Improving School Readiness of High-Risk Preschoolers: Combining High-Quality Instructional Strategies with Responsive Training for Teachers and Parents
Co-Principal Investigators: Cathy Guttentag, Paul Swank, and Heather Taylor
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to determine if the combination of two proven interventions—one delivered in the classroom (The Early Education Model-TEEM) and one delivered in the home (Play & Learning Strategies-PALS)—results in a synergistic versus additive effect on children's school readiness skills (i.e., social, language, early literacy) and early kindergarten reading and social competence. This study bridges the gap between the school and home environments for pre-kindergarten children from low socioeconomic homes, an area that has received little attention. It is expected that the combined interventions will result in greater child self-regulation that will mediate, along with gains in teacher and parent behaviors, the impact of both interventions on children's school readiness skills.
Project Activities: Across the first 3 years of the 4-year project, 60 classrooms (20 classrooms/year) will be recruited and randomly assigned to either participate in the TEEM intervention or not. Within each participating classroom, half of the children will be randomly assigned to have their parents receive the PALS home-based parent programs and the other half will be assigned to receive a Developmental Information Only (DIO) condition. After random assignment is complete, three treatment groups and one control condition will be participating in the study: (1) TEEM/PALS; (2) TEEM/no PALS; (3) no TEEM/PALS; and (4) no TEEM/no PALS. In each of the 60 classrooms, six children will be randomly selected for child assessments. The research team will collect classroom, teacher, parent, and child data for each cohort of study participants. The research team will obtain child-level kindergarten follow-up data from the school district.
Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the efficacy of The Early Education Model-TEEM and the Play and Learning Strategies-PALS interventions, delivered separately or in combination, for four-year-old children. The study findings will be summarized in conference presentations and published reports.
Setting: The study will be conducted in two Head Start agencies in a large urban area in Texas. The interventions will be delivered in preschool classrooms serving four-year-old children.
Population: The study sample will include 60 Head Start classrooms/teachers. A sample of 360 four-year-old children and their parents will be recruited to participate in the study. More than 50 percent of the participating families are from Hispanic backgrounds. In each of the 60 classrooms, six children will be randomly selected for pretesting.
Intervention: Two interventions will be evaluated in this efficacy study. A preschool-based intervention, The Early Education Model (TEEM) and a home-based intervention, Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) will be implemented and evaluated.
The TEEM professional development intervention uses workshops combined with weekly in-classroom mentoring to provide training in responsive interactive behaviors with language and literacy instruction, effective use of small group instruction, organization of the learning environment to provide repeated exposure to concepts, and a balance of teacher- and children-directed learning. The components of the TEEM professional development intervention include video examples of instructional practices, mentor modeling, teachers' review and critiques of their instructional behaviors, and training in the use of a personal digital assistant (PDA) progress monitoring system that provides feedback to inform teachers' practices.
Implemented over a 24-week period, the Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) intervention is designed to support parents in developing a set of core behaviors that comprise a responsive interactive style. This style includes learning how to provide responses that are contingent to children's needs and interests with rich language input. Coaches are trained to work with parents in their homes, and provide instruction through video examples of responsive behaviors, direct coaching of parents' behaviors in interactions with their children, and parents critiquing videotapes of their interactions in a variety of daily activities (e.g., book reading, mealtime, play). The PALS intervention components include scripted manuals in English and Spanish, a set of 10 parent videotapes, and facilitator and parent materials. Given that more than 50 percent of the children will be from Hispanic backgrounds, the home intervention will be conducted in the home language.
Research Design and Methods: A two (teacher professional development condition) by two (parent intervention condition) by two (time) design with repeated measures will be used to examine the efficacy of the two interventions: (1) TEEM/PALS; (2) TEEM/no PALS; (3) no TEEM/PALS; and (4) no TEEM/no PALS. Across the first 3 years of the 4-year project, 60 classrooms (20 classrooms/year) will be recruited. The 60 classrooms will be the unit of randomization and teachers will be randomly assigned to either the TEEM (n=30) or the "business-as-usual" control (n=30) condition. Within each participating classroom, half of the children will be randomly assigned to have their parents receive the PALS home-based parent programs and the other half will be assigned to receive a Developmental Information Only (DIO) condition. In each of the 60 classrooms, six children will be randomly selected for child assessments.
Control Condition: In the classroom-based control condition (no TEEM), children will receive standard preschool classroom instruction. In the home-based control condition (no PALS), parents will receive general developmental information.
Key Measures: In each of the first 3 years of the study, teacher, classroom, parent, and child data will be collected at the beginning and end of the preschool year. Each cohort of children will be followed into kindergarten and the research team will obtain child outcome data from the public schools. Using a pre/post assessment schedule, a classroom observation scale (the Teacher Behavior Rating Scale) will be used to document change in TEEM versus control teachers' responsive and instructional behaviors. Teachers will be asked to complete the Teacher Efficacy Scale. Parents' gains in responsive behaviors will be examined with validated observational measures. The research team will videotape parent-child interactions in the home and code for four responsiveness components (support of children's signals and interests, contingent responsiveness, rich language input, and warm sensitivity). Parents will be asked to report on sense of efficacy using the Parenting Sense of Competence Scale, and on perceptions of social support using the Personal Relationships Inventory. Intervention effects on children's language, phonological awareness, print knowledge, social competence, and self-regulation will be evaluated with standardized, observational, and parent and teacher rating measures. Demographic information for the child and the family will be obtained at pre-test.
The Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-III, the PreSchool Language Scale-4th Edition, the Semantics and Morpho-Syntax subscales of the Bilingual English-Spanish Assessment, and the Print Knowledge and Phonological Awareness subscales from the Test of Preschool Early Literacy will be administered to participating children. English language learners will be assessed in English and Spanish. The research team will also administer two executive processing tasks, the Bird and Dragon task and the Dimensional Change Card Sort to participating children. Children's social behaviors in the classroom and the home will be coded for cooperation, language use, social engagement, and initiative. Parents and teachers will be asked to rate children's social skills using the Social Competence and Behavior Evaluation Scale-Short Form (SCBE-30), and self-regulation of attention and impulse control using subscales from the Child Behavior Questionnaire. At the kindergarten follow-up, the research team will obtain school record data on children's reading competence and social competence. Kindergarten teachers will assess children's kindergarten reading competence using the Texas Primary Reading Inventory or the Spanish version, the Tejas LEE. Teachers will rate children's social competence using the Social Competence Screener. The research team will also collect fidelity data using the TEEM and PALS fidelity checklists.
Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will investigate the added benefit to low-income, at-risk, preschool age children's literacy, language, and social development of targeting teacher instructional practices and the use of responsive interactive style in the classroom in combination with parent use of a responsive style in the home. All analyses will account for the nesting of children within classrooms. A general linear mixed model will be used to address the hypothesis of main effects for each intervention as well as the synergistic effect of the two interventions together at the end of preschool and kindergarten. Additional analyses will be conducted to test for mediators and moderators.
Guttentag, C.L. (2014). Using Live Coaching and Video Feedback to Teach Responsive Parenting Skills: Experience from the PALS Project. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk, 5(1), 5.
Merz, E.C., Landry, S.H., Montroy, J.J., and Williams, J.M. (2017). Bidirectional Associations Between Parental Responsiveness and Executive Function During Early Childhood. Social Development, 26(3): 591–609.