Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Contrasting models of the role of socioemotional development for childrens school readiness

12/15/2009

The empirical case for the importance of childrens socioemotional development in classroom contexts has emerged from several different traditions in developmental, clinical, and educational psychology. From developmental perspectives, converging lines of inquiry from social developmental and neurobehavioral literatures suggest that children enter schools with distinct profiles of emotional reactivity, regulation and executive functioning that appear to facilitate or hinder their engagement with other learners, teachers, and the process of learning (Blair, 2002; Fantuzzo et al., 2007; Howse, Calkins, Anastopoulos, Keane, & Shelton, 2003; Raver, 2002). Similarly, drawing from a tradition of attachment theory, developmental researchers have highlighted ways that some children establish and maintain relationships with teachers that are characterized by a high degree of mutual positive engagement while other children engage in relationships with teachers that are characterized by a high level of conflict (for review, see Pianta, Justice, Cottone, Mashburn, & Rimm-Kaufman, symposium presentation). Third, clinical and educational psychological studies have highlighted the extent to which childrens disruptive, aggressive, and withdrawn behaviors have serious implications for short-term opportunities as well as long-term opportunities for learning, both for children manifesting behavioral difficulty and for their peers (Campbell, Shaw, & Gilliom, 2000). A fourth tradition of observational research in classrooms has highlighted ways that teachers also bring their own regulatory and interpersonal profiles of strength and difficulty to classroom interactions and instruction with their students (LoCasale-Crouch et al., 2007). These four mechanisms are likely to be transactionally, bidirectionally related as children with varying self-regulatory profiles elicit differing patterns of responsiveness versus conflict with teachers. These variables are also likely to be highly confounded by omitted variables or unmeasured characteristics across children, teachers, and settings (Duncan, 2003). For these reasons, investigators across developmental, clinical, and educational fields have come to consensus that experimental and quasi-experimental approaches are integral to our ability to draw causal inferences on the roles and modifiability of these processes as predictors of childrens school readiness.

In each of the sections below, a brief literature review is provided for each of these four possible mechanisms supporting low-income childrens school readiness. Findings from federally funded research initiatives are then considered, with close attention to whether those interventions yielded clear evidence of significant impacts on childrens socioemotional development (see Table 1 for summary of interventions designs, samples, and findings).

Table 1.
Brief overview of selected RCT efficacy trials targeting school readiness
Title of Intervention Principal Investigator Targeted Sample Synopsis of intervention/ treatment Synopsis of control Analytic approach Evidence of school readiness benefit?
Project REDI Bierman 356 urban and suburban/rural southeastern PA HS children (25% African American, 17% Hispanic) Teacher-delivered, curriculum-based lessons; SEL and literacy enrichment ; teacher training; parent materials usual practice Head Start curricula HLM,
Level 1: child sex and race
Level 2: center site, cohort, intervention status
Yes
Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) Raver 90 teachers (71% African American, 20% Hispanic); 602 low-income, ethnic minority children (% African American, % Hispanic) in Chicago HS 30 hours of teacher training, coaching, and mental health consultancy for teacher and children Teacher aide rather than mental health consultant HLM, Level 1: child characteristics

Level 2: classroom characteristics

Level 3: site-level characteristics + randomized status in treatment vs. control

Yes
Tools of the Mind Diamond 147 low-income, urban students (78% annual income <$25,000) Teacher training on Vygotskyan emphasis on activities that promote executive functioning Districts version of Balanced Literacy curriculum Multiple regression analyses with age, gender, curriculum, years in curriculum as IV Yes
Project Approach Powell 13 teachers with at least a BA in urban Midwest serving 204 ethnic minority children (40% African American, 17% Hispanic) 48 hours of teacher training and support (18 introductory, 12 follow-up, 12 individual consultation) Teacher-developed, nonspecific curricula ANCOVA and repeated measures analyses No, iatrogenic impact reported.
My Teaching Partner
(MTP)
Pianta 113 early childhood teachers with at least BA (24% African American, 4% multiracial) in Virginia serving at-risk children in state-funded pre-K Traditional materials; access to planning materials through website; interactive, web-based consultancy Materials and website only resource HLM growth trajectories accounting for observer influence, teacher education and experience, number of students, % of students in poverty Yes
Building Language for Literacy Ramey 24 classrooms of at-risk, mostly ethnic minority children in Louisiana and Maryland Job-embedded coaching with literacy skills emphasis and quality of classroom environment Existing MCPS supports   Yes
N Florida ELLM Fountain 28 teachers (64% African American) serving 297 children (71% African American, 8% Hispanic) in Florida 5-day training session for literacy coaches, 2-day follow-up months later; teacher training with focus on materials and curriculum; weekly literacy coach visits Assorted curricula: Creative Curriculum, Beyond Centers and Circletime, High Reach Learning Pre-K, High/Scope ANCOVA; repeated measures analyses Yes
Pre-K Mathematics   316 children (45% African American, 23% Hispanic) in California and New York 4-day teacher training workshops, ongoing on-site training twice per month, feedback after bimonthly observations Assorted curricula: Creative Curriculum, Montessori, High Scope, BPS Benchmarks ANCOVA Yes
Language-Focused Curriculum Justice 14 teachers and 205 children (21% African American, 5% Hispanic) in rural and suburban Virginia 3-day teacher training workshop and two follow-up sessions over school year, with focus on language stimulation High/Scope curriculum materials ANCOVA and repeated measures analyses No statistically significant findings
Doors to Discovery/Lets Begin with the Letter People Assel 603 pre-kindergarten children (21% African American, 42% Hispanic) in greater Houston area Teacher training and materials, focus on small group activities and scaffolding/Teacher training and materials, focus on responsive teaching practices to encourage strong socioemotional skills; both curricula utilized mentors Comparison school Multilevel growth curve modeling Yes

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