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National Center for Research on Early Childhood Education. Professional Development Study.

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national center for research on early childhood education

National Center for Researchon Early Childhood Education

Professional Development Study

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A060021 to the University of Virginia. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the U.S. Department of Education.


A Course on Supporting Early Language and Literacy Development through Effective Teacher-Child Interactions: Effects on Teacher Beliefs, Knowledge and Practice

Bridget K. Hamre1

Robert C. Pianta1

Margaret Burchinal2

Jason T. Downer1

1 University of Virginia 2 University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Robert Pianta

Bridget Hamre

Jason Downer

UNC-Chapel Hill

Peg Burchinal

Donna Bryant


Karen LaParo

Catherine Scott-Little


Carollee Howes

NCRECE Course Staff

Sarah Hadden

Allison Leach


And many, many others at UVA and project sites!


Poor children continue to enter kindergarten far behind their peers in social competence and literacy and language development

This disparity exists despite high enrollments in child care, Head Start, and pre-k

The mediocre quality of teacher-child interactions are one reason for these gaps in children’s school readiness (e.g. Mashburn et al., 2008)

Modest gains in teacher-child interactions may produce meaningful skill gains in children (Burchinal et al, in press)

professional development approaches
Professional Development Approaches

There is a need for targeted and effective professional development opportunities for teachers

Recent RCT’s of professional development programs have demonstrated effects on teacher-child interactions and child outcomes (Bierman et al., 2008; Pianta et al., 2008; Raver et al., 2008)

Most of these interventions involve curricula and/or intensive coaching

Less evidence regarding coursework (see Dickinson & Caswell, 2007 and Neuman & Cunningham, 2009 for exceptions)

Coursework may be easier to replicate and integrate into existing systems of in-service and pre-service training and is less expensive than coaching

But can coursework alone change practice?

ncrece professional development approach
NCRECE professionaldevelopment approach

NCRECEwill offer two types of supports to teachers:

In-service course

on effective support of language/literacy development

In-service consultation using MyTeachingPartner

ncrece sample
NCRECE sample

Full Implementation


Course Only


Full Control


Consult Only


theory of change
Theory of Change

Teacher Beliefs, Knowledge and Skills

Professional Development

Child Outcomes

Classroom Practice

Effective Teacher-Child Interactions

Delivery of Effective Interactions During Literacy and Language Activities

  • Emotional Support
  • Classroom Organization
  • Instructional Supports
  • Literacy and Language Supports
  • Beliefs
  • Knowledge
  • Skills in Detection

