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Red Light, Purple Light! Developing a Self-Regulation Intervention for Children at Risk for School Difficulty

Year: 2015
Name of Institution:
Oregon State University
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
McClelland, Megan
Award Amount: $1,500,000
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019)
Award Number: R305A150196


Co-Principal Investigators: Bridget Hatfield (Oregon State University), David Purpura (Purdue University), Sara Schmitt (Purdue University), Karen Thompson (Oregon State University), and Shauna Tominey (Yale University)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and evaluate the promise of a self-regulation intervention designed for use with children from low-income backgrounds with the goal of promoting the development of school readiness skills. Self-regulation has been identified as a key predictor of school readiness and both short- and long-term academic achievement. Many children, especially those experiencing socio-demographic risks, enter school without adequate self-regulation skills and with few opportunities to develop early academic skills. There has been considerable debate in the research literature regarding the role of self-regulation in supporting early academic skills (including math and literacy) and further debate as to which of these skills (self-regulation or academic skills) should be the target of early intervention. The researchers will develop an intervention integrating math and literacy content into self-regulation-based activities to systematically explore the added benefit of embedded academic activities on the development of self-regulation. The intervention is expected to promote self-regulation and academic achievement for children from low-income families.

Project Activities: Researchers will develop two interventions for preschool teachers to use with English- and Spanish-speaking children from low-income backgrounds. They will refine and expand on an existing intervention, develop new content and activities, and conduct a pilot study to examine the promise of the interventions for improving children's social behavioral, math, and literacy skills.

Products: Researchers will produce two fully developed interventions to address self-regulation, math and literacy skills for preschool-aged children from low-income backgrounds. The research team will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in Head Start programs in Oregon.

Sample: In Years 1 and 2, 12 teachers will participate in the development of the interventions. In year 3, 18 teachers and 180 children and parents will participate in the pilot study.

Intervention: The research team will develop two interventions, self-regulation games (SR) and self-regulation games with embedded math and literacy content (SR + Math and Literacy). Each intervention will include 24 sessions. The intervention sessions will focus on aspects of self-regulation (attentional flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control), early math (counting and cardinality, numeral knowledge, and geometric reasoning), and literacy (phonological awareness and print knowledge) that are associated with school achievement. Researchers will implement the intervention over the course of 12 weeks (two 20- to 30-minute sessions/week). The intervention will consist of teacher-administered circle time games that are easily integrated into the typical preschool day.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will develop, implement and evaluate the promise of two interventions. In Year 1, they will conduct focus groups with teachers and refine the self- regulation intervention. The existing self-regulation intervention includes 16 sessions that were developed and implemented by researchers. The researchers will modify the existing sessions and develop 8 additional sessions focused on self-regulation. They will conduct an initial field test and make revisions to the intervention. In Year 2, the researchers will develop the math and literacy content for the self-regulation plus math and science intervention. They will work with the same group of teachers, collect qualitative and quantitative data about the usability and feasibility of the intervention, and use teacher feedback to refine the intervention. The research team will conduct a second field test, collect data to examine feasibility and fidelity of implementation, refine the intervention, and finalize fidelity measures. In Year 3, researchers will recruit teachers, parents, and children to participate in the pilot study. The research team will randomly assign classrooms to SR, SR+Math and Literacy, or business as usual groups, train teachers in the two intervention conditions to implement each intervention, and collect pre- and post-test data. In Year 4, the researchers will finalize the intervention materials and develop a mobile application (app) containing the circle time games and training manuals. In addition, the research team will conduct data analyses and disseminate the study findings.

Control Condition: In the pilot study phase of the project, researchers will randomly assign some classrooms to a business-as-usual control group.

Key Measures: Primary measures include direct assessments of children's self-regulation and executive function skills, including the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders measure, the Executive Function Scale, working memory subtests from the Executive Function Battery, the Day-Night Stroop, the Print Knowledge and Phonological Awareness subtests from the Test of Preschool Early Literacy, and the Child Math Assessment. Teachers will use the Child Behavior Rating Scale to rate children's self-regulation skills.

Data Analytic Strategy: In Years 1 and 2, researchers will use thematic analysis to interpret the qualitative data collected during focus groups. The research team will identify common themes and use those themes to refine the intervention materials. Researchers will analyze quantitative data from fidelity and feasibility surveys to inform the development and refinement of intervention and training materials. In Years 3 and 4, the research team will use multilevel modeling to evaluate the impact of the two interventions on children's social behavioral and early academic skills.