The West Virginia University College of Human Resources and Education received a $50,000 gift for the Competent Learner Model, an ongoing instructional practices research project conducted by Department of Technology, Learning and Culture Chair Dr. Dan Hursh.
Dr. Ronald and Ms. Mary Ann Zdrojkowski of Pittsburgh are making the donation in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University, a $750 million fundraising effort being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University.
“This is the largest individually funded research project in the history of the College of Human Resources and Education,” said Dr. Lynne Schrum, HRE dean. “It supports WVU and HRE research initiatives in the State of Minds Campaign. We are grateful to Dr. Ronald and Ms. Mary Ann Zdrojkowski for their continued support of Dr. Hursh’s work. The Competent Learner Model research is an active research project that is attracting national interest in the field of applied behavior analysis.”
The Competent Learner Model develops learner repertoires for mastering academic subject matter and can be adapted to assist everyday functions such as communication, socialization, health maintenance, transportation, employment, maintaining settings, purchases, entertainment and nourishment.
Hursh, an educational psychology professor, is the primary investigator on the Competent Learner Model with collaboration from WVU Nursery School Director Dr. Bobbi Warash and educational psychology professor Dr. Reagan Curtis and the assistance of doctoral students Dana Cihelkova and Brandi Weekley. It builds on research begun 35 years ago by WVU alumna Vicci Tucci, a Weston, W.Va., native. The Competent Learning Model is based on her study of applied behavioral analysis. Its components have since been used in various school districts and settings in West Virginia, Virginia, California, Florida, Abu Dhabi, and Pennsylvania.
“At WVU, the goal of the Competent Learner Model research is to assist teachers to implement effective and sustainable early education programs for children with challenging learning problems,” Hursh said.
While the model was initially designed for use in special education, WVU researchers have also implemented it in general education settings. It assists teachers in the development of seven Competent Learner Repertoires for preschool through fourth grade children. These include participator, problem solver, observer, listener, talker, reader, and writer repertoires.
The model also includes a course of study for teachers or parents. It trains them to develop the learning skills of their students/children.
“A particular success story is a WVU Nursery School student with autism who moved on to a general education kindergarten class. (Weekley’s) master’s thesis supported his progress, and she helped him focus by cueing teachers to acknowledge his good behavior,” Hursh said. “So far he has continued in general education classes through first, second, and third grades with no interaction with us and only some observations during the spring of his first grade year that showed he is indistinguishable from his peers.”
Participating schools include the WVU Nursery School, Cheat Lake Elementary, Wilsonburg Elementary (Harrison County) and Peterson-Central Elementary (Lewis County). The gift will allow the research to expand to Jane Lew Elementary (Lewis County) beginning this fall.
“At Jane Lew Elementary, we will coach six teachers through the online course of study and evaluate how they integrate the model in their classroom for both general education students and students with disabilities,” Hursh said. “The model’s approach is applicable in most classrooms where students have a wide range of skills. It coaches teachers on how to adapt and arrange their instructional practices for different environments and learning abilities.”
While the course units are taught online, the participating teachers are coached in-person through observation and videoing lessons to evaluate classroom progress over time.
“Observation and evaluation of the teachers will show how practices shift and improve based on what they are learning from the course of study,” Hursh said. “After all, the foundation of the model is how to arrange and rearrange instructional conditions to best fit the needs of any given classroom environment.”
“Dr. Tucci is an example of how West Virginians have gone on to do great things and bring them back to West Virginia and even her hometown as seen by the collaboration with Lewis County Schools,” Hursh added.
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CONTACT: Christie Zachary, Human Resources and Education