Children’s Literacy and Language Development



Children’s Literacy and Language Development

  • Beliefs
  • Knowledge
research questions
Research Questions
  • Do teachers who participate in the course (compared to a randomized control group) display:
    • Stronger beliefs emphasizing the central role of the teacher in facilitating children’s development of social, literacy, and language skills
    • Stronger beliefs about the importance of teaching early literacy and language skills
    • Greater knowledge of effective teacher-child interactions
    • Greater knowledge of the major domains of literacy and language development
    • Greater skills in detecting effective interactions in video
    • Use of more effective teacher-child interactions in observed practice
  • Is the course more effective for some teachers than others?
course objectives
Course Objectives
  • Describe how teacher-child interactions in early education settings promote academic and social development and learning
  • Identify the importance of being intentional (having a goal) when interacting with children
  • Describe elements of effective teaching as described by the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)
course objectives continued
Course Objectives Continued
  • Observe own and others instructional and social interactions with children using the CLASS framework
  • Describe how to implement language and literacy curricula through effective teacher-child interactions
  • Identify & implementmethods to build supportive teacher-child relationships (Banking Time)
course delivery
Course Delivery
  • Course developed by NCRECE (PowerPoint, instructor manual, videos, etc)
  • Course provided to in-service teachers in:
    • New York (NY), Chicago (IL), Stockton (CA), Dayton (OH), Hartford (CT), Charlotte (NC), Memphis (TN), Providence (RI), Columbus (OH)
  • Instructors all trained by UVA staff to deliver NCRECE course
  • Weekly support provided to instructors to ensure the course was as similar as possible across sites
course details
Course Details
  • 14-weeks in most sites (3 hours a week)
  • Teachers in most locations received college credit
  • Offered through partnerships with other colleges or universities
random assignment
Random Assignment
  • Teachers were randomly assigned at the site level to course or control group
  • Final sample:
    • 168 Control
    • 143 Course
teacher beliefs
Teacher Beliefs
  • Beliefs about Intentional Teaching
    • 11 items; teachers rate agreement with statements about intentional teaching (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree)
    • Sample Items: Preschool children are too young to benefit from explicit instruction in early literacy; Preschoolers learn the most from centers when teachers let them explore on their own.
    • Alpha = .63
  • Beliefs about Importance of Literacy and Language Skills
    • 12 items; teachers rate how important 6 domains of language and literacy skills are for entering kindergartners (Not Important, A Little Important, Pretty Important, Essential)
    • Sample Items:Blend syllables into words; maintain conversational topic through 2 or more turns; use adjectives to modify nouns in conversations
    • Alpha = .87
teacher knowledge
Teacher Knowledge
  • Teacher Knowledge of Effective Interactions
    • 15 multiple choice items assessing knowledge about effective interactions and content knowledge in literacy and language
    • Sample Item:The teacher has difficulty getting her students to do what she wants at circle time. Her children tend to be highly active, don’t consistently listen to the lesson, and frequently interrupt. Which of the following would most effectively help her improve the children’s behavior?
      • ignore all misbehavior to prevent reinforcing the wrong thing
      • restate classroom expectations for circle time before beginning the activity
      • redirect children when they move, make comments, or fidget
      • post clear and positively stated classroom rules
teacher knowledge21
Teacher Knowledge
  • Teacher Knowledge of Language and Literacy Domains
    • 12 items in which teachers match child skill to broad domain of literacy and language development
    • Sample Items: Identify all the letters of the alphabet (Alphabet Knowledge); Retell a fictional story using newly-learned vocabulary (Narrative)
teacher skill in detection
Teacher Skill in Detection
  • Video Assessment of Interactions and Learning (VAIL)
    • Watch 2 short videos
    • Sample question: Name up to 5 strategies the teacher is using to engage the students in the lesson and hold their attention. For each strategy list a specific behavioral example of the strategy from the clip.
    • Responses coded for accuracy in alignment with CLASS and the breadth (number of different elements of a CLASS dimension which were correctly identified)
teacher practice
Teacher Practice
  • Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS: Pianta, LaParo, & Hamre, 2008)
      • Emotional Support – Positive Climate, Negative Climate, Teacher Sensitivity
      • Classroom Organization – Behavior Management, Productivity, Instructional Learning Formats
      • Instructional Support – Concept Development, Quality of Feedback, Language Modeling
      • Literacy Focus
    • Each dimension scored on 1 to 7 scale from low to high quality
    • Coded from 30 minute videotapes sent in by teachers between midterm and 2 weeks after final exam
teacher beliefs about intentional teaching
Teacher Beliefs about Intentional Teaching

Teachers in the course were more likely to endorse intentional teaching practices

Effect Size = .38

example items
Example Items
  • Preschool children are too young to benefit from explicit instruction in early literacy
    • % Strongly disagree: Course (77%) Control (63%)
  • Young children learn best when teachers are actively involved in their play
    • % Strongly agree: Course (75%) Control (65%)
  • Having many books available is enough to help children develop early literacy skills
    • % Strongly disagree: Course (48%) Control (32%)
intentional teaching
Intentional Teaching
  • The course made me more aware of the fact that everything I do as a teacher has potential to be a learning opportunity for a child or group of children. The more your put into it, the more you and the children will get out. I am a much more thoughtful and purposeful teacher now thanks to the course.
  • I will be more purposeful and explicit throughout the day I will focus more on letter recognition, letter sounds and the way I tell a story will change tremendously. I will be more interactive with the children and develop what I have learned. I will be more intentional, purposeful, and reflective in my interactions with the children in my care.
teacher beliefs in importance of literacy and language skills
Teacher Beliefs in Importance of Literacy and Language Skills
  • Teachers in course reported that specific literacy & language skills were more important for young children
  • Effect Size = .68

