Program

Oct 22, 2015

OVERVIEW

Tools of the Mind is an early childhood education curriculum that focuses on both cognitive skills and academic skills.  In a study of the program’s effectiveness, teachers were randomly assigned to teach the Tools of the Mind curriculum or the existing district curriculum.  Students were then randomly assigned to either treatment or control classes.  At the end of the school year, students assigned to Tools of the Mind classrooms performed significantly better than students assigned to control classrooms on some measures of verbal skills and behavior regulation.  Tools of the Mind classrooms also scored significantly better on measures of global classroom quality and instructional quality.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target population: students in pre-school through 2nd grade

Tools of the Mind is an early childhood education curriculum based on the work of Vygotsky, who views learning as active play and as socially mediated by teachers and classmates.  The curriculum seeks to develop cognitive skills such as self-regulation, deliberate memory, and focused attention while developing academic skills such as symbolic thought, literacy, and mathematical understanding.  The curriculum views play as the leading skill-development activity for young children and emphasizes the teacher’s role in supporting the development of mature, intentional dramatic play.

EVALUATION(S) OF PROGRAM

Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K., & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence. OPRE Report 2014-44. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Evaluated population: The full baseline sample of the study consisted of 2,114 children. Of this sample, 517 children were in Head Start classrooms randomized to the Tools of the Mind treatment group, 512 were in control group classrooms, and the classrooms with the remaining 1,085 children were randomized into two other treatment groups. At the start of the study, participating children were 4.4 years old on average. Sixteen percent were white and non-Hispanic, 33 percent were African-American, 43 percent were Hispanic, and seven percent were multi-racial or another race. There were slightly more boys than girls (51 percent male and 49 percent female). About 59 percent of children lived in households that received food stamps and 11 percent lived in households receiving TANF. Nineteen percent of parents owned their own home, while 18 percent lived in transient housing. The average monthly household income of participants was $1,754. The study took place in Head Start classrooms across the country; 23 percent of children were in the Midwest/Plains, 23 percent were in the Northeast, 26 percent were in the West, and 29 percent were in the South.

Approach: This evaluation is part of a larger study in which 104 Head Start centers across ten states (comprising 307 study classrooms), were randomly assigned into one of four conditions: a control condition in which the Head Start program was conducted as usual, a Tools of the Mind treatment group, an Incredible Years Teacher Training Program treatment group, and a Preschool PATHS treatment group. The Tools of the Mind group included 26 centers and 76 classrooms, and the control group was made up of 26 centers and 77 classrooms. Centers were ineligible if they ran only Early Head Start programs, served only migrant children, were not located in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, were located more than 100 miles from a major airport, operated fewer than four centers with two classrooms each, or provided only or mostly family child care or home services. Children were considered eligible if they spoke English or Spanish, would be

Data were collected in a number of ways. Classroom observations and teacher self-surveys were completed in the spring before the implementation year and the spring of the implementation year; direct assessments of children were carried out in the fall and spring of the implementation year; teachers completed reports of children in the fall and spring of the implementation year as well as a follow-up in the spring of kindergarten year; parents completed surveys in the fall of the implementation year and at the spring follow-up when their children were in kindergarten. A fairly large set of outcome domains were measured: teaching practices (classroom management, social-emotional instruction, and scaffolding), classroom climate (emotional support, classroom organization, instructional support, and literacy focus), children’s social-emotional competence (executive function, behavior problems, learning behaviors, emotion knowledge, social problem-solving, and social behaviors), and children’s academic skills. Data at the kindergarten follow-up also included whether children were retained in grade, received special services (such as speech therapy or mental health consultation)

Attrition was similar between the Tools of the Mind treatment group and the control group, at 15 percent. Analyses used multi-level models to account for clustering, two levels for classroom- and teacher-level outcomes (individual classrooms within centers), and three levels for child-level outcomes (individual students within classrooms within centers). At baseline, children and teachers in the Tools of the Mind treatment group and the control group were similar across almost all measured variables, with a few exceptions: teachers in the treatment group were older than those in the control group (43.8 versus 41.1 years old at baseline) and reported a greater focus on academics, while children in the treatment group scored slightly lower in providing a competent response for social problem-solving.

Results: At the end of the implementation year, teachers in classrooms in the Tools of the Mind treatment group engaged in significantly more scaffolding of children’s dramatic play and of peer interaction than teachers in the control group, and used more literacy strategies. However, there were no significant differences between the groups in teachers’ social-emotional instruction or in classroom management. At the end of the implementation year, no differences were found between children in the treatment and control group in terms of executive function, behavior problems, learning behaviors, or social behaviors. There were small but significant differences between the groups for emotion identification; children in the treatment group were able to correctly identify more emotions, both on faces and of a protagonist in a story. Boys in the treatment group were found to have significantly stronger social problem-solving ability than boys in the control group, but this impact was not found for girls. In the kindergarten follow-up, there were no differences between treatment and control group children for behavior problems, learning behaviors, social behaviors, academic skills, teacher expectation of grade retention, or receipt of special education services.

Farran, D. C., & Wilson, S. J. (2014). Achievement and self-regulation in prekindergarten classrooms: Effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Evaluated population: The study sample consisted of 877 children in public pre-kindergarten classes in the southern United States. Boys made up 55 percent of the sample. The sample of 40 percent white, 26 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic, six percent Asian, and four percent multi-racial or other. Twenty-nine percent of children were English-language learners, and14 percent had an IEP. Eighty-seven percent received a free or reduced-price lunch, although all families had to be eligible for a free or reduced price lunch in order to enroll in the pre-kindergarten programs the study took place in. At pre-test, the average age of children was 54.1 months in the treatment group and 54.6 months in the control group.

