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IES Grant

Title: Supporting Young Children's School Readiness and Reduced Challenging Behaviors: An Online Course to Enhance Toddler Teacher-Child Interactions
Center: NCSER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: LoCasale-Crouch, Jennifer Awardee: University of Virginia
Program: Early Intervention and Early Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 9/1/13-8/31/17 Award Amount: $1,476,894
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A130249

Purpose: Children who struggle with behavioral problems at school entry are at significant risk for a host of school difficulties. Many of these children will be referred for special education because of adjustment problems in the classroom, achievement problems co-varying with behavioral concerns, or both. Many will ultimately be placed within the special education system. Interventions are available to prevent and reduce these early disruptive behaviors by providing children with high-quality teacher-child interactions and targeted supports for their skill development. Teachers in toddler classrooms, however, are not receiving access to these interventions or effective professional development on how to use them. As a result, the quality of teacher-child interactions in toddler classrooms is low, and the number of children with early challenging behaviors who receive special education services in elementary school is high.

The purpose of this study is to develop, refine, and test an online course for teachers of toddlers aimed at improving the quality of their interactions with children as a mechanism to support children's school readiness and reduce challenging behaviors.

Project Activities: There will be three phases for this work, corresponding to each project year: (1) module development, (2) field testing, and (3) pilot testing. The first year will focus on the development of an initial course module that will provide an opportunity for early feedback from small groups of teachers and expert consultants. Course development will cover both content and technology for delivering the content. The team will revise the initial module based on feedback received, creating a version that will be field tested. Following feedback from the field test, a revised version of the course will then be pilot tested. In the fourth and final project year, data will be analyzed and final revisions to the course made.

Products: The expected products of this project include a fully developed online course for teachers of toddlers with behavioral challenges, data on the feasibility and promise of the intervention, and peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This research will take place in a mix of urban and rural Early Head Start and private child care centers in Arizona and Virginia.

Sample: A total of 90 teachers will participate in the study (10 in module development; 20 in field testing; 60 in pilot testing). One hundred eighty children (the three children ranked highest on challenging behavior from each of the pilot teacher classrooms) will participate in the pilot test.

Intervention: The research team will develop a 6-month, online course for early teachers of toddlers focused on improving the quality of their interactions and teaching them targeted practices that support toddlers' emerging relational, regulatory, and language skills, and reducing challenging behaviors. The course will build off of successful elements of prior professional development programs. Content will focus on specific domains of children's skill development (relational, regulatory, language) and include multiple sessions covering three major areas: (1) children's development of the focus skills; (2) universal/classroom-wide practices that support development of the skills; and (3) targeted strategies to promote development of the skills to support children displaying challenging classroom behaviors.

The interactive activities provided in the online course will provide teachers with: (1) engaging opportunities to gain new knowledge about the area of child development and the teacher-child interactions and targeted practices that support it (KNOW); (2) extensive use of videos that allow teachers to see development and interactions as they occur in classroom settings (SEE); (3) practice implementing the universal and targeted practices in their own classrooms (DO); and (4) opportunities to reflect on the impact their universal and targeted supports have on children's development (REFLECT). Built into the modules are opportunities for teachers to share video footage of their teaching with their instructor, who provides feedback to improve the teacher's classroom practice.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will use an iterative process to develop both the content of and the technology for the online course. The pilot study will employ a randomized waitlist control design to assess the promise of the intervention. Thirty teachers (15 from each site) will be randomly assigned to participate in the online course over a 6-month period. The other 30 teachers (15 from each site) will be assigned to the waitlist control condition. These control teachers will then complete the course in the fall of 2016. Teachers and children will be assessed before and at the end of the 6-months of the pilot. Teachers will also be assessed on understanding of online course content throughout the pilot period.

Control Condition: Participants in the waitlist control condition will receive the course at the end of the 6-month pilot. Teachers in the intervention condition will be asked not to share resources with those in the control group.

Key Measures: The research team will use a multi-method, multi-informant assessment approach that includes one-on-one interviews and focus groups, teacher surveys, and structured teacher-child observations. Additionally, during the pilot study, the research team will conduct observations of children's classroom behavior and collect pre/post intervention data on children's relational, regulatory, and language skills as well as challenging behaviors using caregiver reports of skill development across multiple domains, the Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies, and teacher reports of student behavior.

Data Analytic Strategy: Qualitative methods will be used to analyze data from focus groups. Descriptive analyses will be conducted on the survey and questionnaire responses from teachers. Multiple regression models will be used to estimate the effects of the course on teachers' knowledge and ability to use effective universal teacher-child interactions and targeted teaching practices. Hierarchical linear modeling will be used to estimate the effects of the course on children's outcomes.