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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers 4 Preschool Program Quality THE DEFINITION OF QUALITY IN EARLY childhood education and care has many dimensions, including political and social dimensions, not all of which lend themselves to research and analysis (Bruner, 1985). Views of how and what children should learn at an early age are guided by cultural values that may be so transparent as to be invisible to most of us. Research can, nevertheless, inform the definition of best practice by providing information about the consequences of pedagogy for young children’s learning, development, and well-being. This chapter summarizes research findings from five separate, but somewhat overlapping, literatures: Studies of preschool programs designed to enhance the learning and development of economically disadvantaged children, including studies of model programs. These programs provide information about effective practices and the potential magnitude of preschool program effects on learning and development for this population. Studies of the relationship between preschool program quality, or components of quality, and children’s learning and development. These results are drawn both from research on model programs for disadvantaged children and from research on “naturally occurring” variations that compare children’s experiences
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers and outcomes in community programs with different features. This research provides information about the effects of typical variations in program quality on the general population of children (including, but not limited to, economically disadvantaged children). Studies of programs for English-language learners. This relatively small literature is similar to the first two, but it focuses specifically on the effects of variation in the approach to second-language acquisition on competence both in the primary language and in English. Descriptions of exemplary international programs. This literature suggests features that contribute to program quality, but provides relatively little empirical verification. Studies of clinical and program interventions for children with disabilities and the relationship of salient child and family characteristics to intervention methods. This research confirms the value of educational, therapeutic, and social services for infants and young children with disabilities. PROGRAMS FOR ECONOMICALLY DISADVANTAGED CHILDREN Beginning in the early 1960s, preschool programs were developed to provide educational experiences to young children growing up in poverty. These programs sought to improve learning and development for these children in response to growing awareness of social inequalities and changing beliefs about the role of the environment in development. The context for these new efforts was vividly described by Caldwell and Richmond (1968:341): During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s a sure path to ostracism in the field of early childhood education was to emphasize attendance at nursery school as an influence on intellectual development. Debunking the Iowa studies [conducted at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station of the State University of Iowa by Skeels, Wellman, and colleagues], which demonstrated intellectual gains associated with nursery school attendance, became a popular sport…and the implication that such an experience could have lasting cognitive effects was subject to ridicule.
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Changing views led to a more positive reconsideration of the Iowa research (Skeels and Dye, 1939; Wellman, 1940; Skodak and Skeels, 1949; Skeels, 1966) and other studies (Spitz, 1945; Spitz and Wolfe, 1946). Theoretical support came from scholars who built on the work of Hebb (1949) and, later, Piaget. New work by Kirk (1958), Hunt (1961, 1964), and Bruner (1962) provided more support for a renewed emphasis on environmental intervention in the early years. Perhaps no one pushed the environmentalist view further than Bloom (1964), who argued that development was most sensitive to the influences of environment during periods of rapid growth and that half of adult intelligence was developed by age 5. The preschool programs developed for disadvantaged children in the 1960s and 1970s not only built on this new work but also incorporated views of theory and practice from a wide variety of traditions in psychology and education. Despite the programs’ emphasis on their potential cognitive benefits, most sought to enhance the development and well-being of the whole child (Day and Parker, 1977). Especially in the early years, they had to address concerns that preschool programs might negatively affect social and emotional development by separating children from their mothers (Caldwell and Smith, 1968). Researchers developed “model” programs specifically to investigate the potential for preschool education to influence the learning and development of economically disadvantaged children. Much of what is known about the nature and magnitude of preschool education’s influences derives from rigorous studies of these model programs. Such studies also provide considerable information about the characteristics of highly effective programs. Over the past four decades, many studies have been conducted of the immediate and short-term (one or two years) effects of programs on the learning and development of children from low-income families. Both quantitative research syntheses (that pool estimates across studies and apply statistical tests) and traditional best-evidence reviews have found that such programs produced meaningful gains in cognitive, social, and emotional development during the preschool years (White and Casto, 1985; McKey et al., 1985; Ramey et al., 1985). Although the studies of Head Start and public preschool programs have tended to em-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers ploy weaker methodologies, these studies indicate that public programs have been able to produce the same types of immediate and short-term effects (Barnett, 1995, 1998). Also, public