January 2014—When Dr. Elizabeth Moxley-Paquette launched the Wasdell Academy for Innovative Learning in Ontario, Canada, in 2002, it was in response to the needs of her firstborn, Vincent. He had struggled in a traditional school, and, although he had been identified as gifted, he’d also been identified as delayed in language learning, which meant he could fall behind. She opened the academy to offer innovative education that would address his needs and ultimately those of other local children.

At the academy, Dr. Moxley-Paquette developed a series of innovative brain exercises and psycho-educational tests to expand students’ neuroplasticity—and the program worked, particularly for Vincent. He went on to graduate from the academy two years ahead of schedule and is now on track to complete college early and enter medical school.

Although Dr. Moxley-Paquette had earned a PhD from the University of Bradford in West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom in 1997, she realized she needed a second PhD to validate her work at Wasdell. “If you validate your views with research, there is significantly more power behind them and society can stand behind you,” she says.

In recognition of her commitment as a scholar-practitioner, the PhD in Psychology student was awarded Walden University’s 2014 Harold L. Hodgkinson Award for her dissertation, Testing a Structural Equation Model of Language-Based Cognitive Fitness.

Through her dissertation, Dr. Moxley-Paquette tested a structural model of language-based cognitive fitness she had developed for the academy. Her goal was to help teachers and school psychologists work together to create a report card for students to determine when they are language-ready for the classroom.

Diving Into Research to Study Her Academy’s Efforts

After completing an extensive literature review, Dr. Moxley-Paquette pulled detailed data from Wasdell and dropped it into two customized databases. The results turned her hypothesis on its head.

“When I started the research, I was expecting a four-component hierarchical model of language fitness [to explain how children learn],” Dr. Moxley-Paquette says. The four components she initially identified were a child’s ability to receive and understand language; express it verbally first through repetition, object naming, and word retrieval; then verbally present spontaneous speech; and finally achieve writing fluency. Essentially, her hypothesis described the process from input to output and gave each segment a physical level of separation.

“What I found is that the structure of language fitness is much more interactive,” she continues. “At the most basic level of language we create verbal-visual associations that are the foundation for understanding and communication. For example, if you’ve ever listened to characters on cartoons and hear the same voice somewhere else, you imagine that character, which is an auditory-visual association,” Dr. Moxley-Paquette explains. “At the simplest level of memory formation, in a small window of time, we connect a visual and an auditory clue and create an object. Then, we park it and categorize it for retrieval later. That’s part of what the study demonstrated, which is so powerful.”

What’s more, her research will fuel her work at the academy. “Walden has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to move forward professionally with new research findings,” she says.

“Elizabeth is incredibly passionate about her topic,” says Dr. Gary J. Burkholder, her dissertation committee faculty chair and the 2014 recipient of the Bernard L. Turner Award. “The work she did was grounded in the work she does professionally, so it had a personal meaning to her, which I think is really important. She exemplifies the enthusiasm and passion for a topic every doctoral student should have.”

“I hope that the work I’ve started makes a huge difference in the field of education,” Dr. Moxley-Paquette says. “I’ll keep working diligently to make a difference in children’s lives.”

About the Harold L. Hodgkinson Award
This award is bestowed annually upon a Walden student whose dissertation is judged as meeting the highest university standards of academic excellence. The award honors the life of dedication and the distinguished career of one of the nation’s foremost experts in demography, Dr. Harold L. Hodgkinson. It also recognizes Dr. Hodgkinson’s instrumental role in the establishment and academic development of Walden University.

Read about past recipients of the Harold L. Hodgkinson Award.

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