Welcome to our newest blog series dedicated to the research we're reading and thinking about.
Remember the old Lay's Potato Chip advertising campaign, "Bet you can't eat just one?" Whether we’re talking about potato chips, staying on task at work, or working towards a goal, self-regulation is essential—and challenging! But what about for kindergartners? What’s the value of self-regulation when it comes to the major transition into elementary school? That’s one of the questions that a group of researchers posed in a 2009 Developmental Psychology paper.
Using a group of 172 kindergarteners from rural, lower-income areas, researchers examined the extent to which baseline self-regulation skills related to students’ self-control, positive work habits, and engagement. They also looked at the relationship between classroom quality (in this case, CLASS scores) and these outcomes. In the fall, researchers gathered data on students’ incoming self-regulation skills. Then, over the school year, they conducted CLASS observations, rated engagement, and asked teachers to rate students’ adaptive classroom behaviors; things like staying on task during challenging activities, taking turns speaking, (not) getting into fights, and working toward goals.
If you’ve worked with young kids, you won’t be surprised to learn the first result. Children with greater self-regulation when they entered kindergarten were rated higher by their teachers on behavioral self-control and work habits at the end of the school year. Basically, incoming self-management leads to even more self-management, even in an unfamiliar situation. What’s more, children who had enrolled in preschool the previous year outscored their new-to-school peers in all five areas of adaptive classroom behaviors measured by researchers (behavioral self-control, cognitive self-control, positive work habits, time off task, and engagement in learning).
Classroom quality also predicted these outcomes. Better classroom management (i.e., Behavior Management, Productivity, and Instructional Learning Formats) was related to substantially more engagement in learning, less time off task, and higher behavioral self-control. For example, a one-point increase in classroom management linked to 21.76 fewer seconds off-task (in a 10-minute observation window). That’s like getting an additional 4% of your learning day! The benefits of a well-managed classroom were similar for all children in a classroom, regardless of their incoming self-regulation skills.
This study tells an important story. First, the self-regulation skills children bring with them to kindergarten are pretty important for their social-emotional adjustment into the elementary school setting—skills beget skills. Second, regardless of students’ incoming self-regulation ability, kindergarten teachers can make a difference in developing adaptive classroom behaviors by using varied learning strategies, increasing productivity, and being proactive with behavior management. So, it may pay off to help young children learn how to “have just one!”
Citation: Rimm-Kaufman, S.E., Curby, T. W., Grimm, K.J., Nathanson, L., & Brock, L.L. (2009). The contribution of children's self-regulation and classroom quality to children's adaptive behaviors in the kindergarten classroom. Developmental Psychology, 45 (4), 958-972.
Student engagement is crucial for learning. Students who understand the rules and routines of the classroom and have something to do are less likely to engage in disruptive behavior, allowing the teacher to focus more on instruction. Engagement is only heightened when teachers make learning come alive. Warm, caring, and responsive teachers inspire students to focus on classroom activities, be it a read-aloud in an early childhood classroom or a writing activity in an upper grade classroom.
I embarked on my longest trip to date to provide a pre-conference presentation and keynote address at the Early Childhood Care and Education International Rendezvous in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. During my three days at the conference, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend over 15 research presentations by early childhood educators from around the world including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Brunei, Malaysia, Mauritius, and Austria.
Strong cognitive skills in early childhood are associated with later school success. Cognitive skills are the mental processes that help us think, analyze, reason, and solve problems. These mental processes are complex and include a number of sub-skills that include attention, perception, memory, use of language, problem solving, and creativity – a set of skills referred to as executive function.
There are plenty of pre-K skeptics out there. How much can one year of playing on the rug, singing songs, and learning how to share really help kids in the long term? Some recent research supports the idea of “fadeout,” such as the study of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K. It found that even though students who had enrolled in pre-K entered kindergarten ahead of their peers, this advantage dissipated by the end of their first year of elementary school. By second grade, pre-K completers were actually behind.