preschool programs have successfully provided broader services to improve children’s nutrition and access to medical and dental services (Fosburg et al., 1984; Hale et al., 1990; Barnett and Brown, 2000). The average size of the immediate effect of these preschool programs on cognitive development and achievement was about one-half of a standard deviation; effects in other domains tended to be slightly smaller (Barnett, 1998). Cross-study comparisons and a few planned within-study comparisons indicate that the magnitude of initial effects varies with the intensity and duration of the program (Ramey et al., 1985; Barnett and Camilli, in press; Wasik et al., 1990; St. Pierre et al., 1998). The programs with the largest initial effects on learning and development tended to be those that provided the greatest quantity of services (operating for more hours per year and continuing for more years) with high staff-to-child ratios (e.g., 1 to 3 for infants, 1 to 6 at ages 3 and 4) and highly qualified staff (Barnett and Camilli, in press; Frede, 1998). There is some disagreement about the extent to which the effects of preschool education programs persist (Barnett, 1998; McKey et al., 1985; Woodhead, 1988; Haskins, 1989; Locurto, 1991; Spitz, 1986). In many studies—of both model programs developed by researchers and less intensive public programs—some of the estimated effects decline over time and are negligible several years after children leave the programs (see reviews by Barnett, 1998; White and Casto, 1985; McKey et al., 1985; Ramey et al., 1985). Some scholars have argued that fade-out occurs because of weaknesses in the schools that disadvantaged children attend after leaving the preschool programs (Lee and Loeb, 1995). Others (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994) have concluded that public programs like Head Start do not improve cognitive functioning, although more intensive and more costly preschool programs may do so. Close examination of the results from these studies suggests that there are long-term positive effects on children’s learning and subsequent school success, although the effects on IQ decline over time (Barnett, 1998; Barnett and Camilli, in press).
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers A substantial body of empirical evidence indicates these preschool programs have prevented grade repetition and special education placements for disadvantaged children over the long term. A review of over 30 longitudinal studies by Barnett (1998) concluded that preschool programs serving disadvantaged children also produced long-term gains in achievement as measured by standardized tests. In drawing this conclusion, Barnett relied heavily on the findings of controlled experiments with sound longitudinal follow-ups that lost few study participants over time. The few studies that have examined high school graduation rates found sizable effects on these as well (Barnett, 1998). In contrast to the findings for other outcomes, initial effects on IQ tests clearly disappear over time in the vast majority of studies. Why this occurs and how important it is are much less clear. There is considerable controversy about how well IQ measures intelligence in the way it is commonly understood by the general public (Sternberg and Detterman, 1986; Neisser et al., 1995). The lack of long-term gains in IQ, at the same time that such gains are produced in subject-matter-specific knowledge and skills and school success, raises similar questions. However, two of the most intensive programs, which began full-day, year-round educational child care in the first year of life and continued to age 5, produced very large initial IQ effects and some IQ advantage that persisted years after leaving the program (Garber, 1988; Campbell and Ramey, 1993). Even in these studies, the size of the effect on IQ declines over the years, while the improvements in achievement and school success do not (Barnett, 1998). It is also interesting that a similar program, with a primary focus on parents and relatively greater emphasis on social-emotional development, did not sustain effects on IQ even up to the end of the program (Lally et al., 1987). The programs that researchers developed specifically to investigate the influence of preschool education on economically disadvantaged children are a useful source of information about positive influences on development. These programs have been found to be highly effective in producing immediate benefits for children and to produce longer-term effects in at least a dozen rigorous longitudinal studies. Some of the studies with the strongest outcomes were highly controlled random assignment experi-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers ments. Moreover, these programs seem to produce larger effects than ordinary public programs that have been less well funded and thus more constrained with respect to quality. These programs provide models for best practice. In developing these models, researchers drew on the wide range of theoretical and practical traditions that have influenced early childhood education in the United States, going back to Froebel and Seguin and including McMillan, Montessori, Dewey, Smith Hill, Gesell, Thorndike, Freud, and Piaget (Condry, 1983; Spodek, 1991). Frede (1998) investigated commonalties and differences among the model programs with evidence of long-term effectiveness. The models she examined had been subject to outcome studies at least through elementary school, provided center-based preschool experiences for low-income children, and included in their reports written descriptions of their curriculum and classroom practices (see Table 4–1). Based on close analyses of these descriptions, the following factors were found to be present in most programs: Curriculum content and learning processes that cultivate school-related skills and knowledge, with a heavy focus on language development, Qualified teaching staff who use reflective teaching practices aided by highly qualified supervisors, Low teacher-child ratio and small class sizes, Intense and coherent programming, and Collaborative relationships with parents. Detailed descriptions of the curricula used across the longitudinal studies exist for some programs (Bereiter and Engelmann, 1966; Garber, 1988; Karnes et al., 1972; Lally and Honig, 1977; Miller and Dyer, 1975; Palmer and Siegel, 1977; Ramey et al., 1982; Weikart, 1972; Weikart et al., 1967, 1978). Data based on actual classroom observation of the teacher practices are rare, although Weikart et al. (1978) provide an important exception. On the basis of the descriptions, Frede (1998) derived several generalizations about the process and content of the curricula employed by the model programs. While classroom interactions are different from those at home
