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.
All across the world, researchers and educators are working on ways to help students learn. Some are small tweaks or classroom “lifehacks.” Some are big, expensive programs with huge ambitions. Some (like CLASS!) are paradigms about learning. When something works, you want it to be accessible to other practitioners. The problem is, many of the programs that are most effective also take a lot of time, money, or resources.
Most people I know who are invested in early childhood education look at Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address as an important moment. In it, Obama called on the federal government and states to work together to “make high-quality preschool available to every child in America,” and talked about the economic and social impact of such policies. I teared up when I rewatched this speech. It’s powerful stuff. As it so often does, the conversation about early childhood education and care revolved around quality.
Okay, this is a slight change from our usual “What We’re Reading” posts. Instead of highlighting a particular article, we wanted to share an interesting application of research: this childcare cost calculator from the Center for American Progress. You can use it to estimate the impact of improving different parts of structural quality (the infrastructure that surrounds teaching, like teacher-child ratios, the physical space, and materials) on the cost of care.
Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. Some of it, like deadlines or first date nerves, are good stress. It propels you forward and helps you accomplish goals. Some stress, like the car in front of you slamming on the brakes, is acute, but temporary. But a more concerning type of stress that’s gained a lot of attention in the past few years is toxic stress, long-term, unrelenting exposure to stressful situations. In young children, this stress can alter the development of the brain, creating shortcuts to the parts of the brain that “turn on” stress responses and limiting connections to the parts of the brain responsible for learning and reasoning.