Academic journal article School Psychology Review

The Preschool Learning Behaviors Scale: Dimensionality and External Validity in Head Start

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

The Preschool Learning Behaviors Scale: Dimensionality and External Validity in Head Start

Article excerpt

The concept of "approaches to learning" was perceived in an evidence-based framework and incorporated both the motivational and behavioral aspects of the way in which young children navigate learning tasks in preschool settings (Hyson, 2008). Early childhood approaches to learning are conceptualized within a broader domain of cognitive orientations that support school readiness and future academic success, and learning behaviors more specifically refer to observable mannerisms that facilitate or inhibit a child's engagement in the classroom or other learning environments (Fantuzzo, Perry, & McDermott, 2004). Examples of specific positive learning behaviors children might exhibit in preschool include the ability to work well with others, attempt novel tasks, show appropriate determination or effort to complete a given task, and accept needed help without becoming aggressive or hostile, which are similar to the conceptualization of learning-related social skills (McClelland & Morrison, 2003).

Young children's approaches to learning are important in supporting their acquisition of cognitive skills across several domains (DiPerna, Lei, & Reid, 2007; McClelland, Morrison, & Holmes, 2000; Stipek & Rosaleen, 1997), and instruction within early childhood education is targeted toward beneficial learning behaviors (National Association for the Education of Young Children & National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, 2003; National Education Goals Panel, 1997). The Head Start Bureau's Child Outcomes Framework (aligned with its National Reporting System) included approaches to learning among the eight domains crucial to assessing school readiness (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003a), and all but two of the 38 states with published standards included approaches to learning as a major domain of early childhood education (Scott-Little, Kagan, & Frelow, 2005).

Although the acquisition of positive approaches to learning is thought to be important for all children, there is a particular interest in ensuring positive learning behaviors are attained by children from impoverished backgrounds. Recent years have seen normative mandates to improve the school readiness and future academic achievement of all children and to close the achievement gaps (Love, 2006; Shepard, 1997; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Because learning behaviors are manifest and teachable as early as preschool (Barnett, Bauer, Ehrhardt, Lentz, & Stollar, 1996; Barnett, Lentz, Bauer, Macmann, Stollar, & Ehrhardt, 1997; McDermott, Leigh, & Perry, 2002), one way to improve the school readiness and achievement of disadvantaged preschool children, such as those attending Head Start programs, is to advance their learning behaviors. The increased learning behaviors of children during preschool and elementary school predicted increased academic achievement and protections against various social and academic risk factors (McDermott, Goldberg, Watkins, Stanley, & Glutting, 2006; McWayne & Cheung, 2009; Rouse & Fantuzzo, 2008; Yen, Konold, & McDermott, 2004). This is particularly important because children from poor backgrounds and with increased risk factors are more likely to display poorer learning behaviors than their nonimpoverished peers (McClelland et al., 2000; Stipek, Newton, & Chudgar, 2010; Stipek & Rosaleen, 1997; U.S. Department of Education, 2001). In addition, studies conducted with samples of Head Start children have shown that positive learning behaviors can mediate the negative effect of behavioral impediments to their literacy and mathematics performance (Dominguez, Vitiello, Maier, & Greenfield, 2010; Escalon & Greenfield, 2009).

As the popularity of research on approaches to learning in low-income preschool children has grown, so has the use of existing assessment tools. The National Research Council (2008) identified the Preschool Learning Behaviors Scale (PLBS; McDermott et al. …

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