New Study Aims to Support Preschoolers’ Language and Literacy Skills, With Help From Their Parents

Preschoolers who are at risk of developing later reading difficulties are the subject of a new study funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) and the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston (Principal Investigator: Dr. Tricia Zucker) are joining forces in a three-year, 1.5 million dollar grant to develop a new curriculum called ‘Teaching Together’. The curriculum will not only provide targeted language and literacy instruction for at-risk preschoolers, but it aims to actively involve parents in helping bridge the gap. “Creating a preschool curriculum with school and home alignment is rarely done, but parents play a critical role in helping their children learn. Parents are a child’s first teachers. This alignment makes our project innovative and exciting,’’ says research scientist Sonia Cabell at CASTL.

Currently, most preschool language and literacy curricula offer universal classroom instruction for all children, referred to as Tier 1 instruction. But, that’s not always good enough, says Cabell, a co-Principal Investigator in the study. “Tier 1 instruction alone may not be effective for students who begin preschool with very low language and literacy skills. So we need to think of better ways to reach and help those children.”

‘Teaching Together’ might just do the trick.  This brand new curriculum will provide an additional layer of support (Tier 2) to provide preschoolers a boost when they fall behind in the areas of language and literacy. This unique program will also include an aligned parent component to support language and literacy skills at home. Cabell explains, “The new curriculum will provide teachers and parents with the right tools to help children. At school, teachers will work with select children in a targeted, small group setting. At home, parents will engage in fun, culturally sensitive activities with children to support concepts learned in the classroom.”

Officially called ‘a multimedia school-home intervention’, Cabell explains that another key feature of the intervention leverages technology to provide additional resources. “We plan to use multimedia to make this study a success. Teachers and parents will have access to a mobile app with a video library, containing activities and examples of good practices. During the study we will also hold virtual consultation sessions to support the teachers and parents in implementing the new curriculum.”

Researchers are recruiting teachers and parents to actively take part in developing the curriculum. Their feedback is pivotal, says Cabell. “The first two years of the study, when we are actually developing the curriculum, it will be a matter of fine-tuning. The feedback will help us to stay on track and make sure that what we develop works in the classroom and at home. By the end of the first two years, we will make final revisions to the intervention components and have a finalized product to test out.”

In the third year of the study, the researchers will conduct a pilot study of the intervention and the developed curriculum, conduct analyses to evaluate the promise of the intervention, and present the study findings. Cabell is excited. “It’s very important that we provide a research-based curriculum for preschools to use to help children who begin preschool with very low language and literacy skills. I think this study can do that.”

The researchers will conduct their study in classrooms in Texas and Virginia. By the third year, approximately twenty teachers will participate, as well as 120 children and 60 parents. The curriculum and accompanying video library will be available for teachers in English and for parents, in English and Spanish. According to Cabell, the newly developed curriculum should be available at a low-cost for preschool programs to use after the project ends.