The study took place in 35 full-day preschool classrooms in 6 Head Start centers in southeastern New York. All centers were part of the same multicenter Head Start program.
Over the three-year study period, the researchers randomly assigned 12 classrooms to the Let's Begin with the Letter People curriculum, 12 classrooms to the Waterford Early Reading Program, and 11 classrooms to the comparison group which implemented the High/Scope curriculum. There were 185 students in the Let's Begin with the Letter People condition, 172 students in the Waterford Early Reading Program, and 150 students in the comparison condition (High/Scope). Across the entire sample, 42% of participating children were Black, 8% were multiracial, 7% were White, and 43% did not report their race. Forty-one percent were Hispanic. Approximately 14% of students were identified as Spanish language dominant. Children on average were 4 years and 4 months old at the start of the study.
Let's Begin with the Letter People is an early education curriculum designed to address early language and literacy skills, as well as numeracy, art, music, science, and social and motor development. The curriculum takes a motivational approach to learning through play and includes both classroom and home components. Lessons are centered around a specific person identified by a letter—such as Mr. N or Ms. P—and the letter person is used throughout the lesson to introduce specific letters, sounds, stories, colors, or shapes. Audio and visual prompts are used with the curriculum, such as inflatable Letter People Huggables, songs, and books. Each unit of the curriculum includes take-home activities in English and Spanish. This intervention was used in conjunction with the existing High/Scope curriculum.
Let's Begin with the Letter People was compared to the High/Scope curriculum alone. High/Scope prescribes a daily routine including planning time, work time, cleanup time, recall time, large-group time, small-group time, and outside time. The curriculum uses a "plan-do-review" sequence that is designed to promote social competence, self-confidence, and a sense of community. Children have access to books, play materials, and activities in structured classroom spaces.
Let's Begin with the Letter People was also compared to Waterford Early Reading Program Level 1. This early education curriculum uses computer-based technology to develop students' literacy skills. Computerized instruction was delivered 15 minutes per day, and focused on phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, letter recognition, print concepts, and knowledge of story concepts. Students used Waterford Early Reading Program in conjunction with High/Scope in this condition.
Support for implementation
Teachers and teaching assistants in the Let's Begin with the Letter People condition were provided a 3-day training by a professional trainer in August before each school year. Follow-up training visits were held in the fall and spring of each year. During these visits, the trainer assessed fidelity of implementation and provided additional feedback and support to each teacher. The trainer also held group meetings for all teachers and teacher assistants to provide further training in the curriculum.