Episode 47 - Exploring Whole Child Approaches to Reading with Yaacov Petscher, PhD
Yaacov Petscher, PhD is Professor of Social Work, Associate Director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University, and Deputy Director of the National Center on Improving Literacy. His research interests include screening and identification, translational science, and the intersection among the science of reading, quantitative methods, and technology for building tools to support reading development. His work with collaborators has been recognized with awards from the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, International Literacy Association, American Education Research Association, MIT Solve Challenge, and the Florida Educational Research Association among others. His current research concerns the early identification of reading disabilities and the role of trauma in reading and language development.
Dr. Petscher is a member of The Windward Institute’s advisory board and delivered the 2023 Robert J. Schwartz Memorial Lecture at The Windward School. You can watch the full video recording here: https://www.thewindwardschool.org/the-windward-institute/courses-workshops-lectures/lectures/windward-schwartz-lecture
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Welcome to READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast. In this series, prominent researchers, thought leaders and educators share their work, insights and expertise about current research and best practices in education and child development. READ is produced by The Windward Institute. I'm your host, Danielle Scorrano, and in this episode I am joined by a research rockstar, like literally a rockstar. Dr. Yaacov Petscher. Dr. Petscher, hello. How are you?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: I'm doing well. I mean, maybe not literally a rockstar. I would love if that was part of my bio as if I had some kind of like hit single in Japan or Argentina. So yeah, let's actually just go like, there's a sense of intrigue with literal rockstar, so let's roll with it. I like that.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Well, now I have a question for you. If you were to have a hit single about your research, what would it be?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Oh gosh. Well, so I'm gonna totally pivot on this. So, I like to have fun in science and you know, there's the ORCID, there's like these IDs that are specifically tied to [00:01:00] scientists. And so they asked if they could, the ORCID group asked if they could do an introduction video for how research can sign up by using my profile, because I have a bit of a distinct name and I'd forgotten in my bio, I actually did a poem as like my bio. And so I like being creative. I like doing fun, alliterative things. It would be, I would probably want to do some kind of like Weird Al kind of like research song with an accordion and weird kind of instrument. So maybe less about content and more about style.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I like to follow songs too based on style. So now I'm already thinking about how that would go if we had Harry, who, my colleague who does a lot of our audio visual expertise, he'd be adding in some sort of Weird Al vibe right now. But we'll have to say that maybe for another time.
Yeah. Well it's great to see you. I know you recently were at The Windward School at our Westchester Lower School campus, delivering the 2023 Robert J. Schwartz Memorial lecture which the title of that was [00:02:00] exploring "Whole Child Approaches to the Identification and Support of Children with Dyslexia," which we'll dive into more.
I'm really excited, but I really want to read your formal bio because I know there's probably a lot of our listeners out there that have learned from you. I know that speaking of rock stars, you had a room when you were at Plain Talk at New Orleans this year. Our director, Alexis Pochna, had said that people were waiting in the hallway just to hear you.
So, I mean, move over Taylor Swift, who had people in the parking lot listening to her concert. We had people in hallways listening to your presentation. So,
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: That is the worst false equivalence I've ever heard. Like, please don't ever like me with, with TSwift like she is many, many echelons above, but I appreciate the sentiment. Like I can tell my 15 year old about that and she'll be simultaneously be thrilled and roll her eyes.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh my gosh. That's amazing. All right, so no Swifties, I mean, I'm glad to see we're both Swifties., but, I'll jump into your bio. So Dr. Yaacov [00:03:00] Petscher is a professor of social work, associate director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University, and the deputy director of the National Center on Improving Literacy.
So his research, your research is actually all about intersections. So you dive into the intersection of screening and identification, the role of translational science, which really gets me jazzed. And this intersection among the science of reading, quantitative methods and technology for building tools to support reading development.
So your work has involved numerous collaborators, which has been recognized with awards from the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, International Literacy Association, American Education Research Association, MIT Solve Challenge, and the Florida Educational Research Association among so many others.
Dr. Petscher's current research concerns the early identification of reading disabilities and the role of trauma in reading and language development. So I'm really excited to talk about trauma today in this conversation. So with that, let's turn the page to this conversation. So see what I [00:04:00] did there, Dr. Petscher? READ, page, bookmarks. I know. I loved it.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: I'm here for puns. I
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I try. So let's start with, tell us your story, your professional journey leading to where you are now.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Oh, boy. So it, it's actually a bit of a bit of a maze in terms of how I got into the science of reading. So, I was actually, I was doing a PhD, in Developmental Psychology, Master's degree in statistics and really wanted to do therapy in many ways. Like to start out, actually I was doing a PhD in counseling school psychology. That's where I started, but was always interested in data. I soon realized that I didn't want to vocationally like kind of work with people on difficult things full-time. I just felt like I was going to get burned down, so I really felt sort of like called out of that, and so I dropped out of my DOC program. While I was in grad school, most of my work, just working through grad school was actually social work in nature, even though I didn't really know a lot about social work. So I was working at like Big Bend Hospice as a grief and loss counselor. I had worked as [00:05:00] a counselor for youth that were in sort of like juvenile detention centers.
So that was like a lot of my like grad school based work. So while I was doing that, pursuing PhD, just felt like that wasn't the line of work for me, dropped out, asked a friend because I wanted to get into something that was more data related. Like, I really liked people as data more than just kinda like one-on-one kinds of sessions sort of things.
