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Children’s Learning Institute to improve school readiness by studying different instructional approaches

$7 million in grants awarded as part of highly competitive national grants program focusing on education research

HOUSTON – (July 21, 2014) –  A total of $7 million in grants received by the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) will fund projects to compare the effectiveness of different instructional approaches and learning environments in order to improve the school readiness skills of at-risk preschool children.

As part of a highly competitive national grants program focusing on education research, the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Research recently awarded the Children’s Learning Institute with two of only four grants given to Texas-based institutions.

“Many states estimate that half of their students arrive at kindergarten already far behind where they need to be in order to succeed,” said Susan H. Landry, Ph.D., director of the Children’s Learning Institute and principal investigator for both grant projects. “However, there is a growing consensus that high quality preschool experiences can lay a strong foundation for school readiness even among economically disadvantaged children. We will test which instructional approaches best create this foundation.”

One of the grant projects awarded will evaluate the impact of two web-based preschool programs — both developed at the Children’s Learning Institute — on children, their parents and teacher outcomes. The first of these programs utilizes the tested and proven Texas School Ready! Project, an online professional development program for preschool teachers, and will use video examples coupled with remote coaching to support teachers' instructional practices. The second program is Play and Learning Strategies (ePALS), which provides training for parents. The ePALS coaches support parents remotely in combination with the web-based ePALS curriculum sessions and video training to develop a set of core behaviors that comprise a responsive interaction style between parent and child. Results from this study will be compared with a similar study carried out from 2009-2012, which was conducted in a face-to-face manner. In addition, an economic evaluation and comparison of the two studies will be conducted.

This 4-year study will be conducted with teachers in 66 Head Start classrooms and more than 528 children and their parents. The research will focus on children from low-income backgrounds, including a high percentage of Spanish-speaking, English language learners.

The results of this study will not only test the unique and combined effects of a classroom-based and home-based program, but will also provide information about the cost effectiveness of the in-person versus online delivery models of instruction.

“This study will allow us to see if a technological approach can produce similar effects of practical importance at lower costs,” Landry said. “We also will be able to examine whether the combined school and home approach is more likely to lead to school readiness for children of lower socio-economic status.”

The other grant project awarded to the Children’s Learning Institute will compare two distinct approaches in providing professional development to child care teachers in language and literacy instruction: remote, video-based coaching and in-classroom coaching. This project will take place in subsidized child care classrooms in urban and rural areas. Participants in this 4-year study include 210 child care teachers with 1,680 low-income children from diverse backgrounds who are enrolled in those full day child care programs. Project leaders will be reaching out to the local community to identify child care programs in Houston and the surrounding areas who are interested in participating.

Researchers will measure the effects of these approaches on teachers’ skills as well as on children’s school readiness skills, including social and emotional development, language, math, early literacy and reading. To help achieve its results, this study will employ Texas School Ready !, which includes teacher feedback for 90 minutes per week with either video-based, remote coaching or in-classroom coaching along with the completion of online professional development classes.

This study also will analyze the cost effectiveness of the in-person versus online delivery models of instruction.

“Video-based, remote coaching has the potential to significantly lower the costs of training teachers and can be replicated,” Landry said. “In-class support is more expensive and can sometimes be challenging to implement. However, it allows for greater differentiation of demonstrations and co-teaching to bridge the gap between coursework and implementation with children to improve early learning.”

For more information, or to inquire about project participation, contact program manager Cathy Caldwell at 713-500-3702 or Cathy.J.Caldwell@uth.tmc.edu

Andy Heger
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030