Washington DC: Is your child social in school? Does he/she interact well with their teachers? A child’s individual engagement with teachers, peers and tasks in preschool is linked to improved literacy, language and self-regulatory skills. The study was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University, Montana State University Billings and the University of Virginia. “Children can have very different experiences in the same classroom and their individual engagement is associated with their learning gains above and beyond the average quality of classroom instruction,” said lead researcher Terri J Sabol from Northwestern University in the US. “It’s important to look beyond overall classroom quality and capture children’s individual experiences in classroom settings,” Sabol added.
They analysed 211 low-income, racially and ethnically diverse four-year-olds in 49 classrooms. The researchers measured the children’s engagement in the classroom by observing their positive and negative interactions with teachers, peers and tasks (eg., their ability to communicate with teachers, sociability and assertiveness with peers, self-reliance in tasks, conflicts with teachers and peers). The quality of the classroom setting was also measured (eg., the classroom climate, teachers’ sensitivity, emotional support, classroom organisation), and children were assessed on measures of school readiness in the fall and the spring of their preschool year.
Most previous research has examined either the effect of classroom interactions or the role of individual children’s engagement in the classroom on children’s outcomes; this study included both. The findings indicated that the children’s individual engagement was related to their developmental gains, even after accounting for emotional support, classroom organisation and instructional support at the classroom level. Specifically, children’s positive engagement with teachers was related to improved literacy skills and their positive engagement with peers was related to improved language and self-regulatory skills.
In addition, their positive engagement with tasks related to closer relationships with teachers. “Interventions designed to prepare children for school should include a focus on children’s individual behaviors in the classroom,” said lead investigator Jason Downer from the University of Virginia. “Observing children’s engagement can guide decisions about where, when, and how to intervene with at-risk children, and help educators enact more useful individualized strategies in the classroom,” Downer added. The study is published in the journal Child Development.