Preschool kids playing

Let’s Go to the Tape: Study Uses Classroom Video to Improve Preschool Behavior

How can preschool teachers curb disruptive behavior before it hinders learning? A new UVA study evaluates the effectiveness of data-driven video consultation on teaching strategies.

Rachel Chapdelaine

New research from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education has found that reviewing classroom video with coaches can help teachers significantly reduce preschoolers’ challenging behaviors in the classroom – behaviors that place young children at risk for academic difficulties down the road.

Although behavioral problems such as impulsivity and disruptiveness are not uncommon in preschool classrooms, teachers often lack the support and resources to manage these challenging behaviors effectively.

As a result, preschoolers who display challenging behaviors are expelled from school at an alarming rate – more than three times the rate of K-12 students, according to a 2005 national study of pre-kindergarten from Yale University. Many of these children are then left unprepared for kindergarten and without the foundation needed for future academic success.

recent study, conducted by the Curry School’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning and published in the journal School Mental Health, hopes to mitigate these risks.

Conducted in a large Southeastern metropolitan area, the study involved 45 Head Start preschool teachers and 143 students who exhibited high levels of disruptive behavior. To help teachers address these challenging behaviors and better understand them within the classroom context, CASTL developed a new consultation model: Learning to Objectively Observe Kids, or LOOK.

“LOOK enables teachers to observe and assess their teaching practices through ongoing, guided video reviews of their classrooms, emphasizing children’s engagement during the process,” CASTL Director Jason Downer, the study’s lead researcher, said.

Over a 12-month period, consultants used classroom video and observations in 22 classrooms. During this time, they assessed and guided the teachers’ practice based on 13 teaching strategies that help children develop social and emotional skills, such as identifying and regulating emotions.

“Results show that the LOOK model positively impacts children’s engagement with teachers, peers and classroom activities, as well as increases teacher confidence and use of social-emotional teaching strategies in the classroom,” Downer said.

Findings suggest that when teachers tailor practices to meet the needs of individual students, negative engagement and disruption significantly decrease. “This has the potential to impact both children who display challenging behaviors and their peers, as both are better able to focus and learn in the classroom environment,” he said.

In turn, these impacts are expected to decrease the likelihood of dropout or expulsion from preschool, he said, going on to stress that preschool retention is important because children who attend preschool are better prepared for kindergarten and have significant gains in learning that influence academic achievement in later years.

But what makes this model different from other consultation methods? It provides an efficient, objective feedback loop, Downer explained.

By reviewing video recordings, teachers and consultants can better reflect on practice and more objectively observe children’s behaviors within the classroom context, rather than relying solely on memory. Its online platform also promotes consistent communication and makes the process more time-efficient and flexible than attending in-person consultations or workshops.

“This is the future of teacher consulting and support,” he said. “LOOK takes advantage of technology and data to determine the strengths and challenges of at-risk children in a classroom and uses this info to guide teaching strategies.”

According to Amanda Williford, co-investigator of the study, few consultation models formally incorporate ongoing observation and analysis of a child’s classroom engagement into treatment planning. The LOOK consultation model uses observation to help teachers and consultants decide what to do – and if it is working.

“We focus on children’s engagement through innovative measures,” Williford said. “By adapting validated assessment tools —inCLASS and ASPI—we were able to provide teachers and consultants with reliable, data-driven assessments to help them identify relevant teaching strategies based on data patterns and then determine how use of those strategies helped children engage more successfully in the classroom.”

Although some teachers attempt to implement strategies themselves, many don’t know how to apply strategies long-term or have the framework in place to scale the process. Most (87 percent) of LOOK teachers, however, reported they were still using LOOK strategies a year later. And of the 13 teaching strategies, an average of seven were implemented across the year.

“This push toward more effective, efficient and scalable consultation models is critical as the field strives to meet the persistent need of early childhood teachers who continue to call for help to support their most challenging children,” Downer said.

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Rachel Chapdelaine