Justice wins presidential research award
Photo by Tom Cogill
|Laura M. Justice
By Anne Bromley
Laura M. Justice, a clinical speech-language pathologist at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education who specializes in research on early language and literacy skills, received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on July 26. Administered by the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy since 1996, the PECASE is considered the highest national honor for investigators in the early stages of highly promising academic careers.
President George W. Bush presented the award to her along with 57 other researchers at a ceremony with the President’s science advisor John H. Marburger III, U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and other government officials. This is the first year education research has been recognized.
Justice, director of the Preschool Language & Literacy Lab in U.Va.’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, has been testing the best ways to boost language and reading skills — the building blocks of future academic success — by using storybooks. She is identifying specific techniques teachers and parents can use with preschool children, from low socioeconomic households or with language impairments, to see improvement before they run into problems in grade school.
With almost 40 percent of fourth graders unable to read at a basic level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and most never catching up, Justice likens the problem to a public health concern.
Justice, whose research is supported by the National Center for Education Research, said, “The field of education is increasingly using experimental design to identify what works and what doesn’t [among education methods]. Otherwise we have to rely on trial and error. We look systematically at the methods we use.”
It’s not just reading to children that’s important, she has found. For instance, intentionally talking to preschool children about print during shared reading activities makes a “dramatic impact” on their literacy, said Justice. Such elements include the front and back of the book, first and last pages, the title, individual words and letters.
“With print as the focus of attention, the children’s alphabet knowledge increased fourfold in eight weeks,” Justice reported, based on the findings of one of her studies.
“I am very pleased that one of the institute’s grantees, Laura Justice, has received the first Presidential Early Career Award to be bestowed on an education scientist,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences.
Specific federal departments and agencies may nominate scientists and engineers who show exceptional potential for leadership and success in scientific knowledge for the presidential awards. Justice is the second U.Va. researcher to win the award, following 2001 recipient David Wotton, associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Center for Cell Signaling.
|GIVING THE GIFT OF BOOKS
Justice’s research project includes giving away the books parents, teachers and children use in the study. Here is a list of the books read to preschoolers and talked about to enhance literacy skills.
• Big Pig on a Dig
• Feathers for Lunch
• If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
• It’s the Bear
• School Bus
• Spot Goes to a Party
• Ted and Dolly’s Magic Carpet Ride
• This Is the Bear
Reading tips for parents and early childhood educators:
• Look at the whole object of the book and its components, as well as the print — this makes a “dramatic impact” on children’s literacy, said Justice.
• Include: the front and back of the book, first and last pages, the title, individual words and letters, and other find-the-word games, with questions such as, can you see two letters of your name in another word on this page?
• Don’t exclude talking about the pictures and the story — children learn other things from these perspectives, but they’ll learn more letters of the alphabet if you draw attention to them.