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers TABLE 4–1 Longitudinal Studies Researcher Age Group Ratio Group size Duration Abecedarian Project (Campbell and Ramey, 1994) Infants, 1:3 14 5 years preschool 1:6 12 Brookline Early Education Project (Hauser-Cram et al., 1991) Infants, 1:1 5 years preschool 1:6 18 Early Childhood Education Project (Sigel et al., 1973; Cataldo, 1978) 2–3 years 1:7 22 3 years Early Training Project (Gray et al., 1982) Preschool 1:5 20 2 or 3 years Family Development Research Program (Honig and Lally, 1982) Infants, preschool 1:4 8 5 years Harlem Training Project (Palmer, 1983) Preschool 1:1 NA 1–2 years Infant Health and Development Program (Ramey et al., 1992; Infant Health and Development Program Consortium, 1990) 1–2 years 1:3 6 3 years 2–3 years 1:4 8 Milwaukee Project (Garber, 1988) 2 years 1:2 ? 6 years 3 years 1:3 preschool 1:7 Perry Preschool Project (Schweinhart and Weikart, 1993) Preschool 1:5 20–25 2 years Project CARE (Wasik et al., 1990) Infants, 1:3 14 5 years preschool 1:6 12 SOURCES: Data from Frede (1998) and Lazar et al. (1977).
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers Intensity Curriculum Teacher Qualifications Activities for Parents Full-day Interactive Experienced paraprofessionals to certified teachers Group meetings, home visits Part- or full-day Interactive Certified teachers Home visits, guided observation in classroom Half-day Interactive Certified teachers and 2 paraprofessionals None Part-day 10 weeks summer Structured interactive Certified teacher Weekly home visits during academic year Full-day Interactive but less structured Paraprofessional— Home visitors/ professional teachers Weekly home visits— informal class visits and daily notes home 2 week 2 tutoring approaches: concept training or discovery Tutors change every 6 weeks—high school to Ph.D. candidate None Full-day Interactive Bachelor’s degree with Early Childhood Education specialty Home visits Full-day Cognitive curriculum Paraprofessional/ certified teacher at 4 years Job training, social services, home visits Half-day Interactive Certified teachers Weekly home visits Full-day Interactive Experienced paraprofessionals to certified teachers Group meetings, home visits
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers for all children, they were most dissimilar from the home settings of low-income and minority children (Heath, 1983). At least some of the time, teachers used a discourse pattern that engages children in an initiation-reply-evaluation sequence (Mehan, 1979). As an example, the teacher might ask, “Which of these do you think will float in water?” The child replies, “The cork.” The teacher says, “Let’s see if you are right.” Preschool children also were introduced to such strategies for remembering as rehearsal and categorization (Cole et al., 1971; Wagner, 1978). Although the models differed philosophically with respect to methods, program content was similar across programs because to some extent they all drew on traditional kindergarten and nursery school practices in the United States (Frede, 1998). Typical classroom activities and materials involved shapes, colors, sizes, numbers, animals, transportation, prepositions, seasons, and holidays. Programs shared a strong emphasis on language. Teachers provided a model of standard English and a context that provided opportunities and incentives for children to learn to speak so that they could be understood, to learn to understand others, and to express symbolic concepts through speech. Of course, these model programs also differed in the focus of the teachers and the program developers. For example, some focused most intensely on cognitive development, while others focused more on social and emotional development (Day and Parker, 1977; Lazar et al., 1977). Despite their differences, the commonalties reported above appear to be sufficient to ensure that all of them produced significant gains in cognitive development. However, program differences may have produced some differences in cognitive effects and, to a greater extent, in social and emotional development. Research comparing these programs and others developed based on these models has accumulated over the years and provides significant insights into the importance of differences among the models. Questions have been raised about the extent to which the results from longitudinal studies of high-quality interventions for preschool children from low-income families can be generalized to widespread, poorly funded programs (Barnett and Camilli, in press; Chubrich and Kelley, 1994; Haskins, 1989; Woodhead, 1988). The critics suggest that the public programs are not repli-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers eating the quality and intensity of the preschool programs in the original efficacy studies, and thus the same effects cannot be expected. Others believe that one preschool intervention is much the same as the next, and the positive benefits of the experimental programs studied in longitudinal research will automatically devolve on community-based programs. The empirical evidence supports the former view, namely, that less well-funded public programs do not provide the same quality of education and result in smaller benefits for learning and development. Barnett and Camilli (in press) note that studies of Head Start and public school preschool programs found smaller long-term effects on school success than did studies of model programs. Seppanen and colleagues (1993) found that