciting is that this project brings together intellectually rigorous scholars from across education whose research focuses on the use of discussion to enhance teaching and learning. I truly believe that our research will be transformative, and I could not be more thrilled," said Murphy, who is also a Social Science Research Institute cofunded faculty member.
"Both the research knowledge base and 21st century education standards support a major shift in instructional practice — one that requires students to engage in explaining their thinking and making and defending arguments. Despite its demonstrated contribution to learning, talk-based pedagogy remains rare in today's classrooms," she said.
The Spencer award will support research by the Strategic Education Research Partnership Institute and a diverse team of researchers with expertise on academically productive talk, who will collaborate to create a video database and instrument-sharing site to promote situated research on classroom talk capable of directly informing classroom practice; to conduct research on the features of classroom talk that make it academically productive; and to provide annotated video resources for teachers and those who prepare them professionally that will support the development of teacher expertise in talk-based pedagogy.
Ultimately, the resulting video-based research will provide transformative understandings for researchers and resources for teachers interested in improving academic discourse in their classrooms.
Murphy’s research, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, focuses on the role of critical-analytic thinking in the processing of disciplinary content, including the development and implementation of curricular interventions that maximize the interactive effects of reasoning and classroom discussion on teaching and learning. Her ongoing projects explore ways to enhance teacher educators' discussion-intensive pedagogy with undergraduate preservice teachers with a specific focus on elementary mathematics, and students' high-level comprehension and content area learning through classroom discussion in elementary language arts and mathematics as well as high school physics and chemistry. Murphy also has substantive international collaborations exploring classroom discussion as a mechanism for promoting students' critical-analytic thinking in South Africa, Taiwan and Switzerland.
Donovan is the founding executive director of SERP, an education research, development and implementation organization incubated at the National Academies. SERP operates long-term, "field site" partnerships with school districts and recruits interdisciplinary teams of researchers to work on problems of practice. SERP work spans content areas in K-12 education, including science, mathematics, content-area literacy, leadership, and school and district organization.
Snow, the Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is an expert on language and literacy development in children, focusing on how oral language skills are acquired and how they relate to literacy outcomes. Her current research activities include a study of how Boston Public School early childhood classrooms are supporting children's development, and participation in a longstanding research-practice partnership (the Strategic Education Research Partnership) that is developing curricular tools to support teachers in introducing innovative classroom practices.
Other team members are Jonathan Osborne, Stanford University; Abby Reisman, University of Pennsylvania; Cathy O’Connor, Boston University; Leslie Duhaylongsod, Salem State University; and Shireen Al-Adeimi, Michigan State University.
The Spencer Foundation has been a leader in funding education research since 1971 and is the only national foundation focused exclusively on supporting education research. The Lyle Spencer Research Awards require applicants to articulate how their research project is intended to contribute ultimately to improvements in practice. Proposals also are evaluated for their potential to be transformative for the field.