And they told me about this new reading center that started. And so I interviewed, and I got a job, part-time as the assistant to the director of research. And so this is when like reading first, was spinning up, and FCRR was responsible for kind of doing technical support to the eastern region.
So I was working with the director of research who reported to Joe Torgeson, on analyzing data, related to kind of how states were doing in their screening, progress monitoring, end of your assessment data. And it was really funny because [00:06:00] people all the time would kind of say, you get to work with Joe Torgeson and Rick Wagner.
And I was like, yeah, I know those names. I had no idea who any of these people were. It's like I'm just trying to work a job. But it was the best sort of like roundabout way to get into the science of reading that I never would've expected or anticipated. So really, really just sort of fell into it. That's the happiest fall I've ever taken.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Wow, that's really cool. I want to circle back to what you said, viewing people as data. It's interesting because I look at you and your work and read a lot of your work, I see you, and this is a phrase I kind of come up that I also identify with, but this connector of science and story, and I closed my eyes almost to see this cyclical nature of your career and your work is that yes you are connecting people and data, but you're also then connecting the data back to the people.
And unique part of your work is that you are able to break down large, complicated data sets. So I've seen you present on anywhere from screening to growth mindset [00:07:00] and then and you've been able to synthesize a lot of this into what teachers- me- and other educators, parents and other people in the education field into what do I do with this now?
And so that's leading me to what we've seen you present on recently is this whole child approach to reading and learning. So how did you lead from the science of reading then to studying whole child approaches to reading?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: That's a really good question. And you know that even when you say like one, it's a very nice compliment about being able to think about stories and it's nice when someone, sort of like receives the way you hope when you're communicating information that there are people that receive it that way.
That's something that, that honestly is a function of like Barbara Foorman, who was just an amazing and still is an amazing scientist and she was the PI on a regional educational lab and that forced me to have to think about how to write and speak to different audiences, less about talking about data with other scientists and more to had about talk about data with parents and with [00:08:00] teachers.
So that's been something that I've had to refine over like 20 something years. But the idea of a whole child has, it's actually really been born out of collaborations with so many scientists. That's really my favorite thing. That I get to do is work with brilliant scientists on their ideas, you know, Chris Schatschneider, who was my advisor in grad school, really kind of said as methodologists, we're sort of like data engineers. Like you have these people with really great theory, they're kind of like architects. They're creating blueprints of things. And then as engineers we come in as methodologists and say, well, you kind of have to do this, or this building really won't stand. So you have to learn how to communicate with principal investigators and brilliant theoreticians.
And I've just had the privilege to be able to work with so many amazing scientists working on so many aspects of the science, of reading that I think in their research and partnering on their work, looking at what. A lot of the limitations are when we get to discussion sections and we're talking about what works, [00:09:00] why didn't it work?
As we're seeing more papers, like Nicole Terry has been writing about this, a group of us at FCRR separately wrote about the idea of not moving past the idea of what works, but rounding that out to say what works for whom under what conditions, that I was just starting to get exposed to other theories and other ideas that then when I kind of saw whole child, which, you know, the definition of whole child, it's not very concrete yet, like, but it's a bit more encompassing that I thought maybe there's some of these constructs that are either part of what I'll call like popular psychology. And there's emerging evidence or there's other domains like trauma that you mentioned that maybe we haven't studied as much in terms of what role does that have and helping us understand why kids differ in reading and language. And so maybe as we're trying to think about the kinds of interventions that kids need, [00:10:00] not just the reading interventions and dosage and responsiveness, but like what a child needs from a gestalt, like a totality perspective. Maybe there's some of these other kinds of theories that can inform the idea of what works for whom under what condition. So, Linda Darling Hammond wrote a fantastic paper. She and her colleagues wrote a fantastic paper about whole child systems for schools, and one of the main premises of her paper and her colleagues' paper was that adversity affects learning. And so I was really drawn to that being in social work, and just being exposed in the college of social work to trauma and how that impacts adults, what that leads to in terms of long-term health education, other kinds of just social good indicators. It's like, I wonder if there's something to trauma. I wonder if there's something to growth mindset, as popular of a construct as it is, and so those have been two areas that with just other scientists, so like Jeannie Wanzek and Stephanie Al [00:11:00] Otaiba we had a grant looking at growth mindset, Jess Toste looks at motivation.
I think it there's all these other constructs that I think can help in inform our models of individual differences, why kids differ in reading that might lead to maybe, I don't want to say better, but just maybe more nuanced interventions of reading that would include maybe mindset or motivation or just other constructs.
So, that's kind of what, that it's sort of a more of a spiral as to what drew me to whole child. And I don't know that it's, I don't know that it's the answer. I think it's just a direction that would allow us to address like that more comprehensive aspect of like trying to reach all readers, maybe we just might need more.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: I often, when I'm in the podcast, I get this mind map in my brain, and so you may have to help me break this down as I start to flesh this out. But I think the first thing is I appreciate the unique perspective that you bring as a social worker first, [00:12:00] and I shouldn't say first, but just in consecutive of your career, looking at social work and then, looking at quantitative methodology.
