Professors’ initiative aims to help kindergartners excel in school

A multifaceted research project will evaluate how kindergarten teachers can improve themselves and their classroom environment to successfully prepare students for the rest of their academic career.

The Kindergarten Project, from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, brought together a team of students and faculty to interconnect three research projects to assess how different circumstances and environments can affect a student’s kindergarten experience.

The project is composed of the Transition to Teaching study, the Classroom Competence Composition study and the Starting School Successfully plan.

The Transition to Teaching study, or T3, observes students in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The study follows teachers from the beginning of college until they are five years into their professional teaching career.

Jodi Swanson, a research professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, said there are 530 participants in the T3 program.

The T3 initiative team has followed education majors into the classroom, Swanson said. The team will conduct video observations to link what the education majors did as students at ASU to how they are doing now as professional teachers, she said.

Swanson said they hope to study the effects stress and depression, as well as positive factors, can have in the classroom and on the students.

So far, all participants come from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, but the team plans to reach out to local community colleges in the future, she said.

“Our sample is constantly growing,” Swanson said. “We are recruiting every fall, and we anticipate thousands of students.”

Although education majors don’t have to participate in the program, students who participate may have a better chance of creating successful classroom environments. However, researchers cannot prove at this point that the program causes students to do better.

“Our research doesn’t represent the teaching population as a whole,” Swanson said. “Eventually, we’d like to establish a process in which it is implemented into the teachers college. That’s a very long way off.”

Family and human development graduate student Crystal Bryce, a research associate on the project, works with data management and statistics from the T3 study. Bryce also trains research assistants to videotape classrooms and interact with and survey the kindergartners.

Their research has given them a better insight on teachers and teacher candidates, she said. It has also led them to question what they can do on the policy level to promote the best outcome in kindergarten classrooms, Bryce said.

“I’ve been the only graduate student (that has been a part of the project) since the project started,” she said. “I’ve been able to see the conception of the project. This experience has helped shape my interest in the importance of early education.”

The Classroom Competence Composition study, which will begin later in the semester, will give researchers the opportunity to work with 15 kindergarten classrooms.

Swanson said if the initiative is successful, the team will reach out to a larger number of kindergarten classes in fall 2013 and will study the classes for a whole year rather than a semester.

“We want to have a very representative group of teachers, kids and families,” she said.

The C3 initiative was designed to help teachers and administrators configure classrooms to get positive results, Swanson said.

“Something we’ve heard from teachers is that when kids come in for kindergarten, they have no preliminary information about their students,” she said. “We want to offer schools the necessary information so they can shuffle the mix to ensure success for everyone.”

The Starting School Successfully plan is the newest of all three initiatives and will launch later in the semester.

This part of the project is a needs assessment which will allow the team to measure what kind of difficulties kindergarten teachers face, what resources are available to them and what they need to succeed.

Staff member Chelsea Raymer said she was an undergraduate research assistant for Swanson when she heard about Kindergarten Project and was interested in continuing with the project after graduation.

“(The project) opened my eyes even further about research,” she said. “I know I enjoyed research before, but I’ve learned so much. I want to improve education, and we now have the opportunity to do so.”

Raymer works with all aspects of the project. She is heavily involved with the T3 initiative because of the consistent flow of participants, and she plans to work with the C3 initiative once it is running.

She said she is interested in seeing what makes a good teacher and how schools can produce more of these qualified instructors.

The Kindergarten Project began in 2011 after ASU President Michael Crow asked administrators to find a way to bridge the gap between K-12 education and higher learning.

Swanson said early schooling is important for a student’s long-term success. He said it is important to focus these efforts on kindergarten classes, because preschool can be expensive and is not required as part of formal schooling.

“What are the long term effects of those first couple of years?” she said. “Even small children can tell that there is a learning difference between what is taught in preschool and what is taught in kindergarten.”

 

Reach the reporter at ppineda@asu.edu or follow her @paulinapineda22

 

Clarification: This article has been updated to better clarify that researchers are not able to prove that participation in the program could cause education students to create more successful classroom environments.