Florida State researchers improve teacher training and childhood literacy in Nigeria


A first-grade classroom in northeast Nigeria can be a difficult place to learn.

Classes might be filled with 100 students, and although many children speak a regional language called Kanuri, teachers often give classes in Hausa, a wider-used lingua franca. Many of the students’ parents can’t read. Teachers may not be adequately trained. And classes are happening in a region where Boko Haram has launched attacks against schools and kidnapped students.

It’s in this challenging environment that researchers from Florida State University’s Learning Systems Institute are working to improve the educational landscape. Supported by $2.6 million in funding, researchers have embarked on a series of projects to improve teacher training and literacy to help these students gain some ground.

The Learning Systems Institute, an internationally recognized, university-based research and development organization, has a long history of work in Nigeria. On a trip to the region this year, Associate Professor of International and Multicultural Education Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski saw a gleaming new school. She complimented the headmaster on the facility, and he informed her it was brand-new. It had been rebuilt after Boko Haram burned down the building for the third time.

“They just come back, and they build it again, and they keep on going,” Zuilkowski said. “It’s impressive. It speaks to people’s commitment to not letting Boko Haram win.”


Millions of students across northern Nigeria will benefit from a pair of projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The institute is a partner in the Northern Education Initiative Plus, a project to train about 20,000 teaching instructors and learning facilitators in reading instruction for young students. The project is implemented by the international development organization Creative Associates International.

The intervention helped teachers move from theory to practice in their classrooms. Instruction changed from simply exposing students to texts to classes that focus on developing skills.

One lesson involved writing letters on bottlecaps and teaching students that each cap represented a sound. The method teaches students to listen for individual sounds and to assign that sound to a letter. When students recognize the letter-sound correlations, they can combine the bottlecaps to create words. For the teachers, it was practice delivering lessons on phonics and vocabulary.

“They talked a lot about it, theoretically, but even the teacher-educators themselves had no idea how to actually do that in practice,” said Adrienne Barnes, an LSI research faculty member and the principal investigator for the project. In February, LSI members will visit the country to assess its impact.

Institute researchers are involved in other efforts to train the next generation of teachers in the country by establishing a reading research center at Bayero University in the city of Kano. As part of that USAID initiative, students from the university visit Florida State for a six-month period to take graduate classes in education and to work with a faculty mentor to design and implement a research project they carry out when they return to Nigeria.

It’s an important step toward long-term, sustainable progress in the country, said Zuilkowski, the principal investigator. Projects that rely on foreign experts eventually end. This project will create local experts in childhood reading and research, and their understanding of the on-the-ground conditions will lead to reading interventions specifically designed for Nigerian students.

“They are getting a really in-depth understanding of the current state of the research about what we know about how kids learn how to read,” she said. “We’re already starting to see that different organizations are reaching out to them when they return to work as consultants on their projects, which is really exciting because that tells us that other organizations value what we are doing and the skills the faculty are getting.”


The institute is also giving primary students in northeast Nigeria a chance to take elementary school classes in their mother tongue.

When students in that region start school, they often come from Kanuri-speaking homes. Their instruction, however, is in Hausa and English. An LSI project funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development through UNICEF developed a curriculum for Kanuri-speaking students.

FSU researchers took a curriculum for early literacy and mathematics classes that had been developed in Hausa and worked with local translators and teachers to adapt it into Kanuri and test it with second-grade students. The curriculum is now being used in first, second and third-grade classrooms in two northeast Nigerian states.

Local partnerships were especially important for this work, Zuilkowski said. The researchers who were trained by FSU were able to go into areas that would have been dangerous for her and her colleagues in order to gather information on educational outcomes that was essential for testing the effectiveness of the intervention.

When the final product was ready for publication, the creators needed to name it. The local educators who worked with FSU researchers proposed “KARI,” which stands for “Kanuri Arithmetic and Reading Intervention.” It has a second meaning. In the Kanuri language, “kari” means “light” or “torch.”

“They were very excited with the name,” said Ana Marty, an LSI research faculty member and the principal investigator for the project. “It’s like this torch and this light that is coming to the schools with these materials. The children are learning to read in their language that they know from home. They come to first grade speaking Kanuri and now they see these materials and they can understand them because it’s the language that they know.”

As LSI continues its work around the globe, future plans in Nigeria could include creating a professional development program for teachers in the country. For more information on LSI, visit lsi.fsu.edu.

FSU’s Learning Systems Institute is turning 50 this year!


Founded in 1969, the Learning Systems Institute is one of the nation’s oldest and most productive university-based education research organizations. LSI strives to be an internationally recognized, university-based research and development organization that measurably improves the learning and performance of organizations and individuals. https://lsi.fsu.edu/

The Learning Systems Institute at the Florida State University is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We are hoping to connect with researchers and educators who have collaborated with LSI at any point of its life. We intend to create a short video for the 50th anniversary celebration on November 7, 2019. For this purpose, we are collecting stories, testimonies, photos, etc. Please contact Dr. Flavia Ramos-Mattoussi framos@lsi.fsu.edu should you have a story to share.

