Irma Brassuer-Hock Interview May 2023

Video Transcript

0:00:06.6 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So I'm Irma Brasseur-Hock, I'm a teaching professor here in the Department of Special Education and a Research Professor at the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas.

0:00:16.8 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
A little bit about me, I was an educator for 20 years in high school and middle schools, working in the role of a special education teacher for high-incidence disabilities. I initially was in a self-contained emotional behavior disorder classroom, at the time, that's what they called it, and then later moved into a resource room setting where I was attending to the needs of students who fall underneath the high incidence category, such as they have a learning disability, they have autism, they have ADHD. So all of those other areas that fall underneath high incidence, that's what I did for many years.

0:00:54.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
And then I opted to pursue my PhD here at the University of Kansas, where I've been a teaching professor now for about 17 years in the Department of Special Education, and a researcher at the Center for Research on Learning at the university in Kansas. Some of the notable publications that have occurred for me over these 15 years focus on adolescent literacy, specifically students with disabilities who are non-proficient readers. My colleagues and I received an IES grant to investigate what were the needs of adolescents when you think from the perspective of all the different areas of reading such as phonics, word decoding, recognition, fluency, vocabulary comprehension. And the question was, do students who are adolescents or in secondary school settings need instruction in all of these areas? We were funded, and in our first year we went out and did a battery of assessments to analyze in those areas, what the needs were and what really showed up. And what we found out and what became one of our most notable publications was a Latent Class Analysis.

0:02:03.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
That allowed us to look very carefully at this non-proficient group. And a Latent Class Analysis allowed us to take that group and say, within these non-proficient readers, what really are the needs? And what came out of that is we found that 14% of those students had global severe weaknesses in reading, which meant they were one to one standard deviation below the mean in reading. We also found about 37% of those students had global weaknesses in all areas of reading, 29% were dis-fluent readers, 11% of those students were just weak language comprehenders, in other words, they didn't have a strong vocabulary and background knowledge, and 9% were just weak in comprehension. So what that led us to understand is that we needed to design a reading program that included all areas of reading. So the notion that these students that are secondary don't need word level instruction was something that we found different, that they do need that. So we designed a reading program for adolescents that incorporates all those areas.

0:03:14.1 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
And since that point in time, we have been working with that program, and it's many of the projects that I have across the country of districts and states implementing the program to determine whether or not we have effectiveness with certain populations of groups. It also is a time where we're looking at the iterative design, we're up for revision with it. We were fortunate to be able to partner with a company that has helped us publish it and distribute it, so it is in the hands of special education teachers, and those teachers in districts where they have over 80% of their students who are not proficient readers.

0:03:52.4 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So to me, those are some of the notable things that have happened in my career, as far as my research line and the way in which I've been able to contribute. And it also allows me to stay real with what's happening in the classrooms, the struggles, for example, over the past year, we've had a huge teacher shortage. We have emergency-certified teachers, and this has impacted the way in which programs and students with disabilities are being able to be serviced. And so for me, that has been some of the opportunities that I've been able to have being part of the Center for Research on Learning and the department.

0:04:29.8 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
You know the most meaningful aspect of being a professor here in the KU online master's program for me has been the ability to develop relationships with our teachers and watch them grow and thrive and become the best that they can be and mentor them. And also because we went through this pandemic and so many things changed, we became partners in learning. So for me, it's been this great opportunity to share expertise. And then above and beyond that, another great aspect of being a professor here at KU is that I am surrounded by the most outstanding colleagues who are doing the most up-to-date, nationally recognized, internationally recognized research in the field of special education. That then informs me... And they collaborate with me so that we can ensure that we're getting that content, that knowledge, the strategies, practices into our courses and into the hands of teachers. That to me, has been one of the best aspects of being a professor here at KU, is ensuring that we're getting research into practice.

0:05:38.8 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
I was teaching 20 years ago in Michigan, and I was in a self-contained classroom, and I had the opportunity come to my table, I guess you could say, to come out here to the University of Kansas during the summers to receive professional development in the learning strategies, content enhancement at the Center for Research on Learning. I then would go back and implement that. And I did this for about four years and really felt like I had found a home here at KU. And when I began to decide it may be time for me to do more in this field to be able to advocate and lead, the first place I thought about was the University of Kansas, and what great opportunity it would be to be part of the number one special education program across the country. So I was fortunate and accepted into the PhD program and became a Jayhawk. Since that point in time of graduation, I was fortunate to stay on at the Center for Research on Learning and just followed my way to be able to give back to the community here at KU, and in particular the number one special ed program and work with all the amazing colleagues that I have here.

