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 Waterford Early Reading Program, 12 classrooms to the Let's Begin with the Letter People curriculum, and 11 classrooms to the comparison group which implemented the High/Scope curriculum. There were 172 students in the Waterford Early Reading Program, 185 students in the Let's Begin with the Letter People condition, 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.
Waterford Early Reading Program Level 1 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 rotated in groups of two to receive Waterford, as there were two computers in each class. The instructional sequence is centered on each capital letter, followed by lowercase. After every five letters, students are provided an opportunity to review the letters they reviewed. Students are then tested using an Alphabet Review and those who do poorly on the assessment are provided additional instruction. Students are given an opportunity to participate in Play and Practices components throughout the year, where they can choose different review activities in an exploratory environment. This intervention was used in conjunction with the existing High/Scope curriculum.
Waterford Early Reading Program Level 1 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.
Support for implementation
Teachers and teaching assistants in the Waterford 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.