Wednesday, May 19, 2021

By: Claire Quigle

The University of Iowa College of Education recently announced the 2021 recipients of the Teaching and Learning Graduate Student Research Paper Awards. These awards honor the research done by the college’s graduate students and recognize them for their work on a single publication as a first or sole author.

Brendon Nylen, from Sioux City, Iowa, and Nicole Ann Amato, from New Jersey are this year’s recipients of the Research Paper awards.

These awards were judged by a committee of faculty and post-doctoral scholars, with representation from all programs within the Department of Teaching and Learning.

Amato says she was proud to win the award.

“It was my very first peer-reviewed published piece as a grad student,” Amato says. “Re-reading it makes me cringe because I can see all the ways I would do it differently now. I guess that’s also a humbling and healthy reminder that we never stop improving! The piece is definitely a reminder of how far I’ve come in my writing and thinking throughout this program.”

Nylen was also proud but surprised to win the award.

“I was surprised and humbled to learn about winning the award considering there are a lot of talented, hard-working individuals at the University of Iowa doing a lot of important research,” Nylen says.

Brendon Nylen


Brendon Nylen

Nylen is a second-year doctoral student in the special education program. His paper, titled “Video Models and the Transitioning of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities: A Systematic Literature Review​”, will be published in Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities in September 2021. Nylen’s advisor, Seth King, special education assistant professor, was a co-author.

Nylen’s research focuses on the challenging behavior, specifically self-injurious behavior and physical aggression, of children with an autism spectrum disorder. He says he became interested in this area of research when he realized video models may be an intervention that reduces challenging behavior.

In his paper, Nylen reviews studies about using video models, which are video demonstrations of a skill, in improving the transitions (a change in location or tasks) of individuals with developmental disabilities. Developmental disabilities encompass multiple conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability.

“I learned a lot of interesting information about video models,” Nylen says. “I hope to continue to read more about video models and to work directly with children with disabilities to teach appropriate skills.”

Nylen says he started his research paper as an assignment in Introduction to Educational Research, a class taught by Deborah Reed, director of the Iowa Reading Research Center and special education associate professor. He studied video models and individuals with developmental disabilities. Nylen says there is not a lot of research supporting the efficacy of video models in improving the transitions of people with developmental disabilities.

In the future, Nylen hopes to work with children with autism by reducing their challenging behavior.

Nicole Ann Amato


Nicole Amato

Amato is pursuing a doctorate in Literacy, Language, and Culture . Her research paper, "I'm fat. It's not a cuss word, A Critical Content Analysis of Young Adult Literature Featuring Fat Female Protagonists”, was published in the Journal of Language and Literacy Education (JOLLE) in Spring 2019. 

Her research involves studying how fat bodies are written about in Young Adult Literature (YAL) and how teachers can use these texts to engage students in critical conversations about fatphobia. 

Amato used methods of content analysis to look across YAL featuring characters who identified as fat. She also looked at how graphic novels were sometimes better suited to portray fat characters in liberating ways because their bodies could be visually represented in the story.

She has been working on this research for three years and has another paper, coming out this summer in The ALAN Review, about how teachers can study peritext of book covers to look at how publishers are positioning readers to engage with themes of body image, health, and beauty.

“I was most inspired by former students,” Amato says. “In Chicago, I taught in a school that policed how youth were supposed to behave and look. Discipline and dress code policies were rigid and highly gendered. The physical education curriculum required students to meet fitness benchmarks or else students couldn’t go on to the next grade level. I was worried about the damage this did to students who didn’t fit into these narrow and normative ways of thinking about how bodies should look. It made me think about how I could, as an ELA teacher, disrupt this kind of thinking through literature discussions.”

Going forward, Amato is not sure how much she will pursue research specifically about fatness in YAL. Broadly, her research interests are about how teacher educators can use YAL to help pre-service teachers develop critical consciousness so they feel prepared to lead students in critical conversations about race, gender, sexuality, and class. 

After receiving her doctorate, Amato hopes to become a professor of education, working with literacy and English education majors who are studying to become licensed teachers in K-12 settings.