Time-outs are used in control classes, but not in Tools. The Tools curriculum, which exists only for preschool and kindergarten, is grounded in the idea that social-emotional development and improving EFs, especially inhibitory control, is as important as teaching academic skills and content. Developed by educational psychologists, Bodrova and Leong [ 76 ], Tools is based on the work of Vygotsky [ 77 , 78 ] and has been revised and improved over 23 years of iterative research and implementation.
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Vygotsky emphasized that cognitive and social development are fundamentally intertwined and that social interactions are key to developing EFs and cognitive skills, thus in Tools there are not separate activities for academics and SEL, rather activities address both. That makes Tools rather unique. Tools teachers are taught how to foster paired activities and an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual support. A major difference between Tools and traditional kindergarten is the far greater use of peer social interaction for learning in Tools —two children helping one another, cooperating in learning the material together or in one teaching or checking the other.
Vygotsky also emphasized the importance of social pretend play e. It is an important component of Tools. The quantity and quality of social pretend play in Tools distinguishes it sharply from traditional kindergarten. Children enact roles with implicit rules, role speech, and the use of symbolic props e.
Each child is paired with every other at least once every week in Tools. Students adapt to the personal quirks of their classmates. Another marked difference between Tools and traditional kindergarten is the far greater time children spend in hands-on learning and far less time in teacher-led whole-group activities in Tools. For young children that is particularly important because they have such difficulty sitting and listening for any length of time.
Because children can work on their own or with one or two others, teachers can provide individualized instruction and assessment. A Tools teacher helping one child is not taking time away from others because others are engaged in meaningful activity. Because children can work on their own they can proceed at their own pace , without rushing other children or holding them back.
In these conferences errors are treated as valuable learning opportunities, not anything to be embarrassed about. A distinguishing feature of Tools is the absence of extrinsic incentives, such as stickers or gold stars. With each child eager to tell his or her story; no one wants to listen. After a few months, the pictures are no longer needed; children can succeed without them. This illustrates another key aspect of Tools : Rather than letting children flounder, teachers provide supports scaffolds so that most children, regardless of ability level, succeed. Concrete visual signs and symbols help bootstrap fragile working memory and language skills.
Classroom materials have few distractions, thus making attention regulation easier. These supports are gradually removed as children improve. Thus children succeed, instead of experiencing failure or criticism. The boost to self-confidence and self-esteem from experiencing success is one key element of Tools. Let me try again. Because scaffolds and other children help students inhibit their impulsive behaviors and act appropriately, Tools teachers have less worries about students misbehaving; they can relax. Having fewer worries about being reprimanded, the children can relax.
For those wanting more information, S1 File provides a brochure about Tools. We went to lengths to treat both Tools and control teachers comparably. Tools teachers received a three-day workshop on Tools before the school year began. We offered control teachers three days of workshops at the same time on whatever they wanted. They made suggestions and voted on them. Their workshops received excellent reviews from the teachers.
The four one-day workshops for Tools teachers during the school year were held on Professional Development Days when school districts arranged for instruction and enrichment programs for teachers. Kindergarten classes in the US usually have a teaching assistant besides the teacher; kindergartens in BC do not.
Tools needs such an assistant for the minute literacy block each morning. Typically the assistant was a relative of one of the children in the class or a friend or relative of the teacher. Teachers in the Tools group needed to purchase supplies. There was one unintended difference between the Tools and control groups: Tools teachers chose on their own to meet together a few times during the school year besides when there was a workshop —thus providing social support and enabling each to learn from one another.
This probably helped less-experienced teachers to do so well with Tools. Had we known about these meetings, we would have arranged for similar meetings for control-group teachers.
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- Associated Data.
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Pre-intervention levels of the children on language and math skills and on behavioral control and sociability were determined within the first month of school. Post-intervention levels were determined eight months later May 5— These results were also obtained for the pre- Tools year for the classes taught by teachers assigned to Tools. Reading and writing were done in English.
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Teachers responded to an online survey using the Survey Monkey platform with multiple-choice questions and open-ended opportunities to elaborate. The survey questions are provided in S3 File. Since randomization was at the level of schools, analyses of student outcomes were nested within schools. Since the data were often ordinal, binary, or not normally distributed, in most cases the generalized estimating equation was used for data analyses, as it provides valid inferences regardless of the data distribution and is robust for both parametric and non-parametric analyses.
Chi-squares were generated from the generalized estimating equation within a poisson loglinear model when the data distribution was skewed, or, for categorical data, a binary logistic model. For interval data, where the data were roughly normally distributed and the variances roughly equal between groups or could be made so by a transformation such as arcsine, analysis of variance ANOVA was used to compare one group to other. Linear regression was used for the analysis of whether Tools helped the children more behind in reading more than those who started out reading at a higher level.
S4 File presents the results for all of our statistical analyses controlling one at a time for free-lunch status, ESL status, and years of teaching experience.
With nine classrooms per condition, we do not have the power to control for more than one covariate at a time. Free-lunch status was occasionally related to our outcome measures, as was ESL status, years of teaching rarely.
All analyses are reported in this paper controlling for free-lunch status as a proxy for lower SES. Since the dependent measures are interdependent and interrelated, one could argue that correcting for multiple comparisons is not needed. On the other hand, with several dependent variables we felt some correction should be applied. Teachers and students were well matched in the two groups. See Table 1. Most teachers in both groups were outstanding and very experienced. There were nine teachers schools per group; children in the Tools group; children in the control group.
At the beginning of kindergarten, most children could not read even the simplest words.
Most classes had no child who could read more than the simplest sentences; the exceptions were one Tools class and three control classes which each had three children who could read at a higher level. No significant difference in reading skills was found between Tools and control classes in September. By May, eight of the nine Tools classes had more than two children reading at Grade 1 level or higher, while only one of the nine control classes had more than two children reading at Grade 1 level or higher.
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See Fig 1. By May, three times as many children in Tools than in control classes were reading at Grade 1 level or better, although both groups started out comparably in the Fall.
This better progress in reading with Tools was also reflected in comments by teachers and parents see S5 File —Comments by Teachers, Parents, and Principals. Most Tools teachers said they had never seen progress like this in reading before. With only nine Tools classes, though, there was limited power to detect a difference.
By May, almost all children in both groups could do better than that. The difference was in how far they had progressed. See Fig 2. It is not so surprising that the writing of children in Tools advanced further than the writing of control children since Tools emphasized writing and control classes did not, though the advanced level of writing by children in Tools would astonish most kindergarten teachers.