Very Important

Not Important

example items29
Example Items
  • % rated as essential for children entering kindergarten
    • Blend syllables into words
      • Course (48%) Control (30%)
    • Identify the first sound in a spoken word
      • Course (61%) Control (45%)
    • Map spoken word to print
      • Course (49%) Control (24%)
literacy and language beliefs
Literacy and Language Beliefs
  • I will try harder when it comes to literacy. I will point to letters, words, title of pages. I will be more explicit when I am teaching literacy to children.
  • I have a better understanding why literacy based activities are so important in the preschool years. I am implementing more of these activities on a weekly basis.
  • I have also realized how important language and literacy is for the future development of my children as readers.
differences in knowledge about interactions
Differences in Knowledge about Interactions
  • Teachers in the course condition scored higher on multiple choice items about effective interactions.
  • Effect Size = .79
example item
Example Item

For example:

    • A child in class is shy and does not talk very much. Since this child rarely engages in conversations with either teacher or peers, one way the teacher can facilitate his language development would be:
      • Always give each child a turn to share in circle time
      • Model language by describing what she is doing and what other children are doing
      • Enthusiastically engage him in the lesson using a variety of materials
      • Ask him questions which he can answer by nodding or shaking his head
  • % correct: Course (67%) Control (39%)
differences in knowledge
Differences in Knowledge
  • Teachers in the course condition scored higher on a task asking them to match child skills to domains of literacy and language development
  • Effect Size = .41
example items34
Example Items
  • % correctly identified
    • Identify the front, back, and title of book – Print Concepts
      • Course (79%) Control (63%)
    • Use motion words to represent actions – Vocabulary and Linguistic Concepts
      • Course (66%) Control (52%)
    • Recognize letters in name – Alphabet Knowledge
      • Course (78%) Control (66%)
teacher skills in detecting effective interactions
Teacher Skills in Detecting Effective Interactions

Teachers in the course demonstrated better skills in detecting effective interactions in video

Effect Size = .59

teacher practice36
Teacher Practice

Teachers in the course demonstrated more effective Emotional and Instructional Supports

emotional support
Emotional Support

ES = .13

ES = .41**

ES = .28*

ES = .53***

emotional supports
Emotional Supports
  • The course has changed the way I teach in the sense that it has made me more patient and confident to interact with the children in my classroom. Before, I used to teach and it was a task and sometimes I would feel as if my heart was not in it anymore.
  • I’ll change the ways I interact with the children, be more sensitive to their needs, observe the children and their interactions with each other. I’ll pay more attention to children perspectives and give them more choices, more freedom of movement.
classroom organization
Classroom Organization

ES = .13

ES = .12

ES = .32**

instructional support
Instructional Support

ES = .55***

ES = .55***

ES = .64***

ES = .15

instructional supports
Instructional Supports
  • I will be … asking more questions and digging deeper to get their reasoning behind their answers
  • I'm going to change the way I'm reading the books, paying more attention to new vocabulary.
  • To use every minute of time to explore language. To have language expressed and respond to at all times. I will keep my classroom stimulated with language.

No consistent evidence of moderation by education level, experience, or classroom type


Teachers in course demonstrated changes in beliefs, knowledge, skills and practices

Effects on practice were strongest for instructional interactions

Course was effective across broad range of teachers


Did not test mediational model suggested in theory of change

Videotapes coded between midterm and 2 weeks after final provide limited ability to test effects on practice

How much is CLASS-specific – would we find effects using other observational measures?

New measures of beliefs and knowledge – under revision

next steps
Next Steps

Impacts on child outcomes

Additional benefits of 1-on-1 consultation

Treatment on treated analyses

Moderation of effectiveness of course by teacher psychological characteristics