Associate professor of literacy studies receives COVID-19 response grant

May 14, 2020

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dr. Selena Protacio, associate professor of literacy studies in the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University, has received a $6,500 WMU Meader Presidential Endowment COVID-19 Response Grant. The grant will fund a design-based research study to provide academic and linguistic support for English learners (ELs) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the modifications teachers usually make to help ELs access curriculum, they are one of the most vulnerable student populations being impacted by the transition to online K-12 learning—a fact which is compounded when EL families do not have access to internet and/or laptops.

The intervention was inspired by the desire of an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher enrolled in WMU’s M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program to be able to continue to do read-alouds to her ELs that do not have access to technology. The idea is simple: provide voice recorders to teachers so they can record simplified instructions to accompany student work packets and also provide read-alouds. Receiving this adaptation supports ELs with their academic tasks and provides much needed exposure to English which helps their language acquisition. The recorders will be dropped off to students following social distancing guidelines on Mondays, along with the standard work packets, and picked back up on Thursdays so teachers can record for the following week.

Dr. Selena Protacio

Dr. Selena Protacio

“The current situation is highlighting both the socioeconomic and technological divide among students. We really need to consider these factors and recognize that simpler technology may actually work better to meet the needs of some students,” shared Dr. Protacio.

The intervention will take place in partnership with a rural Michigan school district with a high percentage of ELs with the hopes of sharing results with other districts. The two ESL teachers in this district will aid Protacio in coordinating the intervention and collecting data. Protacio has also donated books to the ESL teachers so that these books will be rotated among the ELs for continued exposure to reading materials. Sanitation guidelines will be followed in order to ensure the materials (voice-recorders and books) will be cleaned before distribution each week.

To measure the effectiveness of the intervention, the team will be conducting teacher interviews, reviewing teacher field notes, collecting student artifacts, and considering student formative assessments. A key feature of design-based research is that it is situated in a real education context and plans for the refinement of the intervention in collaboration with participants. Therefore, the data and analysis will happen simultaneously so that improvements can be made to the intervention in real time.

Dr. Protacio holds a Ph.D. in curriculum, instruction, and teacher education with a language and literacy emphasis from Michigan State University and an M.Ed. in teaching, learning, and teacher education with a literacy specialization from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her bachelor’s degree is in communication research from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Prior to earning her graduate degrees, Dr. Protacio worked as an English teacher in the Philippines, which is her native country. Her research interests primarily focus on the literacy motivation and engagement of English learners in K-12 settings. She has also conducted research focused on parental and family engagement of immigrant families in the U.S. Dr. Protacio serves as principal investigator of a $2.6 million National Professional Development grant from the U.S. Department of Education and editor of the international, peer-reviewed journal Reading Horizons.