preschool classrooms for disadvantaged children (Title I) did not provide regular activities dealing with mathematics, language, and science and were lacking in small-group interaction and individual attention. The Cost and Quality Team (1995) found that the majority of child care programs provide mediocre to low-quality experiences. These studies remind us that the quality of specific services provided in preschool programs determines the benefits low-income children will derive from them. PRESCHOOL PROGRAM QUALITY AND CHILDREN’S LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT Model Programs As Frede (1998) makes clear, determining the effects of curricula or teaching methods on young children is a complex and difficult task. A number of problems result from the difficulties of measuring learning and development in young children. Standardized tests of cognitive ability in early childhood are of questionable validity (Kamii, 1990). Measures of social development are problematic, since they often fail to discriminate adequately among children (Datta, 1983). Different curricular approaches have different goals; thus different outcomes should be expected, and comparing the programs on the same outcome measures can bias findings in favor of one approach or another. The same type of bias can occur in trying to measure treatment implementation:
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers the appropriate observation techniques for one approach may fail to discern important practices or failures in implementation of another approach. Significant limitations of many early education comparison studies make it difficult to draw strong conclusions about the relative effectiveness of different curricula. Rarely are experimental methods used, which makes generalization questionable. When random assignment is not used, it is extremely difficult to disentangle the effects of the educational model from family characteristics that lead parents to choose a program using a particular approach, child characteristics that lead to the choice of a particular program that is thought to best meet the needs of the child, neighborhood characteristics, and other program characteristics that may be associated with choice of model. Another complication is that children’s development is influenced by many factors, children influence their own environments, and development occurs in multiple domains, which may be differentially affected by particular methods. Since the expansion of early childhood education that began in the 1960s, several studies comparing the effects of various program models have been reported and reviewed. The comparison studies were designed to determine whether a program based on one theory of learning and development was more beneficial to children’s learning and development than one based on another theory. Children who attended classrooms using one program model were compared with children in classrooms using other models (Karnes et al., 1983; Miller and Bizzell, 1983, 1984; Weikart et al., 1978). Other possibly important sources of influence on learning and development, such as teacher-child ratio, class size, teacher training, and child characteristics, were held constant. Reflecting the dominant interests of the era, the comparison studies reviewed here contrasted three basic types of curricula, which Coffin (1994) describes as direct instruction, traditional, and cognitive. In direct instruction, the teacher presents information to the children in structured, drill-and-practice group lessons that are fast-paced, teach discrete skills in small steps, and involve frequent praise. Traditional approaches flow from a belief that children must direct their own learning and will learn when they are ready, as long as the teachers provide stimulating materi-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers population ages 3–5 had speech or language disorders (U.S. Department of Education, 1987), though some more recent estimates are considerably lower (McLean and Cripe, 1997:350). By ages 3 through 5, children with language delays talk approximately half as much as their peers (Warren et al., 1984). The DEC recommends that language interventions be considered for all children with special needs to help improve overall development (DEC Task Force on Recommended Practices, 1993). In addition, attention to language/communication is important because nearly every disability has a negative impact on the development of language and communication skills. A large body of research suggests the efficacy of language intervention for a broad spectrum of communication disorders in young children (McLean and Snyder-McLean, 1987; McLean and Cripe, 1997), though no single intervention can be identified as best. Since the 1980s, language interventions have emphasized “naturalistic” approaches (McLean and Cripe, 1997), in which language learning is incorporated throughout the day’s activities rather than concentrated in a single block of time, and makes use of the child’s focus and interests. Incidental or milieu teaching combine more highly structured, didactic interventions with more naturalistic features; they use the child’s focus, but actively target specific language skills. Opportunities for the child to use the targeted language skill are created (waiting for the child to put a request into words, for example) and the adult responds to the child’s communication with requests and prompts for further language use as well as responding to the intent of the child’s request. (For additional discussion of naturalistic interventions, including mand-model and milieu teaching, see Chapter 5.) Yoder, Kaiser, and Alpert (1991) compared the effectiveness of a milieu language program with a more didactic approach and found that the former was more successful in increasing language development, but the results suggest an aptitude by treatment interaction: children who benefited most from milieu teaching were those who scored lower before the intervention (had less intelligible speech and more limited vocabulary). Conversely, those who benefited more from the didactic approach scored higher during pretreatment.
