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IES Grant

Title: An Economical Improvement In Literacy and Numeracy
Center: NCER Year: 2007
Principal Investigator: Pasnak, Robert Awardee: George Mason University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years Award Amount: $684,666
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305B070542

Purpose: Differences in student learning in reading and mathematics between children living in poverty and those who are not are apparent in kindergarten and persist as children progress through school. To address the challenge of improving learning outcomes for young children, in a previously funded IES project, Pasnak and Kidd developed a cognitive intervention for children who had difficulty mastering knowledge and skills appropriate for kindergarten. The cognitive intervention consists of small-group activities to help children learn two basic abstract thinking concepts: the oddity principle and insertion-into-series. The oddity principle requires children to recognize similarities and differences, to sort into categories, and to categorize objects hierarchically into basic, subordinate, and superordinate classes. Unidimensional seriation occurs when children are able to arrange objects in order by size or some other ordinal dimension. The researchers posited that explicitly teaching children basic abstract thinking skills would improve learning outcomes in multiple domains. In their FY 2003 IES project, they demonstrated that the intervention produced significant advances in numeracy and knowledge of letters and letter sounds when implemented with kindergarten children. In the current project, the research team will evaluate whether the intervention can be implemented in Head Start classrooms with a multi-ethnic population of 3- and 4-year olds and improve young children's early reading and numeracy skills.

Project Activities: The researchers are conducting a random assignment evaluation in which children in each classroom are randomly assigned to the experimental condition or to one of three control conditions. All children will receive the same amount of small-group instruction per day. Children in the intervention group will receive the cognitive intervention (instruction in the oddity principle and insertion-into-series). Children in the two active control conditions receive either small-group instruction on early math skills or letters and letter sounds. Children in the third control condition engage in art activities. The study will be conducted in Head Start classrooms. Approximately 550 young children will participate in the evaluation to determine if the cognitive intervention leads to greater gains in early math and early reading knowledge and skills than participating in the other comparison conditions.

Products: Products from this project include published reports on the efficacy of the cognitive intervention.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: In the current project, the research team will evaluate whether a previously developed intervention tested with kindergartners can be implemented in Head Start classrooms with a multi-ethnic population of 3- and 4-year olds and improve young children's early reading and numeracy skills.

Setting: The research is being conducted in 18 urban Head Start classrooms in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which has a high concentration of low SES immigrant and African-American families.

Population: The children are 3- and 4-year-olds, with a high percentage of the children being minorities. There are 86 countries of birth and 65 native languages represented among the children. All of the families qualify for free preschool and free lunches under federal poverty guidelines. Approximately 550 children will participate in the study over the two-year period.

Intervention: The children assigned to the experimental condition are given group instruction 10 minutes per day on the oddity principle and insertions-into-series. Oddity problems and insertion-into-series problems are taught to children in small groups using hand puppets or toys.

Research Design and Methods: The children in each classroom are randomly assigned to one experimental, one passive control, and two active control conditions. First, the children in each class are formed into quartets by random assignment. In a second random assignment, one member of each quartet is assigned to the experimental condition and one of the others to each of the three control conditions. The members of each quartet receive the same number of instructional sessions, ending when the child in the experimental group reaches criteria of mastery on oddity and seriation. In this sense, the children in each quartet are yoked, and the number of instructional sessions they receive is equalized. Experimental children will participate in the small group cognitive intervention over the entire school year.

Control Condition: The children in each control condition have an equal number of sessions, matched in timing and extent. One control group is a traditional (passive) control group focusing on art. Two active control groups are also being used: One spends time on numeracy activities currently exemplifying the best practices of the Head Start program, and a second receives instruction on letters and letter sounds.

Key Measures: Verbal and quantitative scores on the Woodcock-Johnson III for children in each of these conditions are being compared.

Data Analytic Strategy: The analysis consists of a two-stage approach. The first stage focuses on testing the effects of the cognitive intervention on cognitive measures. The research team is using a hierarchical linear model that first specifies time in the level-one analysis. They are fitting the model with the standard procedures of testing random slopes, intercepts, and error structure. The level-two model specifies age as a random effect first then allows for between-subject fixed effect factors (treatment and test) with the explicit handling of treatment and children as a confounded set of variables. These level-two effects are being tested as interactions.

Related IES Projects: Increasing Learning By Promoting Early Abstract Thought (R305H030031) and Focusing on the Efficacy of Teaching Advanced Forms of Patterning on First Graders' Improvements in Reading, Mathematics, and Reasoning Ability (R305A090353)


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Boyer, C.E., Carlson, A.G., and Pasnak, R. (2012). Object and Size Awareness in Preschool-Age Children. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 114(1): 29–42.

Greene, M.R., Pasnak, R., and Romero, S. (2009). A Time lag Analysis of Temporal Relations Between Motivation, Academic Achievement, and Two Cognitive Abilities. Early Education and Development, 20(5): 799–825.

Kidd, J.K., Pasnak, R., Gadzichowski, M., Ferral-Like, M., and Gallington, D. (2008). Enhancing Early Numeracy by Promoting the Abstract Thought Involved in the Oddity Principle, Seriation, and Conservation. Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(2): 164–200.

Pasnak, R., Kidd, J., Gadzichowski, M., Ferral-Like, M., Gallington, D., and Saracina, R. (2007). Nurturing Developmental Processes. Journal of Developmental Processes, 2(1): 90–115.

Pasnak, R., Kidd, J., Gadzichowski, M., Gallington, D., Saracina, R., and Addison, K. (2009). Promoting Early Abstraction to Promote Early Literacy and Numeracy. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(3): 239–249.

Pasnak, R., Kidd, J.K., Gadzichowski, M.K., Gallington, D.A., Saracina, R.P., and Addison, K. (2008). Can Emphasizing Cognitive Development Improve Academic Achievement?. Education Research, 50(3): 261–276.

Pasnak, R., Maccubbin, E., and Ferral-Like, M. (2007). Using Developmental Principles to Assist At-Risk Preschoolers in Developing Numeracy and Phonemic Awareness. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 105(1): 163–176.

Pasnak, R., Perez, K., and Romero, S. (2009). Encouraging Friendships in Preschool Classrooms. NHSA Dialog, 12(4): 342–346.

Romero, S., Perez, K., and Pasnak, R. (2009). The Selection of Friends by Preschool Children. National Head Start Association Journal, 12(4): 293–306.

Stewart, K., and Pasnak, R. (2010). Preschoolers' Knowledge About the Appearance of Proper Names. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 111(2): 447–457.