Improving School Readiness with Emotional Literacy: Developing the RULER Preschool Program
Co-Principal Investigator: Walter Gilliam, March Brackett, and Peter Salovey
Purpose: The goal of this project is to create a developmentally appropriate intervention to promote emotional literacy for preschool-aged children. Emotional literacy refers to the knowledge and skills related to handling emotions that are related to children's school readiness and academic success. By teaching young children to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate emotion, the intervention is expected to support the development of strong self-regulatory and social skills in preschool and in turn help children to benefit from academic instruction. The proposed intervention, the RULER-PS (Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate emotions) program, will be developed as a preschool version of an existing social emotional skills intervention program, the RULER-K-8th grade program. It is expected that the RULER-PS intervention will improve children's emotional literacy skills and have a direct effect on children's development of self-regulation, social competence, and academic skills.
Project Activities: The research team will develop and test a preschool version of an existing social and emotional skills intervention. The research team will modify existing components of the RULER-K-8th grade intervention and develop new developmentally appropriate content for preschool settings. At the end of the study, the fully developed RULER-PS intervention package will consist of: (1) the classroom program materials; (2) professional development for teachers and school leaders; and (3) parent training materials. The development, feasibility testing, and pilot study work will occur over a three-year period. In year 1, the research team will develop the classroom program content and revise the professional development and home-school partnerships components of the RULER-K-8th grade intervention for use with preschool teachers and parents of preschoolers. The research team will conduct two feasibility tests (years 1 and 2) to examine teachers' implementation of the classroom components and obtain feedback regarding teachers' and parents' engagement and interest in using the intervention. The research team will analyze observational and interview data and revise the intervention components as needed. A pilot study will be conducted in year 3 of the project and data analyses will be conducted to examine the initial impact of the RULER-PS intervention on social and academic indicators of children's school readiness skills.
Products: The products of this project will be a fully developed, developmentally appropriate social and emotional skills intervention for preschool-aged children, RULER-PS, which will include a classroom curriculum, professional development for preschool teachers and program leaders, and parent trainings. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.
Setting: The development work will take place in urban and suburban preschool classrooms in Connecticut, and at the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Laboratory at Yale University's Department of Psychology.
Sample: The study sample will include 3- to 5-year old children, their preschool teachers, and their parents. Approximately 60 percent of the participating children are from low-income families. The target population is approximately 58 percent Hispanic, 26 percent Black, 9 percent White, 4 percent Asian, and 3 percent other race. The initial development sample will include three preschool program leaders, 20 teachers, and 25 parents. The feasibility study sample (field tests I and II) will include 2 preschool program leaders, 4 classrooms/teachers, 20 children, and 20 parents. The pilot study sample will include 12 classrooms/teachers, 120 parents, and 120 children.
Intervention: The RULER-PS intervention program aims to improve children's school readiness by developing their emotional literacy skills. The program is designed to teach preschool-aged children the set of skills involved in recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotion. The fully developed RULER-PS intervention will include three components: (1) classroom curriculum content; (2) professional development support for teachers; and (3) home-school partnerships. Through the RULER-PS classroom component, children will learn to identify and understand their own and others' emotional states, as well as learn about the connection between feeling states (e.g., happy, sad) and behavior. The RULER-PS professional development component will include training for preschool program directors, teachers, teacher aides/assistant teachers, and other program staff. Preschool program directors and leaders will learn how to support teachers in their implementation of the emotional literacy program. The program directors will also learn how to use the emotional literacy tools in their interactions with children and adults. The training for teachers and teacher aides will integrate instruction and hands-on activities to focus on how emotions impact attention, memory, learning, academic and work performance, decision making, and relationships. The RULER-PS home-school partnership component will include training for parents to learn how to develop and model emotional literacy skills for their children; take-home lessons to reinforce what children learn in the classroom; newsletters; and web-based reading materials.
Research Design and Methods: In the development phase (year 1), the research team will develop four of the twelve units of the classroom component program of the intervention. Members of the research team will translate the RULER-PS classroom content into Spanish. The research team will conduct interviews and host focus group meetings with preschool program leaders, teachers, and parents to get feedback on the RULER-PS classroom component. The research team will also obtain feedback from experts in the field. The researchers will revise the existing RULER-K-8th professional development trainings for leaders, teachers, and other staff. The content, examples, and activities will be modified for use in preschool classrooms. The research team will conduct focus groups with preschool program leaders, teachers, and their advisory group to get feedback on the professional development component of the intervention. For the home-schools partnership component, the research team will adapt the family component of the existing intervention for use with parents of preschool-aged children. Researchers will also develop measurement tools to assess procedural fidelity and the quality of implementation of the RULER-PS intervention components.
In the Feasibility Field Tests phase of the project (years 1 and 2), the research team will conduct two field tests (Field Test I and Field Test II) to examine the feasibility of the intervention. Building on the findings from the Field Test I of the four developed units, researchers will develop the remaining eight units of the classroom curriculum content. For each field test, teachers will receive training and coaching support to implement the RULER-PS classroom content. Parents will receive training to implement the home component of the intervention. The research team will conduct classroom observations and collect interview and survey data from teachers and parents. Members of the research team will conduct content analyses of these data and revise the intervention components as needed.
In the Pilot study phase of the project (year 3), six teachers will receive training and support to implement the complete RULER-PS program. Members of the research team will conduct classroom observations and collect child-, teacher-, and parent-level data. Data analyses will be conducted to examine changes in outcomes of interest. At the end of year 3, researchers will make final refinements to the RULER-PS intervention.
Control Condition: For the pilot study phase of the Development grant, the “business as usual” control condition will include 6 classrooms/teachers, 60 children, and 60 parents.
Key Measures: In the development and feasibility testing phases of the project, measures will include classroom observations (live and videotaped) as well as interviews. The outcomes of interest include fidelity of implementation; teachers' and parents' engagement and enjoyment; and teachers' and parents' recommendations for improvements. The pilot study phase will include classroom-, teacher-, child-, and parent-level data collection. The research team will use three measures to directly assess children's emotional literacy skills: the Emotion Recognition Task, the Affective Knowledge Test, and the Knowledge of Emotional Display Rules task. The research team will use the Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment (PRSA) to measure children's self-regulation skills. Parents and teachers will be asked to report on children's emotional literacy skills using the Emotion Regulation Skills subscale of the Social Competence Scale. Parents and teachers will be asked to report on children's social competence skills using the Social Competence and Behavior Evaluation scale. Teachers will be asked to report on children's academic readiness skills using two measures: the Academic Skills Subscale of the Social Competence Scale-Teacher Version and the Teacher Rating Scale of School Adjustment. The research team will use three subscales from the Woodcock-Johnson test to assess children's academic outcomes. Parents will complete the Family Involvement Questionnaire, a measure of parental involvement. Teachers will report on parental involvement using the Parent and Teacher Involvement Questionnaire. The research team will use the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ) measures to assess the emotional literacy skills of parents and teachers.
Data Analytic Strategy: Content analytic techniques will be applied to data collected in the feasibility tests phases of the project to identify primary themes to guide the development and refinement of the intervention. In the pilot study phase of the project, the research team will conduct analyses to estimate the preliminary impact of the RULER-PS intervention on children's school readiness skills. These analyses will account for the nesting of children within classrooms. For the RULER-PS classrooms only, regression analyses will be conducted to examine how program receptivity (child engagement, parental involvement) is associated with child outcomes.