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers 2. Emphasis on Social and Emotional Skills Young children with disabilities often manifest difficulties in establishing relationships with their peers and developing friendships (Guralnick, 1990). They engage less in social interaction than children of the same developmental level without disabilities (Odom et al., 1990). Gresham (1982) suggests that over time, poor development of social skills and a lack of support for social development can cause emotional responses in children that are as limiting as the primary disability. Numerous educational and therapeutic techniques have been demonstrated to promote young children’s peer interactions, including modeling and observational learning, coaching, prompting, rehearsal, direct teaching of social strategies, and reinforcement procedures (Guralnick and Neville, 1997). Some interventions intentionally involve children without disabilities as models and as initiators or responders to the social behavior of children with disabilities. Further, a central feature of many of these interventions is that the child with disabilities has competent peers with whom to interact. Greenspan and Wieder (1998) suggest the importance of interaction with peers without disabilities who can reach out and involve more withdrawn students in communication and play, and provide feedback when a student who has a disability does communicate. There has been increased attention to the environmental and social context characteristics that encourage peer interaction, including the number and familiarity of the children in a social setting (with small familiar groups encouraging interaction), the types of toys available (those that can be used by more than one child at a time, or those that encourage pretend play among children), and the physical arrangement of the classroom (to encourage interaction) (McEvoy et al., 1992; Odom and Brown, 1993; Sainato and Carta, 1992; Bailey and Wolery, 1992; Quilitch and Risley, 1973). While increased attention has been focused in the last two decades on the importance of social interaction and the development of social skills for children with disabilities, the social interaction skills that the techniques above support for the most part have not generalized to other contexts over time (Guralnick, 1994). Guralnick and Neville (1997) suggest that factors that con-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers tribute to the lack of transfer include constraints associated with the child’s developmental characteristics, reputational factors, the existence of social status hierarchies that resist change, family-child interaction patterns, and restricted peer networks for children with disabilities. 3. Attention to Individual Differences A theme that pervades this report is the importance of an adult who recognizes and responds to the child’s individual characteristics and developmental level in promoting learning. For children with disabilities, this feature of early childhood programs is particularly challenging and requires specialized knowledge. The capacity for self-regulation and attention is nascent in all children in the preschool years; for many children with disabilities, that capacity is a far greater challenge. Some children, for example, those with certain kinds of cerebral palsy or autism, may have heightened sensitivity to their environment, including the degree to which it is loud, bright, active, crowded, or visually stimulating. Others may not be very aware of changes in their environment, even salient changes. For teachers to plan meaningful programs, they must understand (a) children’s sensitivity to environmental stimuli, (b) the degree to which they are readily engaged by the environment in adaptive ways, and (c) the behaviors they use to express their attention, interests, and intentions (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998). Circle time for example, a common feature of early childhood programs, can be particularly challenging to children with delayed development of regulatory capacities. On the basis of long clinical experience, Greenspan and Wieder argue that while a child needs to learn to attend in preparation for later schooling, “every task has its developmental sequence. A child cannot relate to a group of six until he’s learned to relate one-on-one, and then to a group of three. To ask him to do so is like asking him to read without first teaching him the letters.” (p. 405). As Chapter 2 suggests, challenges are key to learning and development, but adults must be sensitive and responsive to children’s behavior while promoting those challenges for children (Dunst et al., 1987; Kaiser et al., 1992).