Because again, you are open to exploring all these other things, not to say that other researchers aren't, but all the people that you did mention and all the people that you've collaborated with, I think that's the skillset and perspective that you all are bringing to this is saying, okay, let's explore that other facet. When you talked about, the Darling-Hammond paper, I actually wrote down, it was Darling-Hammond and Cook Harvey 2018. We'll have that linked on the website, the READ Podcast website, but they had four domains, positive school climate, productive instructional strategies, social emotional development, and individualized supports.
So I guess you would put, I guess, adversity and trauma and positive school climate as the ecosystem, the environment, obviously looking at those productive instructional strategies that we have a strong research basis for, particularly in reading, and then those additional supports that are going to be promotive factors in that point. Is [00:13:00] that right so far?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah, so in the individualized supports, that's helping to address, I think in their paper, I think that's the specific place where they kind of say, you're developing supports for kids that enable like healthy development for the child that meets their needs, that addresses their learning barriers and that's including the effects of trauma and adversity.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: So it's, you're looking at this both and right, that it's integrated. You're also deepening into the individual's lives, and I think that's really powerful for educators, particularly. A lot of my background was in ecological Systems Theory, Bronfenbrenner.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Okay.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Phenomenological Variant Ecological Systems Theory, PVEST, and so when I saw similar papers by your colleagues like Lakeisha Johnson, Nicole Patton Terry on the integrated approach, that was something that made me really excited. And then seeing how you're connecting, that actually makes me even more jazzed because we're exploring all these. So when you say you're exploring this empirically, [00:14:00] what do you mean by that in terms of some of these constructs?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's a really good question. And so part of this gets to, and this is what I this is interesting, challenging, and I don't know some other word that ends with ing. So what's interesting about this is that when we delve into multi or what some folks would say, multifactorial models. There are different kinds of things that may lead to or explain different kinds of difficulties. When you have those kinds of models, when you have, as you said, ecological frameworks, and so it's trying to think about what's close to the child's life that most closely impacts them, but also what are the kinds of state and federal policies that indirectly, right?
So we have those models, risk and resilience. These are all ideas, but the hard part is to say, yeah, that's an interesting idea, but then we need to do science to actually bear out the extent to which that is a component of something that will help us better [00:15:00] understand why kids vary in reading and language scores, whether it replaces something, whether it mediates or explains the relation between two different things, or whether it's something that strengthens a known relation between two different things. That's what's really hard. So empirical support is just that process of, right, if we even go back to, is it like fourth grade when kids are learning about the scientific method? Maybe it's earlier, it's around that age, maybe fourth, fifth, sixth, I don't know, late elementary, early middle school. And so scientific method of we observe something and then we try to form a hypothesis about it and then we try to collect data and do a study to collect data about that phenomenon, to then test the extent to which what we find in the data, like what does that help us understand about the phenomenon we originally observed? And then we run a whole bunch of like fancy schmanzy statistical [00:16:00] models and we then interpret the results to then say, did this work? Does it uniquely relate? Does it matter? And the goal there with like, when we say empirical, right, I don't want to get too philosophical, right, because really our science is, it's formalized philosophy in many ways. We're trying to seek out truth. So we get epistemological about this, which I won't use any more of those kind of multi-syllabic words.
But what we're trying to do is, we want to build like an evidence base. And so if we think about ecological models and risk and resilience, we have to test these things many times to be able to say, well, in this sample of kids that we collected data on, maybe we found growth mindset predicts reading. But maybe in this sample we don't find that, and maybe in this other sample it was a really strong effect and maybe in another sample it's a really weak effect. So we're always trying to build a body of evidence where empirically that's [00:17:00] just we're collecting data, formalizing some ideas and testing them to say, can we over many studies be able to find that something seems to be, I'm doing air quotes, true. It's not actual truth, but like, is this something that's a reliable and valid finding that now we could do something about, like an intervention or instruction or a support or a training.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I like what you and Dr. Catts conceptualize when you talk about that risk and resilience model, the probability, right, because you're not necessarily, nothing, I guess, really in life is definitive, right. And so is that what you mean by probability?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah. And so, whether it's empirical models or even risk resilience models, these are not deterministic. It's not as simple as an if then, right, so deterministic in many ways would be like, have and have not, yes, no, present, absent. In some ways, probabilistic means just like 8% chance. So if it's trying to [00:18:00] predict dyslexia, and we have factors related to that. It's not deterministic in as much as if there's a phonological deficit or a language impairment that it is, it is going to determine whether you have this, uh, but there's an increased probability, there's elevated risk. Does that, so it's correlational not causal. It's probabilistic, not deterministic.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And I think that is important to I think kind of tease apart from an application perspective too, particularly when you talk about dyslexia. And I do have a question with dyslexia and I think one that has come up a couple in a couple of my talking circles is that, We understand that dyslexia is brain-based, right? It's a neurobiological disability. So when you look at something like a whole child approach or risk and resilience model, is it adding this color and context to the environmental factors that exacerbate or mitigate the effects? Or in other words, are you looking at these, I guess you really talked about it, but you are looking at [00:19:00] those type of environmental factors as helping with potential or outcomes. Can you help me understand that a little more?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah. So maybe what I could do is draw a distinction between etiology and symptomology, right? So dyslexia, it's neurobiological in origin, it's brain-based, but the way that we're able to understand initially if a child is at risk for having dyslexia is through sort of the symptoms, right?
