Psychology professor and students research bilingual education
Perla Gamez and her students could be shaping the future of bilingual education. The assistant psychology professor and several graduate and undergraduate students are working on research that seeks to improve the way classroom instruction is approached for English language learners.
In fact, Dr. Gamez was recently awarded the prestigious NAEd/Spencer postdoctoral fellowship from the National Academy of Education Sciences. The fellowship is awarded each year to less than 30 applicants from across the world, and is intended to support early career scholars studying education.
The fellowship will also allow Gamez to spend the next year working full time on her research. She and her students are currently studying transitional bilingual education programs for elementary students who are minority language learners—which according to Gamez, are traditionally Spanish speaking students learning English.
Specifically, they’re looking at how the quality of language spoken in the classroom and at home affects children and their language development. Gamez wants to determine whether hearing high quality words and phrases in both their native tongue and English improves a child’s ability to learn English.
“When you think about language learners, you tend to want to simplify the input,” Gamez said. “We’ve found that giving high quality talk is better.”
Included in Gamez’s research team are three graduate students and five undergraduate psychology students, many of whom are volunteers interested in the subject. The team spends hours listening to and transcribing data from classroom experiments. According to Gamez, it can take over 12 hours to transcribe 20 minutes of audio.
But Gamez helps out her team just as much as they help her; she holds lab meetings every two weeks to help her students applying to graduate schools and looking to enter academia. Being involved with the research project also gives her students important experience.