Approach: Participating school districts were selected based on willingness to participate and having a public pre-kindergarten program. Randomization occurred at the school level, resulting in 32 schools assigned to a Tools of the Mind treatment group and 28 assigned to a business-as-usual control group. The study examined multiple outcomes: identification and pronunciation of letters and words, prewriting skills, comprehension of a short passage that is read aloud, expressive vocabulary, academic knowledge, problem-solving, quantitative concepts, self-regulation, and classroom behaviors. Children were assessed at the beginning and end of preschool, the end of kindergarten, and the end of first grade. Teachers also rated language, social skills, and classroom behavior around the same time periods. Multi-level (student, classroom, and randomization block) models adjusted for clustering. At baseline, there were significant differences between groups in terms of age (children in the control group were 2.5 weeks older than those in the treatment group, on average) and ethnicity (there was a greater proportion of black and Asian students in the treatment group, and of Hispanic and multi-racial students in the control group). Age was included as a covariate in the analyses, but ethnicity was not because of concerns regarding how schools reported the data.

Results: Analyses found several significant differences between the treatment and control groups at the various assessment points, all of which favored the control group. At the end of the pre-kindergarten year, students in the treatment group were found to have made smaller gains in oral comprehension than students in the control group; there were no differences between the groups on the self-regulation assessments at this time period. At the end of kindergarten, students in the treatment group were found to have made smaller gains on letter and word identification, quantitative concepts, and in block-tapping (a working memory self-regulation assessment) than those in the control group. Students in the control group were also found to have higher overall academic achievement than those in the treatment group at the end of kindergarten. At the end of first grade, control group students were found to have made greater gains in spelling, visual-spatial skills (part of the self-regulation assessments), and overall self-regulation than treatment group students, although other differences had faded. Higher fidelity of Tools of the Mind implementation was found to be associated with small but significant reductions in improvements in overall academic achievement at the end of kindergarten, and in overall self-regulation at the end of first grade.

Barnett, W.S., Yarosz, D.J., Thomas, J., & Hornbeck, A.  (2006).  Educational Effectiveness of a Vygotskian Approach to Preschool Education: A Randomized Trial.  Rutgers, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Evaluated population: 274 three- and four-year-old children from low-income families served as the study population for this investigation.  The children represented all students registered for pre-school education at a school in an urban school district.  50 of these children did not receive parental consent to participate in testing for this study, four children’s parents requested that they be switched from one condition to another, and two children moved away during the course of the study, resulting in a study sample of 218 children.

93% of the children were Latino, 2% were black, and 4% were Asian.  The remaining children were multi-racial.  69% of children’s families reported that Spanish was the primary language spoken in their home.

Approach: The researchers were provided with seven classrooms in which to implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum and eleven classrooms on a different floor of the building in which to implement the existing district pre-school program.  The existing program was described a “balanced literacy curriculum with themes.”  Teachers were stratified by licensing and then randomly assigned to a control classroom or a treatment classroom.  The children were also randomly assigned to treatment classrooms or control classrooms.

Teachers who were assigned to the treatment group received four full days of curriculum training before the school year began.  Control group teachers attended workshops on the existing district curriculum during this time.  Over the course of the school year, treatment teachers had weekly meetings with Tools of the Mind trainers and attended one half-day workshop and five one-hour lunch meetings to discuss aspects of the curriculum.  Control group teachers were provided with support from “master teachers” in the district.

Children were assessed in the fall and the spring of their pre-school year in either English or Spanish.  Assessments measured English vocabulary development, emerging literacy skills, emerging math skills, non-verbal problem-solving skills, visual-motor proficiency, receptive and expressive language skills, and problem behaviors (both externalizing and internalizing).  Treatment children did not differ significantly from control children on any of these measures at baseline.

Classrooms were also assessed in an attempt to study the extent to which the Tools of the Mind curriculum created changes in the classroom atmosphere.  Classes were videotaped and tapes were coded on a number of scales assessing classroom quality.

Results: At post-test, students from Tools of the Mind classrooms performed significantly better than students from control classrooms on a measure of English vocabulary development (The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test – PPVT-III).  And among Spanish-speaking students, treatment students performed significantly better than control students on a measure of receptive and expressive language skills (The Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test – OLPT).  Thus the Tools of the Mind curriculum was more successful than the existing district curriculum at promoting both English and Spanish language development.

Treatment students also scored significantly better than control students on a teacher-completed measure of problem behaviors, the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS).  Treatment students and control students did not differ significantly on measures of emerging literacy skills, emerging math skills, non-verbal problem-solving skills, or visual-motor proficiency.

Treatment classrooms scored higher than control classrooms on a measure of global classroom quality (The Revised Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale – ECERS-R), a measure of literacy environment and instruction quality (The Supports for Early Literacy Assessment – SELA), and a measure of frequency of use of scaffolding techniques by teachers in their interactions with children (The Preschool Classroom Implementation rating scale – PCI).  Treatment classrooms also scored higher on the productivity subscale of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Curriculum materials available for purchase at:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0023698748/interactiveda161-20

References:

Barnett, W.S., Yarosz, D.J., Thomas, J., & Hornbeck, A.  (2006).  Educational Effectiveness of a Vygotskian Approach to Preschool Education: A Randomized Trial.  Rutgers, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research.

Farran, D. C., & Wilson, S. J. (2014). Achievement and self-regulation in prekindergarten classrooms: Effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K., & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence. OPRE Report 2014-44. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

KEYWORDS: Early Childhood (0-5), Children (3-11), Preschool, School-Based, Education and Cognitive development, Behavioral Problems, Urban, Hispanic or Latino, Black or African-American, Asian, Education, Social/Emotional Health, Academic Achievement.

Program information last updated on 10/22/15.

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