My Baby & Me programme shows promise

A new article published in Developmental Psychology examined the efficacy of a parenting intervention called My Baby & Me. The intervention runs from the third trimester of pregnancy until children are 2½, and focuses on changing specific aspects of mothers’ responsive behaviours with their children. It is delivered through 55 personal coaching sessions, 22 of which are based on the Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) curriculum.

A total of 361 high-risk mothers (with low income and educational achievement) from four states were enrolled in the study. Half were randomly assigned to the full 55 session high-intensity (HI) coaching programme (in the mother’s home or a place of her choice), and half to a low-intensity (LI) condition that included monthly phone calls from a coach, printed information, and community resource referrals. Videotaped observations of mother–child play were coded at five time points for a variety of maternal and child behaviours and skills.

The study found that, compared to mothers in the LI group, mothers in the HI group showed higher levels of contingent responsiveness, higher-quality verbal stimulation, and more verbal scaffolding by 30 months, with higher levels of warmth and greater decreases in physical intrusiveness and negativity when their children were 24 months. By 30 months, children in the HI group showed more rapid increases and higher levels of engagement with the environment, expressive language skills, and social engagement, as well as more complex toy play and fewer behaviour problems than those in the LI group.

The authors conclude that the positive outcomes for the programme can be explained by a strong theoretical framework, a consistent focus on maternal responsiveness, high dosage, and trusting relationships with coaches beginning before the child was born. However, they also note that it can be very challenging to keep participants engaged in such a lengthy intervention.

Source: “My Baby & Me”: Effects of an Early, Comprehensive Parenting Intervention on At-risk Mothers and Their Children (2014), Developmental Psychology, 50(5).

Mother’s reading level makes a difference

A new article published in the Early Childhood Education Journal shows that maternal reading level predicts both a child’s receptive vocabulary and reading proficiency prior to schooling, after maternal education is taken into account. The findings also controlled for ethnicity, number of children in the family, and marital and employment status.

The authors used a sample of 155 children (aged 3–5 years) and their mothers (aged 20–44 years) of low income and low educational background from Western Canada. Children and mothers were tested individually for their reading proficiency using standardised tests, and children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency also was tested. The mothers were also interviewed one-to-one for demographic information. All the families spoke English first and foremost, although some were bilingual.

The study concludes that both mothers’ measured reading levels and their reported educational levels were significant predictors of children’s reading proficiency, each over and above the other. However, in the case of children’s receptive vocabulary proficiency, they found that mothers’ reading levels were a significant predictor but that mothers’ educational level was not.

In the light of this, the authors recommend that early childhood educators may consider implementing programmes to support mothers in improving their reading, in order to raise their children’s language and literacy levels.

Source: Unique Contributions of Maternal Reading Proficiency to Predicting Children’s Preschool Receptive Vocabulary and Reading Proficiency (2014), Early Childhood Education Journal, online first January 2014.

Sure Start survey shows why disadvantaged families need support

New research published by the Department for Education presents findings from a baseline survey of families using Sure Start Children’s Centres (SSCCs), which aim to reduce inequalities in child development and school readiness. The data forms part of a six-year study examining SSCCs in the most disadvantaged areas of England, and was taken from interviews with a sample of 5,717 parents with a “selected child” aged 9-18 months old.

The survey explored take-up of services at the centres, as well as the socio-economic characteristics of the families using them.

Extensive findings are detailed in the report, and a research brief outlines key results. Negative findings were often associated with disadvantaged families, including:

    • Families with lower incomes and where mothers had lower levels of educational attainment had a less favourable home learning environment (HLE).
    • Families where parents did not work had lower HLE scores than those where at least one parent was in paid employment.
    • Households with lower incomes were slightly more likely to be characterised by less favourable parenting and family functioning.
    • Families with lower incomes, those where mothers had lower educational attainment, single parents, and those where parents did not work, tended to have slightly more chaotic and less organised homes than those in more advantaged circumstances.

Source: Evaluation of Children’s Centres in England (ECCE). Strand 2: Baseline Survey of Families Using Children’s Centres in the Most Disadvantaged Areas. Research Report (2013), Department for Education.

We need more evidence on writing

Students perform less well in writing than in reading, maths, and science at Key Stages 1 and 2. A new review from the Department for Education synthesises the existing evidence from the UK and abroad, in and out of school, and for both primary and secondary pupils. It covers achievement, effective teaching, the gender gap, pupils’ attitudes, and writing as an activity outside school.

The review looks at “what works” in the classroom. Techniques that have been proven to be effective include teaching students to write for a variety of purposes, teaching the writing process, and providing daily time to write. Approaches that are effective for specific groups, such as boys and students with special education needs and disabilities, are also analysed. The review also looks at factors outside the classroom, for example, attainment in writing in the early years can be predicted by mother’s education, family size, parental assessment of the child’s writing ability, and a measure of home writing activities. However, the review highlights that there are evidence gaps in terms of specific interventions that can help students with writing, and on the effectiveness of teaching spelling. There is also little evidence on writing in studies of international comparisons.

The issue of Better on English (Winter 2013) included an article by Debra Myhill on the importance of teaching grammar, while a recent study by the IEE has shown how hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar.

Sources: What is the research evidence on writing? (2012) Department for Education

Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education