So kids who have some difficulties with decoding and spelling kinds of skills, we can be able to get, like how they do behaviorally as an indicator of the extent to which they have or whether they may or may not have dyslexia. It's kind of like going to is it an ophthalm, I always mix up ophthalmologist with optometrist.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: There's a small nuance difference. I just don't know.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah, so whoever's the one that's puffing in your eye and then and having you basically having, you do the visual test, right? [00:20:00] So what they could do is have you, you could go into surgery and they could look into your eye and say, you know, is there this disease? Or they could start with a very basic screening test and have you read something. It's less invasive, it's faster. It gives them a quick sense of is there an issue here or not? That's fairly similar for what we're thinking about in like risk resilience models, especially on like phonological deficits, like, that can be an indicator.
We're not getting to the etiology. We're not digging in the brain. We're not bringing in, and we're not putting them through the machines and doing a neuropsych work through, like you can, but not at scale. So we look at the symptomology to try to be able to think about early warning signs that may be indicators of a child who has dyslexia.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And then looking at those, like you said, factors that could help strengthen their response to different interventions or even just help mitigate, I guess, some of those [00:21:00] symptoms.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Which, longstanding research in the science of reading shows already some of those instructional practices to help with the word reading. And I like how research is continuing to examine some of those other factors and the depth of reading comprehension as a construct, right, just how complex that is. And I really appreciate that from the instructional piece. Then, when you're looking at all these factors like growth mindset and trauma, like you said, that's looking at mediated factors, strengthening factors, even some, I guess, causal factors if you had enough evidence. Speaking of growth mindset, this was really fascinating when you presented at the Schwartz lecture, you presented some data that you already had current data on, essentially answering the question, what works for whom, under what conditions. Can you share a snapshot of that about what you're learning about some of those current growth mindset interventions?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah, that's a a really good pivot. So, well one is, can you give me a good definition of what growth mindset is?[00:22:00]
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: So I would define growth mindset or just contextualize growth mindset as, understanding and truly believing that your brain and your skills, your abilities can change over time with strategies, time, effort.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah, right. So it's do you believe you can grow in your intelligence? And what's interesting with that is there's different aspects of what intelligence may be right? So what does an elementary kid like understand about, so you can ask, do you believe you can grow in your intelligence? But there are different scientists that are even looking at like what growth mindset is in terms of a localized version. So broad growth mindset, reading growth mindset, math growth mindset. And so what we've been doing for the last, there's a group of us, so again, this is like Jeanne Wanzek at Vanderbilt, Steph Al Otaiba, at Southern Methodist. Chris Lemons has worked with us on these things where we were first looking at just individual differences. We wanted to know to [00:23:00] what extent does growth mindset uniquely predict comprehension? Because what we tend to find with reading comprehension, is the simple view, right?
There's so many papers out right now that are talking about the simple view of reading. And so if we look at like linguistic comprehension and decoding skills, that explains a lot of variants. And we don't need to rehash all the signs on that. But the point is that a question that tends to be asked is, is there anything left for us to be able to use to explain?
And so back in like 2015, I think that was so many years ago now. We, you know, Stephanie included, she created a reading growth mindset measure, and then we used Carol Dweck's growth mindset measure. And what we found, we published a study in the scientific studies of reading, we found that growth mindset, helps us to understand why kids differ in their reading comprehension beyond what we would [00:24:00] typically know by kids like word reading and language skills. And I think it was something like, it explained like 15% extra. Now these were at risk readers, so this wasn't a typically developing sample, but the fact that we could explain more about in terms of why kids scores differed through growth mindset led us into this interesting line of research where we then applied for and obtained a grant from the National Institutes of Health looking at a randomized control trial where we kids were assigned to either get I think it was the Linda Mood, Linda mood Bell Reading intervention or that reading intervention plus a growth mindset intervention. And then there was sort of like a business as usual. They were just getting whatever the school provides. And so what was interesting in I think in our main effects paper that we published is we found an effect size, which is just the way for us to be able to tell [00:25:00] like, does this practically matter? We found an effect size that was consistent with what a lot of other researchers find about growth mindset interventions, which is to say small, um, or not even that important when we look at everybody. So if we look at everyone in the sample on average, there wasn't an effect of growth mindset beyond just reading intervention.
But when we said, are there sort of more of these local effects? So if we were to think about, well, what does a student actually come to school with at the beginning of the year? Maybe there are kids who start with a fixed mindset. Maybe they have high growth mindset. What if we take into account things like sex and race and look at the intersectionality among those things?
And this was a paper that I think we just published this in a reading and writing journal. I think it just came out in the last couple months where we found that, black males with low growth mindset, so they had like more of a fixed [00:26:00] growth mindset, had significantly higher reading scores at the end of the intervention, then the same group of students who got reading only. So we're basically finding a little bit of this what works for whom under what conditions. Maybe on average it doesn't work for everybody because in fact what we found in that study was that white males who had low growth mindset, they ended up with lower reading scores at the end of the study than when they got the reading and growth mindset intervention than the ones that just got the reading intervention.
