December 2021 Faculty Highlight: Tim Caccopola, MS

Meet Tim Caccopola, MS, is the Coordinator of the Study Skills programs, faculty of The Windward Institute, and coordinates The Research Process: Essential Skills for Academic Success, a course for non-Windward students.

1. Tell us about your professional background.

In 2005, I earned my undergraduate degree in history from Siena College and went on to pursue a dual Master’s in both Secondary and Special Education from Long Island University in 2011.

Like most of my colleagues, I started my Windward career in teacher training program, working with several amazing, well-versed social studies and study skills teachers. This allowed me to effectively absorb and eventually implement renowned, research-based Windward pedagogy of direct instruction and multisensory practices into my own classes. Beginning as a 5th and 8th grade social studies teacher, as well as a study skills instructor in 8th grade, take on more classes, and work with a remarkable team of language arts and social studies coordinators to refine my lessons. After building an educational career as a primary history and study skills teacher, I assumed the role of Coordinator of the Study Skills program for both Westchester and Manhattan campuses. This current school year marks my 16th year at Windward, where I continue to teach and mentor new faculty in their instruction of the Study Skills program. Furthermore, I continue to teach classes during our Windward Summer Program and serve as the instructor and advisor to our winter Saturday course; The Research Process: Essential Skills for Academic Success.

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2. In your experience, what has been the value of implementing the Study Skills curriculum with students, both at The Windward School and through The Research Process: Course for non-Windward Students? How does it benefit students, both with language-based learning disabilities and those without that diagnosis?

At the start of each school year, students will often display a looming sense of the forthcoming academic expectations, especially the study skills program, which requires students to extensively research a historical topic and write four persuasive essays. Many will shriek after viewing sample research projects from former students that highlight the comprehensive list of steps involved in accomplishing a formal research project in its entirety.

By the end of the first quarter, however, it is safe to say that students start to see the real purpose or value behind this preparatory course. After explicitly modeling our program through a direct and systematic instructional approach, most students begin to exude a renewed sense of confidence in their abilities to plan and write an organized research paper. Subsequently, each quarter thereafter, students employ these strategies learned from the beginning of the year with a lot more independence.

It always amazes me to see that by the end of the second semester, particularly within the 4th quarter, my students demonstrate a firm understanding of this multi-procedural program. Most are truly unaware of their true potential and what they can accomplish within an entire school year of taking the Study Skills course. Seeing students provide more critical analysis to the research or actively infusing textual evidence from a variety of sources into their writing, I am always in awe of the progress they have made in completing such a specialized class.

For non-Windward students, teaching a course in the wintertime for four Saturdays also provides me with a chance to explore the possibility of teaching a broader range of topics to students from different age groups, and a wider range of students who may or may not be diagnosed with dyslexia or other language-based learning disabilities.

The Study Skills Program continues to offer a unique and disciplined approach for learning new methods in research and writing skills for all students. Teachers are methodical in their delivery in breaking down every facet of the research and writing process with great care and purpose.  Adopting close-reading strategies, the instructors of our program continuously evaluate their students’ comprehension and provide valuable insight to enable higher-level thinking and more sophistication into their writing.

3. Give us background of the Study Skills curriculum within The Windward School and The Research Process: Course for non-Windward Students that occurs every winter.

In The Windward School's study skill curriculum, students complete four historical-based research papers throughout the school year. Since the course corresponds with the 8th and 9th grade social studies curriculum, topics selected by teachers often reflect the themes discussed in their history classes. Throughout the first two quarters of the school year, teachers provide a direct instructional model to emphasize the critical steps involved in completing a persuasive and cohesive research essay. Over the course of the year, teachers transition from teaching biographical models to then building research on major historical events connected to American and World History.  Towards the end of the second semester, students begin to actively apply the skills learned from the beginning of the year. Based on the needs of the students, they eventually work towards completing a research project exclusively on their own, or with minimal teacher guidance. Teachers also instruct students to create meaningful PowerPoint presentations by utilizing their research to effectively present information to their peers.  

In collaboration with The Windward Institute, a course of the Study Skills program titled The Research Process: Essential Skills for Academic Success is offered to all non-Windward students every winter over four Saturday sessions at the Westchester Middle School campus and Manhattan campus. These four sessions provide participants with a foundation for enhancing their research and writing skills, as well as introducing essential organizational and time management techniques that can be useful for higher education.   

 4. What will students gain from The Research Process: Course for non-Windward Students? What are some specific and vital skills students need to successfully write a research-based paper?

Similar to constructing an outline to draft a paragraph or creating step by step procedures to solve algebraic equations, researching and drafting an essay always involves a formulaic approach. When completing the Research Process: Course for non-Windward Students, students discover how to apply these strategies for research and writing to their own in-school assignments. Given the structure and time frame of this four-session course, students often make the connection that they can also meet appropriate due dates of a lengthy research project assigned by their teacher. Most will recognize that by simply building enough time in between their weekends, they can ultimately produce a solid final product. Moreover, students become aware that by maintaining good organizational habits, like keeping an orderly binder of all materials necessary for their research, they will achieve greater success in their future academic undertakings.