LSI currently works primarily through its two centers:

  1. Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics https://lsi.fsu.edu/fcrstem/
    A multidisciplinary research center created by the Florida Legislature and competitively awarded to Florida State University in 2007, FCR–STEM helps the State of Florida improve STEM teaching and learning in grades K-12 and prepare students for higher education and STEM careers in the 21st century.
  2. Center for International Studies in Educational Research & Development https://lsi.fsu.edu/ciserd/ CISERD works to improve learning and instruction in developing countries through educational research and development. Since 1969, the international arm of LSI has partnered with international agencies, governments, universities, and non-governmental organizations to enable and support policymakers, researchers, and educators to implement educational projects and address sustainable development goals in more than 25 countries.

Contact LSI

(850) 644-2570
C4600 University Center
Florida State University
Tallahassee FL 32306-2540

The Nigeria Center for Reading and Development at BUK held a national reading conference in Kano, Nigeria

In August 2019, the Nigeria Centre for Reading Research and Development held the National Reading Conference at Bayero University, Kano. Approximately 800 participants attended the conference organized by BUK  with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Northern Education Initiative Plus (NEI+). Institutions and book vendors represented many states from all over Nigeria.  Drs. Adrienne Barnes, Nicole Patton Terry, Stephanie Zuilkowski, and Jarret (Jay) Terry represented the Florida State University.

The Nigeria Centre for Reading Research and Development was established as a result of the partnership between the Learning Systems Institute at FSU and the Bayero University, Kano.  For the last two years, several scholars from BUK have come to Tallahassee, Florida to engage with FSU faculty and students, participate in graduate studies and research related to early grade reading instruction. Several faculty members from the Learning Systems Institute and the College of Education have collaborated with BUK in Nigeria on developing curriculum and materials for early grade reading. They have also conducted numerous workshops for teacher educators in Nigeria and mentored university scholars in their journey towards excellence in reading research and teaching. These efforts aim to prepare future generations of Nigerian school-teachers,  and consequently improve children’s reading and literacy outcomes in the country.

Find below the link to the program and FSU presentations from the National Reading Conference held 19-23 August 2019 at the Nigeria Centre for Reading Research and Development housed at Bayero University, Kano.


Former LSI Director, Laura Blair Lang passes away on May 7, 2019

It’s with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Laura Lang, past director of the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University. She died on May 7, 2019 in a tragic scuba diving accident.

The memorial service for Laura Lang will be held on May 10, 2019  at 2:00 PM at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church 394 N. Haywood Street, Waynesville, NC 28786.

Alan Lang, Laura’s husband and retired FSU Psychology Professor, would appreciate a note from you recounting your fondest memories of Laura.

Alan Lang’s address is 175 Alpine Lane, Waynesville, NC 28786. Email: alang@fsu.edu

In lieu of flowers, if you are so inclined, please send a donation in Laura’s name to REACH of Haywood County, an organization to combat domestic violence she worked so hard to support and promote during her retirement.

If you would like to mail your contribution, please make your check out to REACH of Haywood County and mail it to P.O. Box 206, Waynesville, NC 28786. Or, donate online via Paypal.


Laura Blair Lang – Obituary

Dr. Laura Blair Lang of Waynesville, passed away Tuesday morning in Johnson City, Tennessee, surrounded by her family.

Laura was born July 7, 1954 in Ocala, Florida, to Richard and Alice (nee Aylward) Blair. She married Alan Lang in Asheville in 2005.

Laura’s career spanned almost four decades, which included years as a special education teacher, an award-winning secondary school principal, and finally as Director of the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University.

Her mission was always to utilize and add to the scientific foundation of knowledge and to apply it for the benefit of every learner.

In retirement she contributed to the Waynesville community through her work with REACH of Haywood County and the Master Gardeners program.

Laura is survived by her husband and her children — Megan Kiernan (Jason Utton), Blair Hassler; her step-children—Jessica Simmons (Matt), Kelly Lang (Nikki), and Max Lang; and her grandchildren — Grace and Drew Kiernan, Blythe Simmons and Dorian Lang.

A memorial service for Laura will take place at 2 p.m. Friday, May 10 at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church in Waynesville.

Mourners are encouraged to send written recollections of their fondest memories of Laura to her husband Alan and, in lieu of flowers, to make donations in her name to REACH of Haywood County, P.O. Box 206, Waynesville, NC 28786.


Screening of JFK: The Last Speech at the GLOBE scheduled for Wednesday, April 24th at 5-7 PM

There will be a screening of the film JFK: The Last Speech at the GLOBE scheduled for Wednesday, April 24th at 5-7 PM. The film was put together by Amherst College classmates of Prof. Peter Easton starting at their  50th reunion to commemorate President Kennedy’s visit to the campus in October 1963 – just a month before his assassination – to take part in the groundbreaking for the Robert Frost Memorial Library and deliver a remarkable speech, during which he stressed the relation of poetry and power, the role of the liberal arts in a democracy and the obligation on those who benefit from higher education to serve the public good. It was his last major speech. You can find more detail on the film itself at https://www.jfkthelastspeech.org/ , including – if you click on “The Film” up top – a full trailer. “Somehow the film seems particularly a propos in our present national circumstances,” says Peter Easton.

