Gonzalez pushing boundaries by focusing research
on unique combination of issues
It’s not uncommon to hear about faculty members dedicating their careers to finding better ways to help students with learning disabilities.
Similarly, many academics today are examining the most effective ways to teach students who are English language learners (ELLs) or emerging bilinguals.
UW–Madison’s Taucia Gonzalez, however, is unique in that her research is embedded in both of these realms at the same time.
“I’m interested in helping students with learning disabilities that are culturally and linguistically diverse,” says Gonzalez, who joined the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education as an assistant professor this past fall. “It’s of interest to me because I’ve worked in the schools and I know there is a real need for better information on how best to help these students.”
Prior to her current position, Gonzalez spent 10 years working as both a teacher and instructional coach at the elementary and middle school levels in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2006, the electorate in that state voted to require all public school instruction be conducted in English only, a decision that was implemented in 2008. Students classified as ELLs in Arizona were then moved to separate, English language development classrooms.
“That was pretty jolting for the students, the educators and the schools,” says Gonzalez, who volunteered in 2008 to co-teach a class of seventh and eighth graders who had been classified as ELLs. Surprisingly, in that classroom of 24 students, six were also classified as having learning disabilities.
Meanwhile, the school Gonzalez was teaching at had a history of working with faculty at Arizona State University on action research projects. And during this intense period of transition to the English-only mandate, Gonzalez started working with two professors from ASU on research in her classroom.
The faculty members, Elizabeth B. Kozleski and Alfredo Artiles, later invited Gonzalez to apply for a doctoral program at ASU. Although taking part in the program would require Gonzalez to quit her teaching position, she ultimately jumped at the opportunity.
After receiving her Ph.D. from ASU last year in curriculum and instruction, with an emphasis on special education, she landed her position at UW–Madison just a few months later.
“I feel like it’s a dream come true and sometimes I still can’t believe I’m here,” says Gonzalez. “But I attribute a lot of my success to the mentorship of Alfredo (Artiles) and his help guiding my research.”
Among her current projects, Gonzalez is examining the readiness of special education teachers to work with ELLs. Her current studies also utilize youth-led participatory action research, or YPAR, that allows young people with and without disabilities to play a key role in action research projects that are designed to help students address school and community problems.
In her new role at UW–Madison, Gonzalez also is continuing to build relationships with area educators and school districts, and local Latina/o groups.
“I consider myself a boundary spanner in a lot of ways,” says Gonzalez. “I enjoy looking at issues from a variety of angles. I’m also excited about conducting my work in the Midwest, which has a growing Latino population.”