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Faculty & Research

Paola Uccelli

Professor of Education

Co-Faculty Director, Doctor of Philosophy in Education Program

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
Office Hours Contact:  Email the Faculty Member and cc the Faculty Coordinator
Faculty Coordinator:  Robyn Ennis


Paola Uccelli is professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. With a background in developmental linguistics, she studies socio-cultural and individual differences in multilingual and monolingual students’ language development throughout the school years. Her research focuses, in particular, on identifying which high-utility language skills and resources (at the lexical, grammatical, and discourse levels) support reading and writing in school; and on the design and evaluation of interventions that both affirm and amplify students’ voices. Her current projects focus on describing individual trajectories of school-relevant language development; on the design and validation of a digital research instrument to assess school-relevant language skills in elementary and middle school students; 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; and on the collaborative design of educational approaches that expand students’ language resources via multidisciplinary, culturally affirming approaches. Her research has been funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the Lemann Foundation, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Instituto Cervantes, among others. Her work has been published in various academic journals, such as Child Development, Journal of Child Language, Applied Psycholinguistics, Reading Research Quarterly and AERA Open. She conducts her research projects in partnership with other investigators and educators in schools in the U.S. and in various other countries, especially in Latin America. Uccelli studied linguistics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and subsequently earned her doctoral degree in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard University. 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. For more information visit the Language for Learning research team site, which she leads.






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


Core academic language skills instrument: Refining the assessment to measure and monitor English learners' progress (2020-2023)

This project will develop and validate a computer-adaptive version of Core Academic Language Skills Instrument (CALS-I.1) for use with both English proficient (EP) and English learner (EL) students in grades 4 through 8. CALS-I.1 is an existing assessment that has been validated to predict EP students' reading comprehension skills based on their performance with academic vocabulary. However, CALS-I.1 was not developed for use with EL students. Research indicates that ELs typically become proficient in basic reading skills and in colloquial language skills at rates similar to their native English-speaking peers, but they lag behind in developing the academic vocabulary necessary in the upper elementary years and beyond to understand increasingly complex academic texts. This project will develop an assessment tool to help teachers identify possible vocabulary difficulties for both EP and EL students, in order to address potential reading comprehension barriers. Co-Principal Investigators: Christopher Barr, Emily Phillips Galloway and Jeremy Miciak.


The language of written argumentation and explanation: Individual developmental trajectories from 4th to 8th grade (2017-2019)

This project investigates individual developmental trajectories of malleable language skills that support academic writing from 4th to 8th grade. Instruction that expands the language skills required for increasingly complex academic writing is sorely needed. The limited research available points to a set of academic language skills worth exploring in adolescent writing (e.g., skills in lexical precision, text connectivity, writer's viewpoint). Yet, longitudinal research that examines individual variability to inform the design of pedagogical tools to monitor and scaffold these critical skills is not currently available. This project has three main aims: (1) to explore the factor structure over time of academic language for writing (CALS-Write) and Writing Quality (WQ) in a socio-economically diverse longitudinal sample; (2) to examine CALS-Write individual growth trajectories from 4th to 8th grade; (3) to examine the concurrent development of academic language for reading (CALS-Read), CALS-Write and WQ. In all analyses, demographic characteristics, type of writing task, classroom- and school-level factors will be explored as predictors. To our knowledge, this study will be the first to document developmental trends and individual variability of early adolescents' academic language skills for both writing and reading, with significant implications for monitoring and instruction.


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 InstrumentDesigning a computer adaptive assessment to track academic language development in transnationalEnglish Learners.Research Line 2: The Global Competencies InstrumentDesigning 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 3If the funding extends beyond the three years of funding, a potential third research line would be theInnovation lab.

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