0:06:54.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So for me, becoming a Jayhawk was like a dream come true. I kind of had to pinch myself and say, "Am I really here? Am I moving from Michigan to Kansas?" I packed everything up and came and I am now a Forever Jayhawk and I definitely encourage all the students to celebrate that in the means of coming here during graduation since we do have online programs. We just had graduation over the weekend and we had several students who came in who haven't been on campus. But the essence and being surrounded here at KU, to feel what it feels like to be home and be part of this community, is just incredible and it's so exciting, motivating, and inspiring. I try to keep on top of what is the developments that are going on in my field in a couple of different ways.

0:07:43.5 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
Number one is, I am part of organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children, the Division for Learning Disabilities, the Council for Learning Disabilities, so several different organizations that are national and local. And that helps me to stay abreast of what the local needs are, national needs are, the challenges and things going on, but also at these conferences that are held by these organizations, professionals and those researchers out in the field are bringing in what they're doing. So that helps me continue to grow and learn. The other part, the second thing that I do is, I am a reader and so I try to keep up on the certain areas. Of course, I told you adolescent literacy, so I really try to spend time looking and keeping up to date on the latest information on that through our top-tier journals. But the other aspect that I have a great interest in is teacher preparation, and so looking carefully at how online design is occurring, the best way to engage our adult learners, ways in which we can ensure that we're providing the best and high quality of instruction in an online platform.

0:08:56.4 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
And then the third way is, I have great opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues here who are tenured line faculty and those who are other teaching professors who are in my field. And we spend time keeping each other up to date, sharing information. And as I mentioned earlier, we wanna ensure that we're taking the research and getting it into practice. And so that line of communication and those opportunities allow me to stay up to date and to bring the most up-to-date information into our courses and into the hands of teachers.

0:09:28.1 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
I was drawn to adolescent literacy because when I was a teacher for 20 years, working in middle school and high schools, I struggled to help them become proficient readers so that they could become contributing citizens. So this led me down this path to do what I could to change that. So within this notion of my research on adolescent literacy, that's kind of been my underlying push, my motivation to do that. And what I found as I had time to step back from my teacher role into a researcher role, we have disengaged adolescent readers. And our biggest job is to reengage them and to also help them become self-determined and motivated to see themselves as readers. Many of these students come to us after years of failure with reading, so we needed to think about what can we do different? So I think what's unique about the work that I do iss I look closely at motivation for reading, and I also look very closely at re-engaging these students.

0:10:39.6 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So there's two different ways in which that needs to happen. One is the curricular design of the program; the program needs to look mature and engaging for students. And then the other aspect is we need to consider that these are young adults who have knowledge and skills that we aren't tapping into. So bringing those two things together, I think help to make a program more engaging. So let me give you an example. One piece of the program that we do that is in part of the reading program, it's a multi-component reading program, hitting all areas of reading, so we've got phonics, we've got decoding recognition, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. But what really is the foundation of all that is the motivation piece, and how we've built in motivation is we have students take time to think about their possible selves. There's a program that we've built into it, it's called Possible Selves for Readers, where students take time to think about their hopes, dreams, and expectations.

0:11:48.1 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So they can then determine and re-look at, "What's the benefit of me becoming a good reader? Will I take the time to re-engage in this?" And then of course it comes to the program. What do we need to do different when we deliver the program? What we found is to re-engage these students, we need to have mature-looking manuals. We need to have mature-looking workbooks, we need to have books that students wanna steal. And so we found these things and embedded it within the curriculum. And what we're finding now, one of our latest studies just wrapped up, we had about 824 students in the study, and one of the things that we found, we looked at student self-perception of themselves as a reader. And from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, we had a significant difference in the way they viewed themselves by going through this program.

