The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on programme quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten and centre-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data and addressed children 0–7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programmes evaluating quality ratings, and nine studies of 10 programmes evaluating both quality ratings and pupil outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (effect size=+0.68), with programmes providing 45–60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programmes offering fewer or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programmes that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programmes. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programmes was correlated with improvements in child development (effect size=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, maths scores, social-behavioural ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge and school readiness.

Source: Impact of in-service professional development programs for early childhood teachers on quality ratings and child outcomes: a meta-analysis (January 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 3

New guidance on preparing for literacy

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published its latest guidance report, Preparing for Literacy, which reviews the best available research to offer early years professionals practical “do’s and don’ts” to make sure all children start school with the foundations they need to read and write well.

The report considers how a wide range of different activities – like singing, storytelling and nursery rhymes – can help to develop children’s early reading. It offers seven recommendations designed to support early years professionals to improve the communication, language and early literacy skills of all their pupils – particularly those from disadvantaged homes. Previous analysis by the EEF found there was already a 4.3 month gap between poorer pupils and their classmates before school starts.

One of the recommendations focuses on parental engagement and the importance of supporting parents to understand how they can help in their child’s learning. It suggests that shared reading should be a central component for helping children to learn new words. The report also highlights the importance of high-quality interactions between adults and children to develop their communication and language skills. For example, early years professionals should make sure they talk with children – not just to them.

Source: Preparing for literacy: improving communication, language and literacy in the early years (June 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Parenting app has positive impact on children’s development

A new randomised controlled trial of EasyPeasy, conducted by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust, suggests that the EasyPeasy app had moderate positive effects on children’s concentration levels, determination and ability to make their own decisions, as well as parents’ sense of control.

EasyPeasy is a smartphone app for the parents and caregivers of children ages 2 – 6 that aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and parent–child interaction. A total of 302 families with children ages 3 – 4 were recruited from eight children’s centres in the London borough of Newham. The eight centres were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or comparison group. All families in the intervention centres were given access to the EasyPeasy app, and games were sent via the app once a week over the three-month duration of the intervention.

Families in the intervention group scored higher than those in the comparison group on two parent-reported outcomes: children’s cognitive self-regulation (effect size = +0.35) and parents’ sense of control (effect size = +0.26). Parents reported that they felt more able to get their child to behave well and respond to boundaries, as well as feeling more able to stay calm when facing difficulties.

However, because of the self-report measures used in the evaluation, the researchers note that caution must be exercised when interpreting the results from the study.

These findings build on similar results from an earlier evaluation of EasyPeasy, which showed some positive benefits for children’s cognitive self-regulation and parents’ sense of control.

Source: EasyPeasy: Evaluation in Newham findings from the Sutton Trust Parental Engagement Fund (PEF) project (April 2018), The Sutton Trust

Fostering curiosity can promote academic achievement

A new research article by Prachi Shah and colleagues at the University of Michigan shows that children who are curious have higher academic achievement than those who aren’t. In fact, they see cultivating curiosity in the classroom—promoting the joy of discovery and motivating pupils to find out answers to life’s questions—as an untapped strategy for early academic success.

Researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which has tracked thousands of children since 2001. Children were followed via parent interviews and assessing the children at ages 9 months, 2 years, in pre-K (reception) and kindergarten (Year 1), and then looking at the reading, maths and behavioural skills of 6,200 of these children in 2006 and 2007 when they were in kindergarten. After controlling for other factors that might influence academic achievement, results showed that eagerness to learn new things had a small but positive influence on kindergartners’ reading (effect size=+0.11) and maths (+0.12). This was even more so for children from low SES backgrounds (effect size=+0.18 in reading, +0.20 in maths).

Source: Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement (April 2018), Pediatric Research

Conversation more important than word exposure for literacy and language development

While it is common knowledge that talking to children helps them develop language and pre-literacy skills, new research from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania shows that children gain greater language development and pre-literacy benefits the more that caregivers engage them in conversational turn-taking-like exchanges. In other words, talking with children is more beneficial than talking to children.

In the first study to link children’s language exposure to neural functioning, functional MRIs showed that children who experienced more frequent conversational turn-taking with caregivers while listening to stories demonstrated greater activity within the part of the brain in charge of language processing than children who didn’t interact in as many conversational exchanges. These same children also scored higher than their counterparts on standardised language assessments measuring vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. This was true regardless of children’s socioeconomic status or parental education.

Audio recordings of 36 four- to six-year-olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds measured the number of words children said, the number of words they heard and the number of conversational exchanges in which they engaged for two days. All children were native English speakers who did not significantly differ by behaviour, language exposure, or neural measures on standardised tests. When these measures were compared to the brain scans, researchers found a positive correlation between conversational turns and brain physiology.

Source: Beyond the 30-million-word gap: Children’s conversational exposure is associated with language-related brain function (February 2018), Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797617742725

A review of the evidence on early language development

A new review of the evidence on early language development, commissioned by the Education Endowment Foundation in partnership with Public Health England, has examined the most effective ways to support young children with delays in their early language development between birth and five years old.

James Law and colleagues looked at the existing evidence to find out which interventions have the greatest potential for boosting young children’s language skills and reducing inequalities in outcomes. They identified 44 intervention studies which focused on language and related skills in pre-school. All the studies were randomised controlled trials or quasi-experimental, matched study designs. Positive effect sizes were found in relation to receptive language in 29 studies. They found one of the best ways to improve early language development for this group is by training teachers in early years settings so that they can deliver cost-effective and evidence-based interventions to those children who have fallen behind.

In addition to high-quality early years provision, the researchers identified interactions with parents as key, highlighting the need to promote positive interaction between parents and their children before they start pre-school.

The report also stresses the need for better monitoring of children’s progress at different stages of their development, to catch those children falling behind and to identify those who need targeted, specialised support.

Source: Early Language Development: Needs, provision and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantage backgrounds (October 2017), Public Health England and Education Endowment Foundation