So the intervention didn't work for everybody, but it was specific to a sex race interaction where black students had higher reading scores, females had higher, reading scores when they got reading plus growth mindset. It was really the white males who didn't benefit. And that was a large portion of the sample, which is why on average there wasn't. When you kind of aggregate above [00:27:00] everyone, there wasn't that big of an effect. But when you localize and you sort of like, instead of taking a telescope approach, when you take a microscope approach and say, let's look a little bit more, still use really rigorous analytics to try to understand something. We were able to say, look, there is something systematic that we're finding about when we pair growth mindset interventions with reading interventions that promotes reading. So that's leading us to just other lines of research to now where we're actually looking at in a study, a reading intervention with, I think it has growth mindset, but we're also measuring trauma because we want to be able to look at, we've done some research on, parental trauma and how it's linked with kids reading.
Now we wanna look at how does that impact kids reading when we think about a randomized control trial? So it's fascinating the way, and this is in a lot of ways how science goes. We start with like a correlation. Does there seem to be some sense [00:28:00] that this thing is related to this thing? And if there is, maybe we could manipulate through an intervention. Maybe we could, some group of kids get this, another other group of kids don't get it. And can we say that there is a causal reason why they differ at the end of the study. That's what we did with growth mindset, and that's what we're maybe trying to do now with trauma, doing some some individual differences studies and now thinking about some studies that might lead to sort of like a causal inference. I'm sort of maybe spinning a little bit.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: No, I love that. And I want to get into trauma and I'm really excited to talk more about that and dive into this. But I want to pause for a minute and just clarify, not even clarify, but I guess just get into a discussion on the distinction between isolating constructs in research and what that means for a practitioner perspective. And the reason why I want to talk about that is you just talked about growth mindset in the previous few minutes.
And [00:29:00] the one piece I see from a practitioner's perspective is sometimes, I'm not going to say oftentimes, but sometimes, a teacher or caregiver, parent, administrator might say, okay, well are we replacing an intervention because you tested that isolated intervention like growth mindset that's going to then replace what's already happening.
And I want to clarify that that's not the case, right? That by, even though you're isolating one construct, that it's actually informing deeper, broader into what the implications of instruction is. So it's not necessarily replacing with the growth mindset intervention, but perhaps including it, integrating it, it's a yes, and as opposed to a either, or. Is that right, and do you want to comment on that?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Yeah, I think that's right. You are, and I think what it speaks to in many ways is a lot of times of what I encounter, because I don't want to say we, but what I encounter is like, [00:30:00] we're very focused on the question of what works. But it's very hard to go from that to now what do we do? And what I mean by that is you can have a really nice, tightly controlled experimental study like we have where we're getting millions of dollars of taxpayer money to do a study to say, did this work? But what we shouldn't expect is that if like you read a paper and they're like, oh, I'm going to do this at Windward that you would expect the same result unless you're going to like, unless you have the same population and going to impose the same controls and do the same amount of fidelity, all that kind of stuff. Because we have a real disconnect between what we find in published studies and then the challenge of translating and implementing those kinds of things in school.
So partly to your point, it's like, it's not to replace at all. We're trying to isolate constructs to say, does it seem like if [00:31:00] you add this to this, what do we find? But then I'm also adding a little footnote to that as well to say we still have a hard time going from really well-designed interventions of existing, sort of published curricula out there to effects that are maybe similar to what researchers published.
So we have to always be really careful as, and I'm not going to say practitioners because I'm in the ivory tower of academia, but I think that's one of the cautions of looking at something like in What Works Clearinghouse or the National Center for Intensive Interventions, where they have ratings of interventions. It's like, these are quality, these are good, but it's really hard to try to replicate the findings in classrooms, and in schools at the level that researchers found. So, it's why I'm actually thankful that we have this sort of like emerging translational science movement in reading why we have like implementation scientists and trainings that, like Nicole [00:32:00] Terry and Tiffany Hogan are interested in, Lisa Sanetti, and Emily Solari, the whole group of people who are well trained in the science of reading that are thinking very carefully about the implementation science aspect, because we need an on-ramp for others to be able to think about how to bring something like a reading intervention and a reading plus growth mindset intervention or reading plus motivation or social emotional learning. All those things need a different framework for localizing in schools than what we have right now in our field.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I'm happy you brought in the translational and implementation science piece. When Tiffany Hogan and I first talked about implementation science, I thought about what you said that on-ramp, that process to then translating, and that's why I think it's so important. And I'll use the Windward Institute as an example. This is why I get so, I'm so passionate and I feel so much purpose working for the Windward Institute because we are the facilitators, of what's working in science to the classroom. And when we think about how we're creating professional development and when, as the [00:33:00] institute thinks about professional development, we use the research frameworks, the studies to then translate it into, okay, what are sets of good practice? And what are those resources, and practices that then teachers can apply.
And then the last thing I'll say is, when I was in my doctorate work, that's why process evaluation was something that was so important to me. So looking at fidelity of implementation and then the next step, but then looking at feasibility, applicability, and efficiency for teachers and what's going to be that thing that's going to be the most tangible, what they could use in their classroom tomorrow. So I really like that piece there.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Well, and I have to, just to comment on something you said, Danielle. One of the things I was blown away by and it was so much fun when I visited The Windward School, right. And, you know, disclaimer, like I'm not being paid to say what I'm about to say.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Right..
