Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Kindergarten Classroom Quality, Behavioral Engagement, and Reading Achievement

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Kindergarten Classroom Quality, Behavioral Engagement, and Reading Achievement

Article excerpt

Abstract. This study examined the extent to which kindergarteners' classroom behavioral engagement mediated the relation between global classroom quality and children's reading achievement. A structural equation framework was used to analyze data collected in a primarily low-income rural sample (N = 171). Children's reading achievement was measured in the fall and spring of the school year. Observers rated the overall quality of teachers' interactions with their students three times during the year. Children's classroom behavioral engagement was based on several observations and end-of-year teacher ratings. Controlling for family sociodemographic risk and fall reading skill, higher classroom quality was expected to predict higher reading achievement, both directly and indirectly, through promoting behavioral engagement. Results from structural equation modeling supported the indirect effects solution only. Discussion highlights how classrooms providing rich, positive interactions predict literacy achievement by effectively engaging children.

Schools and teachers are increasingly held accountable for student achievement (Stipek, 2006; U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Meanwhile, attention and funding have been directed toward the development of evidence-based practices that improve instructional experiences and promote literacy (Tivnan & Hemphill, 2005). Reflecting these trends are data showing that classrooms in the early elementary grades spend most of their instructional time in literacy-related activities (National Institute for Child Health & Human Development [NICHD] Early Child Care Research Network [ECCRN], 2002). Despite these efforts, many children exhibit reading difficulties, with trajectories becoming highly stable after first grade (Chatterji, 2006; Juel, 1988; National Assessment for Educational Progress, 2005). Furthermore, poor readers are at significantly greater risk than good readers for developing attention and behavioral problems (Adams & Snowling, 2001; Maughan & Carroll, 2006).

Such persistent reading difficulty leads researchers, teachers, and school psychologists to consider the underlying mechanisms contributing to literacy achievement in the early years. Even when instruction is strong, children with reading difficulty may become disruptive if they cannot effectively access the instruction being offered. In other words, children must be able to concentrate and become actively engaged in learning opportunities, and those who cannot may need extra support (Downer, Rimm-Kaufman, & Pianta, 2007; Hughes & Kwok, 2007). In the present study, we observed children in their kindergarten classrooms, focusing on teachers' interactions with students, and students' behavioral engagement. Controlling for family sociodemographic risk and prior reading ability, we then tested a structural model to assess the simultaneous contributions of quality in global teacher-child classroom interactions and children's behavioral engagement to gains in reading achievement.

Theoretical Framework

Multiple interrelated factors foster reading development (Connor, Son, Hindman, & Morrison, 2005; Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky, & Seidenberg, 2001). Guiding our study was Bronfenbrenner and Morris's (2006) bio-ecological model, which operationalizes contributors to development with four constructs: Person, Process, Context, and Time. Process is the focus of our study and signifies the interactions in which children engage as they develop. These are also known as proximal processes and occur in classrooms when children engage in interactions with teachers, peers, objects, and ideas. Person represents the characteristics with which children enter school, such as initial reading skill, and are influenced by the child's prior experiences and resources, such as sociodemographic risk factors. Context represents the ecological setting and its associated opportunities, in this case the kindergarten classroom, where development occurs. …

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