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers 4. Emphasis on Parent Participation Parent participation is, as we suggested at the outset of this chapter, a common feature of quality early childhood programs. Parent engagement is considered particularly important by many who work with and study children with developmental delays (Greenspan and Wieder, 1998; Girolametto, 1988; Camarata, 1993; Girolametto et al., 1994). Since many children who have disabilities experience delayed development of language and social skills, parent participation in early childhood interventions can extend and reinforce the child’s progress in these areas. Several studies suggest the importance of interventions that are spread throughout the day (Bricker and Cripe, 1992; McWilliam, 1996; Eiserman et al., 1992) and are contextually relevant (Drasgow et al., 1996). Parents are well situated to extend classroom interventions beyond the confines of the school day. Dunst (1985) suggests a central challenge for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities is one of readability: any factor that distorts a child’s emotional and communicative signals will make it more difficult for those involved with the child to interpret and respond. Irrespective of the category of disability, these children are characterized as less predictable in their interactive behavior, and less likely to take the initiative during social interaction with their caregivers (Field, 1980). Descriptions of caregivers’ interactions with young children with disabilities indicate that they tend to provide more stimulation, be more directive, and take more dominant roles than do those with children without disabilities (McCollum and Hemmeter, 1997). Deliberate efforts to draw the parent or caregiver’s attention to strategies that will improve the child’s ability to engage and communicate may therefore be particularly important when the child is disabled. The goal, as Dunst (1985) explains, is not for parents to engage in isolated training sessions, but to have the parents’ usual interaction patterns with their children be growth promoting. Several studies suggest the potential of parent involvement. Camarata (1993) found that speech production improved in children with language delays when mothers supplied accurate models of words and sentences in natural conversation and interac-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers tions. Girolametto (1988) found that when parents of children with developmental delays participated in intervention programs, they were more responsive to their children, and to the child’s conversational leads. The children were able to initiate on more topics, were better able to take turns, and had a more diverse vocabulary. Eiserman, Weber, and McCoun (1992) found that training in therapeutic techniques for parents of children with speech disorders effectively increased children’s personal and social skills, their adaptive behavior, and their speech. While some research suggests parent involvement and training can enhance and extend the benefits of early intervention programs, both the quantity and the quality of research in this regard is limited. Moreover, some research on early intervention for disadvantaged children suggests that parent involvement and training is not an adequate substitute for direct intervention (Ramey and Ramey, 1998). In a review of studies involving young children with communication disorders, McLean and Cripe (1997) argue that parent-implemented intervention may be differentially effective in different treatment situations. As a cautionary note, they point to an intervention that was effective in treating phonology disorders when implemented by clinicians, but not by parents. As in many areas of early intervention research, existing research suggests a potential, but a second generation of studies that differentiate characteristics of parents, children, and parent training and involvement will be needed for a fuller understanding of the features of effective interventions to enhance the effectiveness of parent involvement (McCollum and Hemmeter, 1997). It is important to note that professionals’ involvement with families must be more than just assisting families in teaching their children or promoting their development. There is an informative literature that shows other kinds of family support that are critical to good child outcomes and are unrelated to the issue of parents as teachers (Dunst et al., 1994, 1997). Effects of Inclusion Research on the effectiveness of early intervention for young children with disabilities has, for the most part, taken place in programs in which all of the participants have identified disabili-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers ties (Casto and Mastropieri, 1986; Shonkoff and Hauser-Cram, 1987). More recently, model programs that are inclusive have been developed and evaluated. Two points emerge from the research comparing integrated and segregated programs: (a) children with disabilities make similar levels of developmental progress in both types of programs, and (b) children in integrated programs tend to have more advanced social and behavioral skills than their counterparts (Buysse and Bailey, 1993; Lamorey and Bricker, 1993). But like all research on model programs, positive outcomes may not be generalizable to community-based programs of lower quality. Not surprisingly, Kontos et al. (1998) found a relationship between quality of inclusive programs and outcomes for children with disabilities. However, since many community-based programs are not of high quality, the effect of inclusion more generally cannot be assumed; much depends on the quality both of the inclusive program and of the segregated program to which it is being compared. In particular, the benefits of inclusion will depend on the extent to which the teacher has support from specialists (e.g., early intervention specialists, special educators, therapists). What occurs within programs is what results in outcomes. In a naturally occurring experiment in London, 36 children with Down syndrome were studied, half of whom attended general nursery or primary schools, and half of whom attended segregated special schools (Casey et al., 1988). Results suggested that at baseline the two groups were