Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Effectiveness of Integrated versus Targeted Curricula

12/15/2009

Most of the curricula and interventions evaluated in recent randomized controlled trials targeted a range of school readiness domains (e.g., language and literacy, math, socioemotional development).  The integrated focus of these interventions on multiple school readiness domains is driven by both the view that child outcome domains are interrelated and the need for early childhood program enhancements in all these areas of children's development.  A number of questions have arisen about curricula that focus on a range of school readiness domains.  Although findings from the studies of integrated curricula are positive, effects were not as large in any given domain as those for interventions targeting a specific domain, such as in the PCER studies. One hypothesis for this difference in effects is that an integrated curriculum may result in less instructional time spent on any specific area.  Therefore, the need to cover multiple developmental domains may dilute the impact of the curriculum on any one domain.

Another issue raised about integrated curricula is that it places a substantial training burden on teachers to learn how to implement many different instructional strategies.  For example, Building Bridges is a comprehensive program designed to teach children socioemotional skills by implementing socioemotional lessons in language, communication, and math activities. The program is fully integrated thematically, but also integrates behavior management skills in teacher training and coaching. Only few and relatively small effects were found for a workshop-only group; however, no effects were found for a group receiving more intensive training and follow-on support.  It may be that the intensive curriculum and more intensive professional development model were too demanding for an already overwhelmed teaching staff. It also might take longer for teachers become skilled at implementing all parts of an integrated curriculum.  It may be important to consider how intervention models might be rolled out in stages and how to scaffold teachers' learning of new curriculum and skills.

Furthermore, despite initial concerns that a more cognitively demanding intervention might provide a stressful learning environment and lead to worse behavioral outcomes for children, findings from the PCER studies provided little evidence for this relationship.  In contrast, there was some evidence of a spillover effect resulting in improved classroom climate.  As noted previously, understanding the interrelationship among school readiness domains is an area that warrants further investigation.

In addition to questions about the focus of integrated curricula on multiple domains, there is a need to further consider whether it makes sense to build an integrated curriculum from multiple curricula, each with a focus on a different school readiness domain (e.g., combining Big Math and Head Start REDI). A key component in the successful integration of multiple curricula is ensuring that there is a common underlying theoretical framework. Difficulties can arise if curricula are based on different theories of pedagogy or development. Explicit connections among various curricula need to be made, as this helps teachers to feel that there is continuity in what they are being asked to achieve in the classroom.

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