0:12:40.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
The other aspect is that we had a significant difference in their standardized test scores. They were making almost two years gain in their reading ability. That's the projection we want, because we really, truly wanna see these students become readers who can contribute to our society, who can go on to higher ed and really have successful lives. So for us, that has been the goal and that has been the research that I've been focused on. Students should choose KU's special education programs because we're recognized as the number one program in the country. The reason we're recognized for that is if you look at our faculty, those individuals who are out there advocating, researching, teaching teachers, you will see that we have some of the best well-known faculty in the field. The other aspect is that we cater to the working student. If you're a full-time teacher, it is really difficult to get on campus and to attend classes after you've been teaching all day.

0:13:48.5 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
The unique feature about our online programs is that they're asynchronous, and you can cater it and set it up the way that meets your schedule and your needs. Students have told us that this has been extremely helpful for them to be able to successfully complete the program, which can be difficult as people have so many things that are going on that they're juggling. The other aspect is that you get to have some one-on-one mentoring. You do have synchronous times that you can meet with the teaching professors or the professors that are teaching the courses, who will listen and guide you, and have shown a lot of grace and compassion, especially since the pandemic in being flexible in meeting your needs to ensure that you can be successful.

0:14:37.8 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
Another reason to come to KU and be part of our special ed department programs is that you will leave as a master teacher. You will leave with expertise that will possibly change the trajectory of your career and/or impact the outcomes of the students that you're working with, and you will see their growth and you will see growth in yourself. So there are many reasons for you to come to KU and those are just a few. Some of the best aspects of our online programs include the practical application that can occur once you're taking a course. For example, you may be learning a practice, an intervention, a strategy, some skills around collaboration or advocacy that you can immediately apply in your situation. Now, some of our students are teachers, and in the classroom we do have some students that may be working in the medical field, who are working one-on-one in a rehabilitation situation. We do have parents that can involve, we have administrators who... Those who wanna take leadership roles.

0:15:47.0 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So I feel that one of the thing, and no matter which aspect of the program you go into, because we do have high incidence, we have transition program, we have an autism program and we have a leadership program. So within each one of those programs, you can be guaranteed that you're gonna have practical application of the concepts and skills and strategies that you're using. And then, I think one of the best aspects is that you get to collaborate with other educators, other folks who are in the same field as you are from around the world, all over the world that participate and we get to learn from one another. And I think it really does open up our mind to hear different perspectives and ideas and be culturally responsive as we learn from one another. Our curriculum is designed based on national and state standards and we do that to meet the Higher Education Learning Commission's requirements for accreditation.

0:16:45.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
So all of our programs go through a rigorous process to ensure that our curriculum is aligned with standards and assessments, and that we are tracking students to ensure that they are making the progress they need to make. Another aspect is that we ensure that the faculty and the teaching professors work collaboratively together to ensure that what they're learning out in the field with their research and working with their colleagues across the country is actually getting into our courses and our students are getting that information. As we design our courses, we ensure that we are designing based on the most important information that needs to be in the hands of our students. We also look at the design of courses. What will be engaging? What are the things that we need to ensure that we're gonna have engagement in an asynchronous platform? So, for example, we have some courses in the different programs that have a gaming feature.

0:17:45.8 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
We have some courses that allow for group participation and they can go into discussion rooms and work together. We have opportunities for students to work on projects together, and you may be working with a student from a whole different place across the country in a different country. So those opportunities, I think, are invaluable. The other part is when we design our courses, we do keep in mind what the latest research is showing. So, for example, we'll use Universal Design for Learning principles to ensure that we're offering different pathways for our students to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of concepts they're being taught. For example, we designed the courses through the lens of Universal Design for Learning principles to allow multiple pathways for students to demonstrate their understanding and learning of the content materials and strategies and assessments. The other thing is we offer opportunities for students to have community-building and relationship-building, that happens through cohorts.

0:18:48.3 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
Oftentimes when students enter into the program, they will stay together with a cohort of students throughout the whole program. So they get to know one another, support one another, and interact with each other. The other aspect is that projects are set up where students can work together and collaborate. There's also synchronous meetings, that are held by the teaching professor or faculty who are running the courses when needed, to support students' understanding and learning. Our programs consider the working person's lifestyle, therefore they are offered asynchronous, but they are enhanced through synchronous opportunities that are offered when needed for the students, for discussions, for advisement, for direction. So all these opportunities together allow for students to meet success going through our programs. The future of our online special ed programs looks bright. We are daily working together with folks here on campus for recruitment and then also with the supports of other folks who help us design the canvas platform to make sure that we're getting a diverse group of students across the country, across the world, to ensure that we have great representation of what's happening in the field.

