Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Behavior Problems in Learning Activities and Social Interactions in Head Start Classrooms and Early Reading, Mathematics, and Approaches to Learning

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Behavior Problems in Learning Activities and Social Interactions in Head Start Classrooms and Early Reading, Mathematics, and Approaches to Learning

Article excerpt

A growing body of early childhood research provides empirical evidence that preschool problem behavior negatively influences school readiness in multiple domains (Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001; Denham, 2006; Raver, 2002; Thompson & Raikes, 2007). Prevalence estimates in urban early childhood educational programs suggest that as many as 30% of children exhibit moderate to clinically significant emotional and behavioral needs (Barbarin, 2007; Feil et al., 2005; Qi & Kaiser, 2003). Unfortunately, programmatic resources to address children's needs are scarce. Referrals for psychological evaluations through early intervention often take many months and access to individual psychological service providers who work with young children is limited (Cooper et al., 2008).

For children living in urban poverty, it is essential that problem behavior is identified early when classroom-based interventions can be most effective (Bowman et al., 2001; Klein & Knitzer, 2007). Logically, early intervention efforts are dependent upon the availability of psychometrically sound and developmentally appropriate measurement tools for diverse low-income populations (Nuttall, Romero, & Kalesnik, 1999; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). In large early childhood programs, teacher or parent rating scales are often the most efficient and cost-effective mechanisms for identifying children in need of intervention (McDermott, 1993). However, the validity of data from parent or teacher rating scales with low-income minority preschool populations has been called into question (Lopez, Tarullo, Forness, & Boyce, 2000; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). The most commonly available measures identify problem behavior via checklists of psychiatric symptoms that identify the type of internalizing or externalizing problem (e.g., Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2002; Achenbach, 1991). Empirical studies suggest that when asked to use these measures early childhood educators underreport problem behavior to avoid stigmatizing children with labels that are not linked to classroom-based services (Lutz, 1999; Mallory & Kearns, 1988; Piotrkowski, Collins, Knitzer, & Robinson, 1994). In addition, checklist measures have been criticized because they (a) require teachers to infer children's internal thoughts or feelings, and (b) do not consider the classroom context within which behavior problems occur (Fantuzzo & Mohr, 2000; Friedman & Wachs, 1999; McDermott, 1993). Understanding where problem behaviors are the most challenging to children within daily classroom learning activities and social interactions is critical to inform developmentally appropriate classroom interventions that can reach diverse, low-income children (Cooper et al., 2008; Klein & Knitzer, 2007; Meisels, 1997).

A contextual assessment approach is needed to identify where problem behavior occurs within the preschool classroom, and to examine the influence of problems within classroom contexts on academic and learning-related skills recognized as important dimensions of school readiness (Kagan, Moore, & Bredekamp, 1995). Below, we present a developmental and ecological model that guides our research and then summarize early childhood research that examines the relationship between preschool problem behavior, and academic and learning-related readiness skills (Kagan et al., 1995). In addition, we critique the extant literature and provide a rationale for a more contextually relevant approach to examine classroom problem behavior and its effects on the school readiness of diverse low-income children.

Developmental and Ecological Systems Framework

A developmental ecological model provides a conceptual framework for understanding the preschool classroom as a unique developmental setting and its dynamic proximal influence on children's behavior (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1998). This model suggests that in order to understand early problem behavior, assessments must consider the proximal contexts within which problem behavior occurs (Friedman & Wachs, 1999; Kontos & Keyes, 1999; McDermott, 1993), which include interactions among children, teachers, and instructional materials that serve as the primary mechanism for children's learning (Pianta, 2006). …

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