K-12 Ed Tech News

Early Intervention Program Addresses Academic, Behavioral Issues

"Children who enter grade school with cognitive and social-emotional delays are at an increased risk for reading problems, academic underachievement, and becoming disengaged or disinterested in school." This assessment, from Janet Welsh, a research associate at Penn State University's Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development, is at the heart of a new intervention program developed by researchers at the school to help families with kindergarteners at risk for poor school performance.

With funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Focus on Learning integrates approaches that address the primary skill areas, academic and behavioral skills, necessary for children to stay engaged and ultimately succeed in school. Components of the program include a laptop computer containing applications and games aimed at building vocabulary and reading skills; a focus on literacy using a technique called "dialogic reading," which encourages parents, to discuss with children what is happening in the images on a page rather than simply reading word for word; and coaching of parents on behavioral strategies including how to use positive reinforcement and manage aggressive behavior.

"Our goal in developing this intervention," said Welsh, "was to improve parent support for child learning at home, thereby fostering gains in child oral language skills, emergent literacy skills and adaptive approaches to learning. We tried to be mindful of what parents are or are not able to do when we designed the intervention. Many parents have low literacy themselves. To say they need to read to their kids is not always the most effective approach."

The PSU researchers will monitor participants in the program at least through the third grade, both for student progress and parental involvement and support. In addition, researchers will conduct randomized evaluation of 300 participants from York, Juniata and Mifflin counties.

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Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.