LAWRENCE — Researchers from the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas are improving kids’ response to literacy instruction in Kansas City area preschool classrooms.
The new program, called Literacy 360°, will train psychologists, early childhood special educators and teachers to individualize literacy interventions for children who are not making progress (sometimes due to disabilities or factors such as coming from a home where English isn’t the primary language).
The designers of the four-year project, funded by $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education, liken it to “personalized medicine” for literacy instruction.
“One of the challenges that teachers have is knowing what to do when individual young children aren’t making progress in learning their literacy skills,” said Charles Greenwood, director of Literacy 360°. "We see a gap in the information a teacher needs to make those decisions. In using direct observations of the classroom context and teacher talk-child response, a record of what the child and teacher were doing in the classroom can be provided back to teachers.”
To house this information, the Literacy 360° team uses is a classroom observational measure called “CIRCLE,” an acronym for Code for Interactive Recording of Children’s Learning Environment, a tool specifically designed to capture organizational and behavioral features of preschool classroom instruction to help guide intervention decisions.
“By organizing and providing this info back to teachers via our Tune-up Checklist, they can then have a better view of where a child isn’t getting enough opportunity to learn literacy skills, or where a child isn’t engaging in the desired literacy behaviors given the opportunity provided,” Greenwood said.
“We know in some cases teachers are devoting only 15-30 percent of class time to literacy,” said Dwight Irvin, co-director of Literacy 360°. “One of the exciting things about this work is that this tool allows us to observe how much literacy talk is going on during normal classroom activities and then provide teachers with meaningful data on where they can increase kids’ literacy skills.”
According to the KU researchers, the Literacy 360° project embodies principles within a larger nationwide movement in special education called “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support,” or MTSS, which stresses early intervention at any age. “Traditionally in special education, people have waited until as late as third grade to decide if a child has a disability and would merit an Individualized Education Program or not,” Greenwood said. "In helping the teacher know what they are doing and how they should be changing to better fit the needs of a child, our consultant can give a teacher feedback so you get a feedback loop going.”
The researchers said they hoped the research and development of the Literacy 360° project in the Kansas City area could someday advance the MTSS model for young children.
“What our tool does is provide context-specific information teachers need to make change more likely and, in turn, improve children’s kindergarten readiness,” Greenwood said. “You hear a lot about precision genetics in cancer treatment where, based on your individual information, doctors can see certain kinds of interventions are more or less likely to work. Here, we’re using observational measurements to see what seems to be causing the learning problem and what most likely will ameliorate it.”
Currently, Literacy 360° work is underway in 20 classrooms in Early Head Start and public preschools in the Kansas City area, and project leaders expect to grow to 30 classrooms for the next three years. We are currently recruiting teachers for fall 2018. Program administers and/or teachers interested in being a part of Literacy 360° should call 913-321-3143 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.