The Wednesday April 24th event  is co-sponsored by the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and the Peace Corps. Dr. Stacey Rutledge (College of Education) will facilitate the discussion with  four panelists: faculty from the English and History Departments concerned with the relation of poetry to politics and the course of our democracy and two returned Peace Corps volunteers now working for the State of Florida and continuing their mission of service.


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January 2019 edition of FSU Headlines

Watch the January 2019 edition of FSU Headlines as we take a look back at the year 2018 at Florida State University! We’re taking a look back at the most memorable moments including a visit from the President of Botswana, FSU alumni who mentioned the Learning Systems Institute in his address, and much more. Including two national championships for FSU women’s athletic teams, a new civil rights institute is launched by FSU alumni, and FSU Panama City responds to Hurricane Michael.


Roundtable discussion with Nigerian visiting scholars at FSU

Challenges and opportunities for universities in conflict contexts: a discussion with Bayero University faculty from Northern Nigeria.

Date: Friday, January 25, 2019
Time: 10:00 AM -11:30 AM
Location: Center for Global Engagement – Room 2300
110 S. Woodward Avenue
Tallahassee FL, 32306

The speakers will lead a discussion on the role of universities in promoting peace and providing opportunities for development in settings that have been impacted by conflict. They will also discuss the partnerships that FSU is undertaking in the region to support educational systems and research infrastructure.

Dr. Muhammad Bello, Vice Chancellor, Bayero University-Kano

Dr. Ismaila Tsiga, Coordinator, Nigerian Center for Reading Research and Development and Professor, Bayero University-Kano

Dr. Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, Professor and Director of the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University

This event is sponsored by the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University


Florida State University welcomes two fellows from Nigeria for the Spring 2019

The Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University—represented by Drs. Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski and Adrienne Barnes, welcomes Dr. Aisha Umar Tsiga and Dr. Amina Adamu both faculty from the Nigerian Center for Reading Research and Development at Bayero University in Kano, Nigeria. The university fellows will be at the FSU campus in Tallahassee till June 2019 as part of a USAID-sponsored partnership between Bayero University and Florida State University. LSI.FSU.EDU

Foundations for Success: Developing Effective Mathematics Educators through Cognitively Guided Instruction

Over a five-year period, the Foundations for Success project will provide Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) professional development in mathematics for 2,790 elementary teachers and 120 elementary school principals. Participating teachers will receive eight days of professional development during each year of their participation. Designed and led by the CGI Math Teacher Learning Center under the direction of Linda Levi, the CGI professional development program is a three-year, eight-day-per year program focused on number, operations, and algebraic thinking at the K–2 or 3–5 grade levels. Working with an advisory board with extensive expertise and experience supporting equity and excellence in mathematics, the Foundations for Success program will integrate evidence-based practices in early mathematics, fractions, and problem solving with promising practices for teaching traditionally underserved and underrepresented students (and their teachers) in mathematics.

Project Goals and Expected Outcomes. The Foundations for Success project will enhance elementary mathematics teacher effectiveness through large-scale implementation of CGI professional development. The project activities are designed to achieve the following goals:

  1. Provide CGI professional development in mathematics for 2,790 elementary teachers in Florida over the course of five years;
  2. Increase teachers’ knowledge of mathematics and student learning progressions;
  3. Increase teachers’ implementation of evidence-based practices in math instruction;
  4. Increase students’ mathematics achievement with a focus on traditionally underserved and underrepresented students by enhancing CGI to meet their needs; and
  5. Establish structures to support teachers’ sustained implementation of high-quality mathematics instruction in Florida beyond the grant award period.

Program Evaluation. The program evaluation design will use several complementary methodological approaches, including (1) a mixed-methods evaluation of implementation to determine the extent to which the program is being implemented as intended and to inform potential improvements of the program, (2) a multisite cluster-randomized trial to enable causal inference regarding the effect of the program on school, teacher, and student outcomes, and (3) an exploratory study investigating factors in classroom instruction that mediate the impact of the CGI intervention on student achievement.

U.S. Department of Education through the Supporting Effective Educator Development program, 2018–23, grant award number U423A180115.

Principal Investigator
Robert C. Schoen, PhD
Associate Director, FCR-STEM, Florida State University

Co-Principal Investigators
Linda Levi, PhD
Director, CGI Math Teacher Learning Center
Walter G. Secada, PhD
Senior Associate Dean, School of Education and Human Development, University of Miami

Senior Project Manager
Amanda M. Tazaz, PhD
Associate in Research, FCR-STEM, Florida State University

District Partners
Approximately one-dozen Florida school districts.