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Higher-level instructional interaction in Head Start classrooms: Variation across teacher-directed activities and associations with school readiness outcomes

Higher-level, teacher-child interaction in preschool classrooms, in which teachers engage children in conversations that emphasize conceptual understanding over factual knowledge, is associated with higher academic achievement (Burchinal et al., 2008). Classrooms serving low-income children tend to have low levels of this kind of instruction (Stipek, 2004) and yet research suggests that it may be particularly important for children who are at risk for poor educational outcomes (Feagans & Fendt, 1991; Hamre & Pianta, 2005; Stipek et al., 1998). The aim of the current study was to examine variation in higher-level instructional interaction in Head Start classrooms across different types of teacher-directed activities and to test associations between this kind of instruction and children's gains in school readiness skills across one preschool year. Twenty-four Head Start classrooms were observed across four activity types (circle time, math activities, science activities, and storybook reading) and higher-level instructional interaction was assessed using both global ratings (Instructional Support from the Classroom Assessment Scoring System; Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre, 2008) and an utterance-level analysis of teachers' use of higher-level questions (Massey, Pence, Justice, & Bowles, 2008). Science activities and storybook reading had more higher-level instructional interaction, as measured both globally and at an utterance level, compared to circle time and math activities. Overall frequency of higher-level questions was associated with gains in cognitive flexibility, and frequency of higher-level questions during science activities was associated with gains in science. Implications for promoting school readiness in at-risk preschoolers are discussed. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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