Student Researchers Shine at Annual Conference

Various images of Inclusive Classrooms

Every year, Marymount University hosts the Student Research Conference (SRC) so that undergraduate and graduate students can present their scholarship competitively, and be judged on their research based upon the following markers: clarity, impact, methodology, and ability to engage the audience. This year, on April 21, 2021, out of 104 students who participated in the SRC, four students from the College of Health and Education earned distinguished awards.

General education teacher-turned Resource Teacher, Ms. Melinda Gomes, won the honor of 2nd place in the Student Research Conference for her presentation: “What Strategies Can General Education Teachers Implement to Help Students with ADHD, Math Disabilities, and Reading Disabilities?” She indicated that, at first, she wasn’t going to participate in the conference, but it was the recommendation of Dr. Elizabeth Langran who encouraged her to enter. We, at the School of Education, are thrilled that she did participate because her topic is necessary, important, and relevant. When asked what strategies general education teachers implement in their classrooms, for lack of a better term, adequately, teaches students with disabilities, Gomes responded, “Collaborate and request information from Resource Teachers. Have open communication with Resource Teachers and the student’s family. Build relationships with and try to understand every student. Try to accommodate their preferences for learning as much as possible.” She expressed that if she had the opportunity to further expand her research, she would focus on including other disabilities within the scope of her research, and she would include students’ input. Her research questions would be, “What do you want most from teachers? What can teachers do to help you learn better?” Gomes reported that she has already applied the strategies she’s learned from her scholarship in her classroom and has observed improvements in her students.

Ms. Allison Beresford, a passionate, recent graduate from the College of Health and Education, tied for 1st place in the Student Research Conference for her topic: A study of textbook inclusion of special education: aspiration or reality? Beresford is a deaf Special Education major whose advocacy for special education is felt in her confident and experienced voice. When asked what she hoped to convey to others from her research topic, she first recounted her journey. She described how she came upon some egregious passages in a textbook, passages that were a part of some required reading, implying that nonverbal students are “sub-human” and some education textbooks failing to mention students with disabilities at all. In her research, Beresford surveyed all education colleges and universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia and found that out of 34 textbooks assigned to education students, only 4 mentioned or included information on special education. Due to her research, the textbook that was currently in use was replaced with a more appropriate and inclusive text. She does report good news though; since 2015, there has been an increase in textbooks put into practice for education students that are, as she puts it, “special education-inclusive”. Beresford’s first place achievement is only the beginning for her. She hopes to present her research at the Council for Exceptional Children in January 2022. She’s also considering sending her research to the Virginia Secretary of Education. And lastly, she aspires to expand her research and look at the U.S. as a whole to see if there’s a correlation between the lack of special education training in colleges and universities and the standardized test scores of special education students. Her work is important because, if pre-service teachers are not prepared to adapt their teaching styles to accommodate all learners, then colleges will fail future teachers and those future teachers will not be able to support their special education students.

“It feels great!” said Will Thompson for tying for 1st place in the SRC for his presentation: “Postsecondary Perspectives of Students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)”. “It’s good to see appreciation for research being done for ASD students. It’s good to see Marymount University recognize its importance.” Thompson has been working with ASD students (ages 13 – 22) for the past 4 years in D.C. and New York City and his research topic was prompted partially by seeing one of his ASD students graduate from high school and apply for postsecondary education. When asked what strategies teachers should employ to adequately accommodate and teach students with ASD, Thompson advised, “Take into account the individual student’s perception of their education. Provide and meet the needs of the student based on what they say directly.” Thompson hopes that his research will bring more awareness to qualitative research on the subject. He hopes that ASD student’s perceptions and unique perspectives will be taken into account as far as their education is concerned.

Tying first with Will Thompson was Francies Stephenson’s presentation: “Determining the Effectiveness of the Orton Gillingham Approach to Teaching Spelling in Hybrid Settings”. Stephenson has been passionate about literacy since she was a child. As a high school student in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), she learned about disparities in education. Seeing so many children struggle with literacy and seeing a high need for literacy improvement, Stephenson made it  her mission to improve the reading skills of students in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. She shared that since she’s been pursuing her Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Special Education, she became interested in researching pedagogical practices for reading instruction, which is how she discovered the Orton Gillingham Approach. The Orton Gillingham Approach is a language-based, multi-sensory approach to teaching literacy skills. It teaches the structure of the English language through tactile, auditory, visual, and kinesthetic activities. Her initial investigation involved using the approach in traditional teaching and face-to-face settings, but recently she explored using the Orton Gillingham Approach in hybridized (partially online, partially in-person) settings. She desires to expand her research in teaching literacy, by teaching more children in the region.

A round of applause to our College of Education students. We hope that their scholarship adds to the field of education.

Written by:  Pierre Thomas

Photo Credits: Worldbank and other sites on Inclusive Education.