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: which But it was amazing that what as I was being like shepherded throughout the school and talking with teachers and practitioners, It was almost always like, well, research says this and this. And that's, that's not, you know, that's atypical, right? You all are so well informed in like [00:34:00] staying on top of the science because you're wanting to implement what's reflected in the evidence base. And so like, I just really commend like the practices you all are engaging in. The kids are benefiting from that. And it is a wonderful thing, like as a scientist to see that it's like there are people that care about taking the science seriously and wanting to do something with it.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I appreciate that and I think it's an ongoing process and one that we are so glad to collaborate with you. I mean, that's one thing that to see you collaborating with other researchers, but then when you're collaborating with schools, that's going to take us to the next frontier, hopefully, in really supporting all kids in reading and overall development. Now we can stop the putting the pin on the research to practice discussion and return to trauma. That was, I know I've had better transitions. That was not the best transition.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: It works.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, Right, exactly. So you are, and have been invested in trauma for a lot of your career and something [00:35:00] that you're really currently exploring in research. So what is the role of trauma? Or at least is there a connection between trauma and reading development?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Boy, that, yeah, so I mean, one just I don't want folks to get a false sense of just what I've been doing, right? This is actually more recent. And so this is something like looking at trauma that's really in the last five years. But having worked in it right as like, which it, so, I mean, just funny story, when I was interviewing to be a professor in the college of social work and I was trying to think about what my story is because I'm a quantitative methodologist in the science of reading, like number crunching and this. I'm like, well, you know, most of my actual work for a paycheck has always been social work related.
So it was fascinating that like social work has always been part of my story, like trying to meet people in times of crisis and times of need. So that really opened up and had caused me to reflect on a lot of my work in the past to think about oh yeah, the reason that kid was doing those kinds of [00:36:00] things was because of trauma and a lot of this was because of trauma.
So, learning about, I mean, just even just from the numbers, it's something like, I think it's like the CDC cites like two thirds of adults report that they've experienced an adverse childhood experience before 18. It's almost 20% of adults have experienced four or more type of adverse experiences.
And those are like experiencing like violence, abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, substance use, mental health, instability in the home, like incarcerated family members, for two thirds of adults to have experienced that as a child. It's gotta have, well, I don't want to say this is just like the thought process in my mind as I'm like experiencing social work research and people talking about trauma. I'm like, I don't know if we were having that conversation and reading. People are talking about trauma and mental health and trauma and social services and trauma and [00:37:00] poverty and all in a very sort of siloed manner. And maybe it's just me. But like I just was reflecting on a lot of even past conversations with colleagues. It's like, I can't think of conversations where we've kind of kicked around the idea of well, what about trauma in the same way of what about motivation? What about self-esteem or self theories? So that really prompted me because I'm not a trauma expert. I'm just someone that's fascinated by like phenomenon.
And like, I have ADD/ADHD. And so there's sometimes for me it's like the butterfly that's passing by. It's like, ooh, what's that? So when I'm hearing things about trauma, like growth mindset wasn't something that I was like, ah, growth mindset. It was like, you know, here's pop psychology. We are not seeing it in reading. Let's study it and publish a paper on it. It was kind of the same with trauma. It's like, here's all these conversations in this field talking about it. And so, you know, the science of reading, we're not not ignoring it. It's more, we just haven't, I don't think we've really done a lot of [00:38:00] that work.
So Hugh Catts and I, in the context of the Reach Every Reader study that we've been doing for the last five years, we were giving the ACE measured the Adverse Childhood Experience survey to families. And the goal of that was to be able to look at, in the same way we're talking about building a body of evidence and can we, do we find correlations?
We're trying to understand the extent to which, a parent's, self-report of ACE is maybe connected to how they parent at home, their involvement in their kids' education, and then subsequently their child's reading and language skills. And so we published our, it actually just came out last month, our first paper on these data where we did these kinds of analyses that when we administer the ace, a parenting survey and like, it's called the Family Involvement Questionnaire. So it's how involved are you in your child's education? We did these analyses that basically look to say in your sample of data, are there groups of individuals [00:39:00] tend to sort of cluster together, do they have a similar kind of like score profile where maybe they're high on this one thing and average on this other thing?
And so I won't get into the nuance of the analysis, but what we found was that there were essentially, I think it was a sample size of about 300 families, maybe 400 families. I can't remember off the top of my head. We found six different kinds of groups of parents based on ACE, and family involvement and parenting style.
And what's the most interesting, because it's connected to a paper we're writing right now. We had one group that had the highest ACE score, which was four or more. And what was great was, so there was that, I think that statistic I said, just a couple minutes ago.
So two thirds of adults have experienced at least one and almost 20% have experienced four. I think it's like 17%. We found the group with the highest ACE, which was like four or more, that was 17. I think about 15% in [00:40:00] our sample had the highest ACE score. Those individuals systematically had the lowest involvement scores with their kids that they self-report, having the lowest communication with their kids' schools, the lowest involvement and their kids' reading homework and the lowest involvement in talking with teachers.
Conversely, parents who self-reported the fewest number of ACE, they had the lowest ACE score, so they hadn't experienced a lot of adverse childhood experiences. They actually had the highest involvement in their kids' education. So we have with these analyses, were sort of like showing us these mutually exclusive kind of like clusters of parents that are self-reporting about these different indicators.
And what we're finding in the paper that we're writing now, is that the cluster of families who reported the highest ACE and the lowest involvement in their kids' education, their [00:41:00] children have significantly lower reading and language scores at the beginning of kind kindergarten than that group whose parents reported the lowest ace and the highest involvement in their kids' education.