0:20:08.6 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
The future of our curriculum and the structure of our programs has been something that we continuously look at. We are a continuous improvement program, so every year we will look at what needs to occur, what needs to happen. I believe that our future is looking very bright with all the great things that are surfacing with technology. We have something called Jayhawkville at KU that could be a part of the special ed program in the future, where we join this Jayhawkville where there are schools there and people participating and we could interact across content areas, we could be working with students in the curriculum and teaching field. We have opportunities that would allow maybe for some clinical experience for people who need that experience, who are unable to work with students in a school setting. So I think the future is gonna shift.

0:21:04.3 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
We know that something needs to happen differently. We know that students have struggled and we need to be able to be responsive to what the needs are. The pandemic taught us a lot. We know that technology can be used in positive ways, and we need to continue to look at that to see how we can do that. We were very fortunate here with our online programs in the special ed department, during the pandemic, we were able to continue to teach and continue to learn together on some of the things that needed to happen to be responsive, not only to our students we had in the online programs, but those students that they were teaching. So we continue to improve with all the latest of technology, but also being very conscious of the needs of students and teachers in their unique settings as they continue to move forward to try to do the best that they can to become master teachers and educators.

0:21:58.2 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
Our online programs are unique in that they provide the flexibility for those working to be able to attend class because they are offered asynchronous. There is some synchronous time, but that is scheduled based on the student's flexibility. So you may be asking, "So what kind of time commitment is needed for me to do a program like this?" We find that students need to dedicate six to 10 hours a week to the coursework, to the activities and the assignments. There may be some weeks that you have to dedicate a little bit more time, for example, if you're doing a practicum. We have practicums that are overseen by our faculty and a mentor from your school. We work together to ensure that you're taking what you're learning and applying it in the classroom. So during that time, you are actually videotaping, you're using a great tool that we have that will help you capture it.

0:22:51.5 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
Right now we're using the tool and that allows for you to videotape yourself teaching and to receive feedback from the instructor. So if you're doing practicum, anticipate a little bit more time. Other than that, if you're taking the coursework, anticipate doing some reading, doing some type of activity, having a discussion group and maybe an assignment. So during that, you can plan on six to 10 hours. One of our students from the high incidences program who was in Colorado completed the program with a little push and shove. He was running into some things, 'cause life happens, but in the end, he was able to complete it and step into a leadership role as the director of special ed. In that role, he then encouraged his teachers to join our KU online program and then he became the mentor for that student as they worked through the program.

0:23:44.7 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
I think that was the greatest experience, me watching this one student who fumbled a little bit rise up to the point that he moved up in his career to the point that he was giving back and helping other teachers be able to get their degree and become a master teacher. Another situation was a student whom was a paraeducator who went through the program and it happened in the midst of the pandemic and we were doing practicum and that student had to learn quickly how to move content into an online platform, how to make instructional videos. This student rose up and not only did they learn how to use the tools to make videos, but they understand how to make them in a way that is engaging for students. And I'll never forget when she finished up with the program, she was hired on not only to help with the special ed self-contained room, but as the tech person in the building to help others.

0:24:51.2 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
And I think that was a pretty great experience that she embarked on her own. Those of us who had her in class really just encouraged her and she continues to rise up the ladder in her field. It's a great opportunity for you to step into a program that can be flexible, in time with your schedule, that allows you access to experts in the field and helps you to move on and reflect about your teaching, learning and interactions with students with disabilities. It is one of the most transformational experiences for students who enter our program, is how they come in and then how they leave. I hear it over and over again about when students have to reflect back on the couple of years that they, or the four classes that they had to go through to get a certificate or to get their master's or endorsement or licensure.

0:25:44.9 Irma Brasseur-Hock:
The transformation that occurs allows students to take time to reflect and look, and carefully look at how are they teaching? How are they advocating? How are they helping their students, their teachers? And I think for us here at KU, that is what we want. We wanna ensure that we have teachers who are coming to us, who leave feeling accomplished, feeling as though they've mastered the skill and can move forward and impact the outcomes of students with disability, support parents, lead the way and advocate. As you're entering into this program, I think you just need to prepare to be open-minded and be ready to be transformed in the ways that you may have never thought about that you could teach, advocate and lead.