comparable on most measures (the special schools group was slightly older than the mainstream group, and girls had higher expressive language scores than boys). Improvements in both math and reading scores over a 2-year period were greater for the mainstreamed children than for the segregated children. The research, however, has the limitations associated with non-random assignment (characteristics of the districts in which the children lived, the parents who chose to live in those districts, or the characteristics of other children in the classroom) were not controlled for. In another evaluation of children with Down syndrome, researchers found that the amount of time spent in integrated settings was not a strong predictor of developmental progress (Fewell and Oelwein, 1990, 1991). The research on inclusion has not been refined enough to sug-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers gest for which children (by type or severity of disability) it is beneficial in which types of inclusive programs. However, the importance of settings that will develop the capacity of children with disabilities to communicate and engage socially suggests a potential benefit of interacting with typically developing peers. Greenspan and Wieder argue: “The greatest problem with class makeup is that students are often grouped with peers who have similar special needs, so, for example, it is common to have eight noncommunicative, withdrawn, and intermittently aimless children in one class. Naturally, there will be little interaction among them, so if one spurts ahead in gestural communication, he will receive little feedback from his peers. With lack of feedback, the students’ precarious new ability may be jeopardized. Without being immersed in a communicative world with children who reach out, interact, engage in pretend play, and speak, the child will not have adequate opportunities to learn his critical early lessons—to relate, communicate, and think” (1998:406). But whether the potential opportunity created by an inclusive setting is realized will depend on the training the teacher gets, how much in-class help is made available, how much contact the teacher has with specialists who can give the appropriate help, how many children the teacher has in class, the materials available, and, of course, the effort of the teacher to support inclusion. Young children with disabilities can be included in social interactions by their classmates. In a study of mixed-age inclusive classrooms, the frequency of contact (primarily parallel play) that children with mild to severe disabilities had with their classmates during free play periods did not differ from the amount of contact that typically developing children had with their classmates (Okagaki et al., 1998). According to parents’ and teachers’ reports, a majority of children with disabilities who attended inclusive preschool programs had at least one mutual friend (Buysse, 1993). Young children with mild and moderate disabilities engage in more social interaction in inclusive settings than in noninclusive settings (Erwin, 1993; Guralnick et al., 1996; Hauser-Cram et al., 1993; Lamorey and Bricker, 1993). Children with severe dis-
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers abilities also engage in frequent interactions with typically developing children in inclusive settings (Hanline, 1993). However, it is not clear that children with severe disabilities interact more frequently with other children in inclusive, compared with noninclusive, settings (Hundert et al., 1998). Young children with disabilities are more likely to experience rejection by peers than are children without disabilities (Guralnick and Nelville, 1997). In particular, children with developmental delays are less likely to have a mutual friend than are children with mild disabilities (Guralnick et al., 1995). However, even though children with disabilities are rated as being less well liked than their counterparts without disabilities, they still engage in frequent social contact with their classmates in inclusive settings (Guralnick et al., 1996; Hanline, 1993; Okagaki et al., 1998). There is some evidence that attending mixed-age inclusive classrooms facilitates the social interactions of young children with disabilities. Children with disabilities in mixed-age groups are more engaged in conversations than are children with disabilities in same-age groups (Roberts et al., 1994). Participation in mixed-age inclusive classrooms also enhances the play of young children with disabilities (Blasco et al., 1993). The critical point is that if social interaction, peer-to-peer conversations, social play, and the other positive outcomes that are more likely in inclusive settings are desired, then interventions are necessary at the level of the individual child to prevent peer rejection (Wolery and Wilbert, 1994). Recently, some attention has been directed toward the effects of inclusion on typically developing young children. Contact between typically developing children and children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms increases children’s knowledge of disabilities. Normally developing preschool children in inclusive classes are sensitive to the limitations associated with physical disabilities. However, they seem to be less certain about sensory disabilities (Diamond and Hestenes, 1994; Diamond et al., 1997; Okagaki et al., 1998). Young children who have regular contact with children with disabilities are more accepting of them. Participation in an inclusive classroom promotes young children’s appreciation for diversity and enhances the development of their prosocial skills