And that's controlling for a lot of things that people might say kind of, well, it's a poverty issue, it's a race issue. It's like, no, it's not because we controlled for those factors in these models. Now it's one sample. It's a couple hundred, right? It's not deterministic, it's a little bit probabilistic. But it's one study. But this is one of the first studies that's really trying to look at how does ACE and parent involvement, is that linked to kids reading and language? And at least in this initial study, it's, yes, there does seem to be. We are also finding that we have a couple papers under review, one by my former doc student, Lauren Stanley, where she added some trauma measures to a screening battery in kindergarten. So you have kindergarten students who are given like a [00:42:00] phonological awareness assessment. They're given a language assessment and then we administered the ACE to their parents.
And what we're trying to do with the screening model, right, is we administer assessments. We're looking to say, can we do a good job of accurately finding the kids who are at risk and accurately finding the kids who are not at risk? Turns out when we add the ACE into the measure, it helps us improve our classification accuracy.
So yes, measure reading. Yes, measure language, but it seems that as well when you ask parents to respond to the ACE, that gives us better accuracy in who we find is at risk or not at risk. So we have a few of these studies that are coming out that are saying, yeah, when you're trying to identify the kids that are most at risk, when you're trying to understand, low reading and language achievement, it seems like there might be a correlation between parental ace and their kids' performance.
There's a lot more work that needs to be done, but it's interesting preliminary work that we're starting to do with that. [00:43:00] So, we're excited to see where that leads.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. I really appreciate you breaking that down and particularly again talking about that data so that it's digestible for our READers that are listening, and as you were talking again, I was returning back to those frameworks we spoke about, about 10 or 15 minutes ago, both the risk and resilience model that you and, and Hugh Catts are working on the multifactorial model, some of the work that's coming out of Dr. Fumiko Hoeft's lab. And I know Columbia's work, I mean, I can mention all these different, universities again, that are working on it because I wanna impress upon the importance of this, the gravity and why this matters so much. When you were talking about the role of trauma, I was connecting back to some of the community work that FCRR is doing with The Village, that there's this reciprocal relationship between research and impact. Right? And then going back to, circling back to Darling Hammond's work on whole child approaches, right, is that it's a more [00:44:00] integrated, deep approach of what's going to work for that child? Again, we see the evidence, the solid and growing evidence in productive instructional strategies that underlie the science of reading, this high quality instruction.
And then these other factors that you are investigated, that researchers are investigating to inform educators and families and parents on what else is going to contribute to a child's academic success and their whole life success. And I thought about when you said you like alliteration, these were the four A's I thought about.
So you said accuracy, A for accuracy. Yeah. I'm so excited. Okay. I wrote on a post-it note. So a for accuracy, right? Accuracy in identification and screening. Awareness because then we're broadening the awareness of teachers of care, caregivers for all these factors that could contribute, again, it maybe increase or decrease the probability of difficulty. Agency, because of course, if you're [00:45:00] increasing your awareness, you're thinking about all these factors that might contribute to a child success, both in and out of the classroom. Advocacy, right? Because then that's going to encourage folks, leaders, other community organizations to increase advocacy for children.
Oh, and that was four. So accuracy, awareness, agency and advocacy. That's where we see, at least in synthesizing what you're telling me, those ways that the research or synthesizing what you're telling me, that's what's really empowering and really then putting that stamp of why this all matters.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: That's so good. And so what I love about it is, yeah, it summarizes, it's comprehensive. It attends to sort of the intersection between like science and stakeholder, which is so important. It's all like, have you thought about like doing an infographic or doing just like a short thing on that and sending it to the Reading League?
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh, that's a good idea.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: That's so good. Like it belongs on a coffee mug. I'd buy that. I would buy that coffee mug.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: I should really thank you because what [00:46:00] you're saying is so digestible that it inspired me to think about ways in those four a's right, the awareness agency, advocacy and accuracy. So we only have a few minutes, and so this conversation will be published, August. So the first Wednesday of in August, right before so many of our educators, our families are going back to school. So what could we, what should they be thinking about as they return to the school year?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: I mean, honestly, like it's keep fighting the good fight. Like it's really hard to be a teacher right now. There's so much policy, and the have-tos of what they need to do. So, you know, my big encouragement is just stick with it. This is the most important thing.
And it really is a privilege to be able to be like a scientist in the science of reading. And it doesn't happen without being able to partner with teachers and schools who are wanting to see like a better life for their kids through education. It's almost like I don't want to give them too [00:47:00] much to have to think about.
Because they're already thinking aboutI have to design the classroom. I have to get the curriculum ready. There's PD for this, there's screening that I have to do. There's all this, it's like, keep doing what you're doing, fighting the good fight. And we want to be able to support the work that's happening in the classrooms as best we can.
We understand the difficulties of what they're kind of like engaging in. It was so rewarding to me, to be able to observe the classrooms and the instruction, the patience that all the teachers had with all the kids with responsiveness to instruction. It's like those are some of the most loving, caring teachers that I've seen. And I say that every school that I go to because, you know, pretty much every teacher is a loving, caring, person. Like that's why they do this work. And know that we're with you and we're for you. Even sometimes where it's like, yeah, we're in academia and we're doing the paper writing, grant writing this and that, it's like, no, we're for teachers.
