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.
While cognitive skills may look very different as children grow and develop, the importance of these skills cannot be understated. The toddler who is trying out different puzzle pieces to figure out where they fit is developing cognitive skills, as is the high schooler who is examining graphed data to identify trends. In both cases, they are building on cognitive processes that will help them continue to learn throughout their lives.
To be a successful learner, children must learn to attend to classroom activities, understand that other people have different feelings or points of view, manipulate information in their heads, effectively communicate, and develop problem skills to solve problems. Children who have difficulty with any of these skills may find school to challenging. Fortunately, research shows that parents, teachers, and other adults can help children develop their cognitive processes through deliberate actions like those measured with CLASS.
The types of teacher-student interactions identified by the CLASS have been associated with the development of specific cognitive skills that underlie learning. For example, the domains of Emotional Support, Classroom Organization, and Instructional Support all positively predict to executive functioning; the cognitive processes that include working memory, cognitive inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility.
In a 2013 study, Weiland, Ulvestad, Sachs, and Yoshikawa explored the relationship between classroom quality and children’s receptive vocabularies and executive functioning skills. Their sample included 414 children who were enrolled in the city of Boston’s public pre-k program. They found a significant association between the three domains of the CLASS and children’s scores on the Pencil Tapping task, a widely used measure of cognitive inhibitory control and memory. During this test, children are directed to tap a pencil once after the adult taps the pencil twice. This test requires that children hold two pieces of information in their mind and also tests the child’s inhibitory control over the natural impulse to repeat the actions of the adult.
Rimm-Kaufman, Curby, Grimm, Nathanson, & Brock (2009) also examined the impact of classroom quality on children’s self-regulation. They used four subtests of the Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment, which included the Pencil Tapping task, to assess the self-regulation skills of 172 kindergarteners. They learned that higher levels of Classroom Organization and Instructional Support were positively associated with cognitive and behavioral self-control. In addition, students who entered kindergarten with better self-regulation displayed greater behavioral self-control and work habits at the end of kindergarten.
The relationship between cognitive skills and longer-term outcomes is clear: students who develop their analytic and executive function skills early in life tend to do better in school and, in turn, the workforce. Supportive relationships between children and adults can help bolster these skills.
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.
Weiland, C., Ulvestad, K., Sachs, J., & Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Associations between classroom quality and children’s vocabulary and executive function skills in an urban public prekindergarten program. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 199-209.
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We often talk about the stressors educators face within the classroom - from tantrums to a lack of time for planning. But, what external factors are impacting educators, and what can we do to change them to create more meaningful learning experiences? We are excited to introduce our new podcast, Impacting the Classroom, to talk about these big topics in education.
Join our hosts, Darlene Estes-Del Re and Marnetta Larrimer as they bring together the researchers, policymakers, and educators who are making an impact in the field. Our first episode lays the groundwork for some of the larger themes that we'll dive into further over the next few weeks. Episodes are released biweekly and can be found on most major podcast platforms. Listen and subscribe today!
From coast to coast and around the globe, there’s a common thread that unites teachers: wanting to be better for their students.
Even when things are tough in education, educators are striving to be their best. Their dedication to equitable, ongoing development is what inspires Teachstone’s work. It will take a systematic, data-driven approach to reach the day when all children are afforded excellent education and care. And, we are enthusiastic partners in getting to that goal.
Hey there, Teachstone community! My name is Stephanie Lewandowski, and I am the Senior Product Manager for myTeachstone. Before joining Teachstone, I built digital products for education companies, financial institutions, and government agencies. I’m passionate about delivering impactful products, particularly the tools that make the everyday work of teaching and learning a little bit easier. As a parent, and as a product manager, I know how invaluable early childhood education is, and I’m inspired by the teachers in both my personal and professional life.
At Teachstone, our driving vision is to ensure every child experiences life-changing teaching. This mission is why we’re making a commitment to restabilize and improve education for every child, and every educator. And, we know that bringing this commitment to life requires providing education leaders with the support they need to not only face the current challenges, but that will propel towards the future of quality and equity.