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers (Buysse, 1993; Favazza and Odom, 1996; Diamond et al., 1997; Hanline, 1993; Peck et al., 1992). Typically developing children in inclusive classrooms give higher social acceptance to ratings of hypothetical children with disabilities than do children in noninclusive classrooms (Diamond et al., 1997; Okagaki et al., 1998). In a case study of an inclusive, 8-week summer program with three preschool children with severe disabilities and three typically developing young children, Hanline (1993) found no evidence of social rejection of children with severe disabilities by their peers. In fact, typically developing children tended to be more persistent in obtaining a response from a child with a disability than from another peer. SUMMARY Even across the disparate approaches used in program models, some common processes and content are evident. Many of the programs consciously exposed children to classroom processes that differed from their interactions at home, but were similar to those that they would experience in formal school: whole class, small group, and individual interactions with teachers. Early childhood teachers used a discourse pattern, at least some of the time, which is typical of schooling: the initiation-reply-evaluation sequence. The preschool children also learned strategies for remembering, such as rehearsal and categorization, since this is a by-product of schooling in our culture. The lack of familiarity with school challenges many children as they move from the home environment into school settings. The routine activities of school are different from those in most homes and are likely to differ even more in some minority cultures, placing a double burden of learning on those children when they enter early childhood settings and schools (Nelson, 1986). Early childhood programs can serve as a bridge for children between home and school by providng exposure to the varied interaction styles (large group, small group, one-on-one learning) that the child will encounter in school. Even though the programs studied applied different and in some cases novel theories of development, the content relied on by most teachers was drawn from that traditional in kindergarten
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers and nursery school. Consistent across every program is a strong focus on language. The teachers, most often, provided a model of standard English, and the programs were strongly oriented toward getting children to talk and be understood, to understand others’ speech, and to experiment with symbolic concepts through speech and books. The classroom materials and teacher-planned activities and discussions involved typical concepts such as shapes, colors, sizes, numbers, animals, transportation, prepositions, seasons, holidays, etc. The fact that the activities, processes, and content emphasized in the approaches are similar suggests that the broad parameters of early childhood education are a matter of general agreement. A review of several strands of research on program quality suggests that teachers who have higher levels of education and specialized training, are attentive to individual children, have fewer children in their care, and use strategies associated with developmentally appropriate practice generally are more competent at enhancing children’s learning and growth. This analysis of the longitudinal studies of experimental preschools and newer studies of the effects of quality in early childhood education and care suggests that the benefits of early childhood programs are related to the interrelated factors of program structure (class size, the ratio of children to teachers, and service intensity); processes that help teachers respond to individual children (highly qualified teachers using reflective teaching practice and close relationships with parents); and curricula that serve as a bridge between home and school. Promoting the development and addressing the needs of children with disabilities is not something a teacher can do alone. It requires an intervention team, including, for example, speech/ language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, or psychologists, which in turn requires careful attention to how the members of the intervention team work with the teacher and how they carry out their part of the intervention. McWilliam (1996) offers a useful discussion of these issues. Many of the curriculum practices used in the programs found to have lasting benefits for children can be seen as strategies that increased the ability of teachers to recognize and take advantage of each child’s level of development. Teachers are more likely to
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Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers gain the specialized knowledge they need to tailor their teaching when they work with relatively few children for a long period of time and when they have a chance to reflect on their teaching practices. Such teachers are more able to understand the children’s individual interests, and they can create activities and interactions to meet them. Children who do well in school tend to have parents who have close relationships with teachers and caregivers, reinforcing the traditional belief in the importance of such partnerships. The teacher who has extensive contact with the child’s family can better understand the child as an individual and have an appreciation for the contexts in which the child functions, the parents’ aims and hopes for the child, and the values of the child’s culture. When parents and teachers are teamed in such a collaboration, the adults can do the work to build consistency in the world of the child, rather than leaving it up to the child to integrate disparate contexts. Program quality has been found to be associated with children’s developmental outcome. The prevalence of quality factors—teacher-child ratio and class size, program intensity and coherence, responses to parents, staff qualifications, teachers as reflective practitioners, and teacher preparation—in the experimental preschools contrasts with their absence in many of today’s typical community programs for low-income children. We cannot identify the ideal levels of each quality factor based on current research, particularly as these will vary with the characteristics of the children and goals of the programs. However, it can be safely concluded that most early education and care programs in the United States do not approach ideal levels of quality and that programs designed to reduce the gap between rich and poor in early childhood educational opportunity are far from optimal. If early intervention is to live up to the promise of the longitudinal results, then Head Start, Title I, child care, and other programs should approximate the standard of quality suggested by the research reviewed here.
Representative terms from entire chapter: