This study took place in 10 Tennessee Voluntary Pre-K Program classrooms in a major city and 6 Head Start classrooms in Pennsylvania. All classrooms served low-income populations.
The study included 217 preschool students from low-income families with diverse backgrounds with English proficiency and no developmental disability. The sample was 51 percent female, 44 percent Black, 16 percent European American, 32 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 8 percent multiracial or other race or ethnicity. Students in the sample were about 4 years old on average (53 months) and 8 percent of the sample had English learner status.
Of the 16 classroom teachers in the study, 100 percent had bachelor’s degrees and 56 percent had master’s degrees. Teachers had spent 1 to 40 years teaching early childhood education, with an average of 15 years of teaching experience.
The intervention group includes book reading and teacher-led play using the Read-Play-Learn curriculum, which is a teacher-implemented intervention designed to teach vocabulary to preschoolers through book reading coupled with playful learning.
The teacher-led book reading included a total of 32 focus words for each theme (dragon and farm) and core book (16 words per book). Teachers read each intervention book four times (over four days) and taught half of the focus words on the first 2 days and the other half on the second 2 days. Teachers use definitions, gestures, and pictures to teach the focus words. They first introduced the words before the reading using picture cards and gestures. During reading, they use definitions and gestures to teach each word. After the reading, they use the words to discuss events in the story. Teachers also use scripted discussion questions to support understanding of the story. In addition to the 2 core books, teachers read 4 supplemental books twice with students during the implementation weeks. Teachers also lead 3 play sessions for each intervention book, using story-related toys and focus words, to provide children opportunities to use the words in a meaningful context. Teachers led children in a reenactment of the story using toys. Teachers also used techniques and example language provided in guidance materials to pose framing questions to help children get started, describe and repeat their play actions, elaborate their talk, prompt their word use, and act playfully. Prior to each play session, the teacher reviewed the story and/or the day’s focus words. For the first 2 play sessions, teachers begin by reviewing the story and a subset of the focus words, using illustration cards and reviewing focus words through definitions and gestures. For the third play session, they begin by introducing the focus words while handing out the toys.
The intervention was implemented over 6 weeks per intervention theme, with classrooms spending the fall phase on 1 theme and the spring phase on the other theme (though the ordering was randomized so that the primary fall analysis includes an assessment of some in each theme).
The comparison condition was the teacher-led book reading component, but not the teacher-led play component, of the Read-Play-Learn intervention. Students in the comparison group received teacher-led book reading implemented by preschool or Head Start teachers during regular class time over 6 weeks per theme (dragons and farms), including 4 reading sessions for each of the 2 core books and 2 reading sessions for each of the 4 supplemental books.
Support for implementation
Research team members provided coaching to both intervention and comparison teachers. Coaches observed 3 or 4 readings for the first book and, for intervention teachers, each type of play (reenactment on Days 1 and 2 and new scenario on Day 3). For all other books, the coaches observed 1 reading and, for intervention teachers, 1 type of play. Coaches used fidelity checklist forms during observations and provided feedback to teachers during a brief discussion after the visit or in an email to the teacher.