Cutting-Edge Research to Transform School Practices

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) recently announced $650,000 in funding to the University of Arizona College of Education and the Tucson Unified School District. With the funding, a research team led by Francesca López at the university, along with Norma González and Lorenzo López at TUSD, will explore the impact of asset-based dialogic teaching on student outcomes like curiosity and self-direction at Tucson Magnet, Cholla, and Pueblo High Schools in Tucson. The teaching process involves teachers posing critical problems for inquiry, reflecting upon students' responses, and engaging students in conversation.

“Asset-based dialogic teaching engages with students’ prior knowledge and experiences through collaboration and engaging learning tasks that build curiosity and self-direction,” said Associate Dean and Professor Francesca López of the University of Arizona College of Education. “This funding will allow us to understand the impact of asset-based dialogic teaching on student outcomes, and to understand how we can transform teaching practices in ways that will elevate students’ opportunities. It is particularly well-suited for adolescents, given that they are in the midst of identity exploration and are developmentally capable of engaging in high-level analysis and debate.”

Asset-based dialogic teaching builds on adolescents’ assets while integrating social, emotional, and cognitive skills.

“Unlocking the power of advanced educational research depends on not only sharing with educators, but learning from, validating, and valuing their experiences and insights,” said CZI’s Head of Education Sandra Liu Huang. “We are excited to support these collaborations between educators and researchers to advance whole child-focused school practices and help improve student outcomes.” 

Tucson Unified School District is a majority-minority district, with 65% of students identifying as Latinx. Almost half (46%) of the Latinx student population in the district qualifies for free or reduced lunch. The University of Arizona is the only member of the Association of American Universities that is a land-grant, Hispanic Serving Institution on the borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico.

Despite more than half a century of education reforms, historically marginalized students continue to be underrepresented in a vast array of achievement outcomes.

López adds, “Prior research has contributed to our understanding about the ways teachers communicate their expectations to students, how students perceive differential teacher behaviors, and their effect on students’ own perceptions of ability and achievement. The asset-based practice of dialogic teaching results in positive, trusting relationships, attachment and emotional connections, physical and emotional safety, and a sense of belonging and purpose.”

Asset-based pedagogy is a term that reflects unique competencies that are essential to the effective teaching of historically marginalized students. Asset-based pedagogy views students as having assets, countering the widespread view that inordinate achievement disparities stem from deficiencies in youth.

“By building on these foundational skills and mindsets, we will help refine how teachers engage with students’ prior knowledge and experiences via collaboration, challenging students with culturally relevant and engaging learning tasks that lead to curiosity and self-direction,” López said.

This is one of nine grants, totaling $5.45 million, announced today for teams of educators and researchers working together to improve school practices by applying the science of learning and development. The teams will be focused on school practices that help students develop self-direction and curiosity. Each team, which includes educators, support organizations, and researchers, will participate in a multi-year collaboration designed to strengthen connections among educators, schools, and communities nationwide.

“We’re excited to support the work of these teams to expand the definition of student success beyond academics by translating the science of learning and development into exemplary, replicable practices,” said CZI’s Director of Whole Child Development Brooke Stafford-Brizard. “The University of Arizona College of Education and Tucson Unified School District have demonstrated the potential to not only improve student outcomes locally, but to inform their peers and the broader education field.”

CZI launched its Request for Applications for Effective School Practices to Support the Whole Child in August 2019. This announcement builds on CZI’s efforts to expand the definition of student success beyond academics to include the identity, physical, mental, cognitive, social and emotional development of individual students. Each project reflects elements of Comprehensive Student Development (CSD), a research-based framework designed to ensure that every young person enters adulthood with the knowledge, skills, habits, and agency to thrive in a changing world. 

CZI is committed to ensuring every young person enters adulthood with the skills and abilities they need to reach their full potential — and each teacher is equipped with the mindsets, tools and practices they need to support their students’ learning and development. Learn more about CZI’s education work at