Santa Clara University

Teaching Teachers

Susan De La Paz--at right, with Thomas Haloren--helps teachers develop instructional methods that aid students of all abilities.
Susan De La Paz--at right, with Thomas Haloren--helps teachers develop instructional methods that aid students of all abilities.
For Susan De La Paz, the best part of being a professor in Santa Clara University’s School of Education is the opportunity to link educational research on best practices in teaching to the university classroom. “The current political landscape puts so many pressures on teachers that we [teacher educators] owe it to students to share effective teaching methods and to prepare them to think critically about future challenges,” she says.

 

In addition to prepping students on their way to a teaching career, De La Paz is a respected researcher, engaging in work that crosses the fields of special education and literacy, and more recently, history. Her research interests began with a focus on developing and evaluating writing for students with and without learning disabilities. “Most students, even through high school and beyond, are novices when it comes to learning how to compose effectively,” she says. “This creates a wonderful opportunity to create instructional programs that benefit all learners, not simply those with school-identified learning problems.”

 

De La Paz came to SCU in 2000 and has taught several courses in the credential and master’s programs. She says one of her greatest joys is for students to remark how her teaching gave them new tools for thinking about teaching.

 

Language has been a passion with De La Paz for as long as she can remember. She started her career as a speech language pathologist working at a hospital rehabilitation unit. “My focus then was talking—the spoken word. Today as a researcher, my focus is on how students interact with written words, and on preparing students to be successful in both academic and societal contexts.”

 

While most students in education do not have the time to engage in research with faculty, De La Paz has been able to guide approximately a dozen students in their thesis work, teaching them to design and complete a research study on a topic of their own interest.

 

De La Paz’s research has benefited both culturally and academically diverse learners. One of the most enduring findings from several of her studies is that after teachers employ her instructional methods, low-performing students and those with disabilities perform at the same level as their more capable peers had before instruction began. “While students in general become better writers, those who need to learn how to express their ideas in writing the most can do so, sometimes after years of failure in middle and even high school,” she says.

 

In 2001, De La Paz was recognized for this type of work when she was awarded the annual Samuel Kirk award for her article, “Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction in Regular Education Settings: Improving Outcomes for Students with and without Learning Disabilities” published in Learning Disabilities Research and Practice.

 

Because her research in the area of writing provides students with models of many of the cognitive processes used by expert writers, De La Paz became interested in applying the same type of support to students in the area of historical reasoning. “When historians think about the past, they engage in discipline-specific ways of reasoning—it becomes an open question the extent to which students can learn to do so, given adequate instruction from teachers.” In fact, her instructional methods for doing just this have been effective with both middle and high school students, and the first large study she conducted since coming to Santa Clara is to be published this year as the lead article in the Journal of Educational Psychology.