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Experimental Validation of the Tools of the Mind Prekindergarten Curriculum

Year: 2009
Name of Institution:
Vanderbilt University
Goal: Efficacy and Replication
Principal Investigator:
Farran, Dale
Award Amount: $3,102,960
Award Period: 4 years
Award Number: R305A090533


Co-Principal Investigator: Mark Lipsey

Purpose: The purpose of this efficacy study is to conduct an experimental evaluation of the Tools of the Mind prekindergarten curriculum. This curriculum focuses on developing learning skills that enable children to engage in and benefit from all kinds of learning tasks and activities that occur in the classroom. The Tools of the Mind curriculum is intended to promote the basic academic and social skills that will prepare children for school success in kindergarten and beyond.

Project Activities: The efficacy study will be carried out in prekindergarten programs in North Carolina and Tennessee. Forty schools will be randomly assigned to treatment (Tools of the Mind) and control groups. The Tools of the Mind prekindergarten curriculum will be implemented and evaluated in 60 classrooms from participating schools. The evaluation will ascertain the degree to which Tools of the Mind leads to improvements in children's literacy, mathematics, and social skills, as well as reductions in problem behaviors. In addition, the research team will evaluate the impact of the curriculum on classroom quality and teacher practices.

Products: The products of this project will be data which describes the effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum on academic performance and social skills of children enrolled in public prekindergarten programs. The study findings will be presented at research conferences and in published papers. The research team will also share the results with local preschool program partners.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Study participants will be recruited from public prekindergarten programs in urban and rural areas in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Population: The total sample will consist of 1,200 children in 60 classrooms from 40 schools in six school districts and two states. The study sample will include low-income, four-year-old children from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In each of the 60 classrooms, 10 children will be assessed on child outcomes in prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade. Two cohorts of children will be recruited to participate in the study. At least 10 children per classroom will be sampled and assessed on the outcome measures.

Intervention: The Tools of the Mind intervention includes a curriculum and a professional development program for teachers. The curriculum materials include 40 activities designed to promote children's metacognitive development. The teacher professional development component includes instruction about developmental trajectories for young children and training in how to use dynamic assessment techniques to guide and tailor instructional practice. A key feature of the intervention is a systematic framework for teachers to use in designing appropriate scaffolding for young children.

Research Design and Methods: Using a randomized cluster design, schools will be randomly assigned either to implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum or to serve as a business-as-usual control group. Teachers in the treatment condition will receive training from the Tools of the Mind curriculum developers. It is expected that approximately 30 classrooms will be in the Tools of the Mind condition and 30 classrooms in the control condition.

Two years of training are required to implement the intervention. In Year 1 (training and practice year) of the study, teachers in the treatment group will receive training to implement the Tools curriculum. In Year 2 (full implementation year), teachers in the treatment condition will receive additional training and fully implement the curriculum. Two cohorts of children will be recruited and assessed. In Year 2 of the study, the first cohort of children will be assessed in preschool and followed through first grade. In Year 3 of the study, a second cohort of preschoolers will be assessed and followed through kindergarten. Children's skills in literacy, mathematics, and self-regulation will be assessed individually pre and post in prekindergarten with a spring assessment each year of follow up (kindergarten and first grade). Teacher ratings of self-regulation and language skills will be gathered pre and post during the prekindergarten year and in spring of the subsequent years of follow up. Observational data will be collected from both target and control classrooms in Years 2 and 3 of the study. In Year 4 of the study, the school systems will be offered the option to have their control teachers trained to implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum.

Control Condition: Schools and classrooms will be randomly assigned to this condition. Teachers in the control condition will use the existing classroom curriculum and instructional practices.

Key Measures: The outcome measures include direct child assessments and teacher ratings for participating children. Direct assessments of children's learning-related self-regulation, language and literacy skills, and mathematics skills will be completed using standard cognitive measures, as well as appropriate subtests of the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement. Teachers will rate participating childrens' social skills and problem behaviors using the Social Skills Rating System, organization and planning skills using the Cooper-Farran Behavior Rating Scales, and oral language and language comprehension skills using the Adaptive Language Inventory. Classroom-level observational measures will be used to evaluate classroom quality and fidelity of implementation. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) will be used to evaluate classroom climate, behavior management, and the degree to which teachers promote higher order thinking. Fidelity of implementation data will be collected using the Tools of the Mind fidelity instrument.

Data Analytic Strategy: Multilevel regression (HLM) with pretest and demographic covariates will be used in an intent-to-treat analysis to assess the effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum on the outcome measures at the end of prekindergarten and kindergarten and, for the first cohort, at the end of first grade. Interactions between treatment condition and gender, ethnicity, and pretest will be examined to determine if there are differential effects for any major subgroups of children. Selected variables from the fidelity observations will be used in treatment-on-the-treated analyses to estimate the effect of different degrees of implementation on the outcomes and to identify the aspects of fidelity most strongly related to the gains made by the children in the classrooms.

Publications from this project:

Fuhs, M., Farran, D. C., and Nesbitt, K. (2013). Preschool Classroom Processes as Predictors of Children's Cognitive Self-Regulation Skills Development. School Psychology Quarterly, doi:10.1037/spq0000031