SRCD 2019 Biennial Conference
March 21-23, 2019
Title: Using Child-Level Observation Data to Understand What Works and for Whom
Session: Classroom Quality in Early Childhood: Understanding the Importance of Individual Experiences
Authors: Carol Connor, Ashley Adams
Abstract: Accumulating research shows that children who share the same classroom still have very different learning experiences – even when offered the same learning opportunities as their peers. We have suggested that this is because the effect of instruction in, for example, literacy depends on the constellation of skills and characteristics children bring to the classroom. Understanding this within classroom variability depends on observing children’s learning experiences at the child level – both context and content of instruction. In this study, we examined first grade literacy instruction and whether children’s language, literacy, and self-regulation interacted with the amounts and types of instruction they received with particular focus on their self-regulation. There is accumulating evidence that weaker EF (highly related to self-regulation) is associated with dyslexia and, perhaps, dysgraphia (Eason, Goldberg, Young, Geist, & Cutting, 2012). In this study, we used the Head-toe-knees-shoulders task to measure self-regulation. The HTKS requires the coordination of working memory, effortful control, and attention.
Our sample of first graders (n=369 children in 25 classrooms) was diverse with 51% girls, 30% African American, 45% White, and 47% qualifying for the National School Lunch Program. 15% qualified for special education. Using HLM, we replicated previous findings (Connor et al., 2011) that children with weaker code-focused skills and knowledge of the alphabetic principle made greater gains (residualized change) in reading skill when they spent more time in small-group code-focused instruction with their teachers. They made weaker gains when they spent time in independent literacy activities, such as sustained independent silent reading (a meaning focused activity), but gains when participating in meaning focused activities with the teacher.
We found an overall effect of self-regulation on spring reading gains: in general, first graders with weaker self-regulation made weaker gains in reading compared to peers with stronger self-regulation. There were also child X instruction interaction effects on reading gains (see Figure 1). Overall, more time in small group meaning-focused instruction with the teacher was associated with greater gains for first graders with stronger self-regulation, but was less effective for students with weaker self-regulation. For code-focused instruction, small group instruction with the teacher was generally more effective for first graders with weaker self-regulation and had no effect for students with stronger self-regulation, holding all other child characteristics constant.
In summary, these results demonstrate the importance of examining children’s classroom learning experiences at the level of the individual child. For example, not all children participated in small groups and this cannot be captured with more global classroom level observations. Without these kinds of data, we cannot fully understand the dynamics of classrooms and the types of learning opportunities that are optimal for individual children, particularly children who are at risk of underachievement. For example, children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities frequently have weak self-regulation. Thus, not only is learning more difficult for them but, according to these results, not all learning opportunities are optimal, which would make learning to read even more difficult for them.