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Paola Uccelli

Associate Professor of Education
Paola Uccelli

Degree:  Ed.D., Harvard University, (2003)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.3601
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Office:  Larsen 320
Faculty Assistant:  Melanie Reeves


Paola Uccelli is associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. With a background in linguistics, she studies socio-cultural and individual differences in language and literacy development throughout the school years. Her research focuses on how different language skills (at the lexical, grammatical, and discourse levels) interact with each other to either promote or hinder advances in language expression and comprehension in monolingual and bilingual students. Uccelli's current projects focus on describing individual trajectories of school-relevant language development; on the design and validation of a research instrument to assess school-relevant language skills in elementary and middle school students; and on understanding how monolingual and multilingual speakers and writers learn to use a variety of discourse structures flexibly and effectively for diverse communicative and learning purposes. Uccelli studied linguistics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and subsequently earned her doctoral degree in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Being a native of Peru, she is particularly interested in Latin America where she collaborates with local researchers and often participates in research conferences and workshops.

Click here to see a full list of Paola Uccelli's courses.

Areas of Expertise

Learning for All: An international comparative study
Motivated by the overall question of "what makes a good school?", in this comparative, multi-disciplinary, and multi-method study we will investigate student outcomes in literacy and civic engagement during the transition from primary to secondary school in large urban settings in three countries: Botswana, Colombia, and Peru. In these three countries advances in educational quality lag considerably behind substantive economic and political progress; in other words, these countries have the political stability and economic resources to improve educational quality, but their students still display poor educational outcomes. The project will focus on four main mechanisms: student-teacher classroom interactions; student-parent home interactions; teacher-parent communication; and teachers', students', parents' wellbeing (economic and mental health wellbeing). More specifically, by comparing more and less successful schools within and across countries, we will focus on: (a) examining variability in the research-based mechanisms hypothesized to affect students' literacy and civic engagement; and (b) identifying and understanding how successful practices are implemented in ways that lead to better student outcomes in literacy and civic engagement.Funding source: Project funded by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean's Venture Fund. Principal Investigators: Felipe Barrera, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Paola Uccelli.

Language for Learning in Chilean Adolescent Students
In this collaborative research study Dr. Meneses' team from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and Dr. Uccelli’s team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) are working together to generate a test of academic language proficiency for monolingual Spanish-speaking students, Evaluación de Lenguage Académico . Dr. Uccelli and Dr. Meneses, who was a postdoctoral fellow at HGSE, worked together in the design of the Core Academic Language Skills Instrument (CALS-I), an innovative, theoretically-grounded and psychometrically robust instrument to track the development of school-relevant language skills in English-speaking students from 4th to 8th grade (Uccelli, Barr, Dobbs, Galloway, Meneses, & Sánchez, 2013). In the current project Uccelli and Meneses will extend their prior collaboration to design and pilot test a functionally equivalent and culturally appropriate Spanish version of the CALS-I and to explore the contribution of academic language skills to reading comprehension in monolingual Spanish-speaking Chilean students (Uccelli & Meneses, 2015).Funding source: Project funded by Harvard-Chile Innovation Grants, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies 2014-2015 to Principal Investigators: Paola Uccelli, Harvard Graduate School of Education, & Alejandra Meneses, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Core Academic Language Skills (CALS): Operational construct and instrument
The Language for Learning Research Group, led by Dr. Paola Uccelli, engaged in a systematic review of the literature in order to design a construct of academic language skill that could inform assessment and instruction. The CALS construct is defined as a constellation of the high-utility language skills that correspond to linguistic features prevalent in oral and written academic discourse across school content areas and that are infrequent in colloquial conversations (e.g., knowledge of logical connectives, such as nevertheless, consequently; knowledge of structures that pack dense information, such as nominalizations or embedded clauses; knowledge of structures for organizing argumentative texts) Over the last years, as part of the Catalyzing Comprehension Through Discussion Debate project funded by IES to the Strategic Educational Research Partnership, Dr. Paola Uccelli and her research team have produced a research-based, theoretically-grounded, and psychometrically robust instrument to measure core academic language skills (CALS-I) for students in grades 4-8. This instrument has enabled us to directly measure a larger constellation of academic language skills that go beyond academic vocabulary and to offer direct evidence of strong associations between these skills and reading comprehension (Phillips-Galloway, Stude, Uccelli, in press; Uccelli, Barr, Dobbs, Phillips-Galloway, Meneses, & Sánchez, 2015; Uccelli, Phillips-Galloway, Barr, Meneses, & Dobbs, 2015).Funding source: The research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305F100026 to the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) as part of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative.

Mapping Cross-Linguistic Writing Development in Adolescents
The EF Project is conducted to explore individual differences in pre-adolescents' and adolescents' English academic language proficiency (or school-relevant language proficiency). With the focus on both second language learners and monolingual speakers, our study sample includes students from various socioeconomic backgrounds, language and cultural groups in the U.S., and internationally, from Russia and China. The findings have the potential to reveal the importance of language in school learning across contexts and content areas. Our ultimate goal is to highlight the importance of ongoing adolescent language development for educators, researchers, and policy makers by revealing how teachers' and students' ways of using language support advances in students' text comprehension, academic writing, and school achievement. Funding source: EF Education First Grant (2013 - 2016), Principal Investigator, Paola Uccelli

Connectives Intervention with Elementary Grade Students
In collaboration with Diane August (Center for Applied Linguistics), Chris Barr (University of Houston), & Lauren Artzi (Center for Applied Linguistics), this study was conducted as part of the VIAS: Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment for Spanish Speakers, a subproject of the NIH-funded project entitled, Acquisition of Vocabulary in English (AVE). This project developed and tested a vocabulary intervention as part of a larger vocabulary study designed to improve language and literacy skills in Spanish/English bilingual second graders. An assessment of text connectives for early primary school students, as well as a five-week intervention that demonstrated promising results, are part of the products of this project.Funding source: The Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment for Spanish Speakers (VIAS) project was a 5-year program of research funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The grants supported research on the literacy and language development of Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs) conducted by investigators at the Center for Applied Linguistics and its collaborators, Harvard University, Boston College, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Houston.

Sponsored Projects

The Global Learner Project (2016-2019)
Signum International AG

A three-year research project funded by Education First (EF) was launched in March 2013. The project focused on academic writing proficiency in international English-as-a-foreign-language learners. Using data collected at EF centers in different parts of the world, the project focused on adolescents’ academic writing proficiencies across different first languages/cultures (China, Russia, U.S.) and across different types of texts.

As the successful and productive three-year project (from March 2013 to May 2016) comes to an end, the present research proposal seeks to extend the collaboration between EF and HGSE through a second funding cycle of three years (from November 2016 through November 2019). In this second round of funding, the project will include two main lines of research:

Research Line 1: The Global Academic English Learner Instrument
Designing a computer adaptive assessment to track academic language development in transnational
English Learners.

Research Line 2: The Global Competencies Instrument
Designing a framework to assess global competencies in adolescents to assess students who participate and those who do not participate in EF experiential learning opportunities.

Potential Research Line 3
If the funding extends beyond the three years of funding, a potential third research line would be the
Innovation lab.

Exploring adolescent English learners' proficiency in persuasive academic writing (2013-2016)
EF Education First Limited

Proficiency in academic writing in secondary school is often an indicator of a successful adult trajectory in both the academic and professional spheres. In particular, persuasive essays, as a prominent genre of academic writing, require the writer to present his or her views in a logical way with appropriate supporting examples. Recognizing the importance of expressing one’s perspective through effective linguistic means, the emphasis in second language teaching is shifting from that on achieving grammatical accuracy to encouraging students to discuss views and communicate complex ideas in both oral and written forms. Following such a trend in education, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), a major form of instructional approach in second language acquisition, is increasingly being accepted into classrooms around the world for its pedagogical aim on promoting students’ abilities to clearly communicate their ideas in the target language.

An important question for foreign language approaches is to investigate whether CLT’s promotion of students’ communicative abilities can also enhance their skills in presenting their arguments in written form in persuasive essays. Many learners of English, in particular those in East Asia, often face challenges in using English as a communicative tool in delivering their thoughts during written and oral discussions at school and in the workplace despite a strong desire and effort to achieve proficiency in English. Therefore, this project seeks to examine persuasive academic writing skills in English-as-foreign-language (EFL) students attending courses at Education First (EF), a major company in foreign language education, which incorporates features of CLT to its pedagogical approach. Based on the research findings, suggestions are provided to design an enhanced instructional approach to promote persuasive writing skills.

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