And that's why, you know, that's what's great about places like The Village that you referenced, Danielle, so Nicole and Lakeisha Johnson, who's directing that now. It's like, we want to make things tangible, for teachers, for families, for [00:48:00] libraries, for people who are invested in kids education. So that way we have things for teachers to be able to use that are fun and engaging evidence-based.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: I appreciate you circling back to that, actually, Lakeisha was on two episodes of the READ Podcast, and one of our LEAD on READ discussions and Nicole Patton Terry was on last year. So if you want to learn more about The Village and the work of FCRR, check out those episodes. And then also, you have a wealth, FCRR and the Village has a wealth of resources and information for READers to check out. So I guess just in closing, where can we find you? Where can we learn more about you and the work of FCRR?
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Uh, yeah, the website, fcrr.org. I think FCRR is on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook. I think those are, that and the website are probably the easiest ways to be able to kind of look at. And one of the things that for anyone who has either listened to this or like you, you had mentioned Lakeisha, Nicole, Tiffany that you've had on, I know Emily, scientists love when teachers and practitioners reach out to say, could could you help me with [00:49:00] this? Could you send me this paper? Do you have a recommendation of a resource? Like it's extremely validating when someone like is asking, to know more about or would like to be able to access your work. So don't ever feel like you can't reach out directly to any of those individuals. We're here, we're with you, we're for you, and one way we can do that is by, if we can help answer a question within reason, we want to be able to do that.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Dr. Petscher, thank you so much for being on the READ Podcast. It was such a joy to talk to you today.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: Likewise. Thanks for having me on. It was great to be able to reconnect and talk about these things and looking forward to more.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: More teamwork, more work to be done.
Dr. Yaacov Petscher: That's right.
Dr. Danielle Scorrano: Oh my goodness. That was an amazing episode. Thank you, Dr. Yaacov Pestcher for sharing your expertise and your work with the Windward Institute. You can learn more about Dr. Petscher's work and my top READ bookmarks or top moments from each episode by visiting each episode page at readpodcast.org. As you learn from our READ experts, I invite you to check out the Windward Institute's Fall Community [00:50:00] Lecture and our professional development offerings featuring core reading and language classes and brand new learning bundles on reading comprehension.
If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas of topics and speakers, feel free to reach out via email at email@example.com. I also invite you to like, subscribe and share the READ Podcast with friends and colleagues. You can also like or follow Windward's social media pages to find out more about upcoming speakers, episodes and events.
Until next time, READers.
Yaacov Petscher, PhD, joins the READ Podcast to discuss whole child approaches to reading and child development, seeking to examine, “what works for whom under what conditions?” Dr. Petscher explains the role of research in testing ecological models and specific factors that may inform why children vary in their reading and language development. He specifically refers to his current work in understanding trauma and reading development, citing his Reach Every Reader study with Dr. Hugh Catts. Dr. Petscher and Danielle engage in a discussion on the benefits of translational science, offering insights for educators and families to apply in school and community contexts.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
“What works for whom under what conditions?”
1. Whole Child Approaches to Reading and Child Development
Dr. Petscher discusses how whole child approaches to child development has informed his research in reading. He cites Darling-Hammon and Cook Harvey’s (2018) model, which outlines factors across
- Positive school climate
- Productive instructional strategies
- Social and emotional development
- Individualized supports
Read Darling-Hammond and Cook Harvey’s (2018) report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/educating-whole-child-report
“As we're trying to think about the kinds of interventions that kids need, not just the reading interventions, dosage, and responsiveness, but what a child needs from a gestalt, or a totality perspective, maybe there's some of these other theories that can inform the idea of what works for whom under what condition.”
2. The Role of Research in Understanding Reading Development
Dr. Petscher and Danielle discuss how well-designed research isolates a “construct” to understand the extent to which it relates, strengthens, mitigates, or causes aspects of reading development in an attempt to deepen and expand how these factors are applied to “real-life” or educational settings. Dr. Petscher clarifies that these factors are not “deterministic” but inform the probability of a child’s risk for difficulty.
3. Trauma and Reading
The CDC cites that 2/3 of adults experience trauma before the age of 18, and 20% of adults experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Dr. Petscher worked with Hugh Catts, PhD, as part of the Reach Every Reader initiative, to understand the extent to which a parent’s self-report of ACE is connected to their involvement in their child’s education and then subsequently, their child’s reading and language skills.
“For the cluster of families who reported the highest ACE and the lowest involvement in their kids' education, their children had significantly lower reading and language scores at the beginning of kindergarten compared to the group whose parents reported the lowest ACE and the highest involvement in their kids' education.”
4. The Role of Translational Science
A challenge still exists in moving well-designed research studies to educational contexts/curricula.
“We have a real disconnect between what we find in published studies and then the challenge of translating and implementing those kinds of things in school.”
The growing movements in translational and implementation science provide an “onramp” for bringing research to schools.
“I’m thankful that we have an emerging translational science movement in reading and we have scientists and who are well trained in the science of reading that are thinking very carefully about the implementation science.”
5. Benefits of Translational Science and Integrated Approaches in Reading
Host Danielle Scorrano synthesizes the benefits of translational science and integrated approaches in reading through increased
- Accuracy in screening and identification
- Awareness by educators, families, and communities of factors that contribute to or mitigate risk of reading difficulties
- Agency of educators and caregivers to employ methods and interventions to support children
- Advocacy to further share information and implement supports at community and systems levels
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About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.