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Efficacy of the Tools of the Mind Curriculum for Pre-K

Abstract

Purpose of research: This Goal 3 project proposes to conduct a randomized control trial of a prekindergarten curriculum called Tools of the Mind that focuses on developing a broad set of cognitive skills. Tools of the Mind is based on Vygotskian theory and focuses on helping children learn to use and create cognitive tools that enable them to attend, remember, and think better (Bodrova & Leong, 2007). With the Tools approach, teachers use mediators, language, and shared activities externally to scaffold children's progress. Through this process children internalize the cognitive tools, i.e., they begin to use and create their own mediators, apply self talk and writing, and utilize shared activities and dramatic play, all of which are designed to help children attend, solve problems, plan, and remember. Recent evidence presented in Science demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach for children from low income families in altering skills associated with executive function (Diamond, Barnett, Thomas, & Munroe, 2007). School districts around the country are interested in the curriculum and some have begun to use it; however, to date no rigorous RCT with follow up into the elementary grades has been conducted.

Sample:  Forty schools in six school districts in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina) will participate. Five of the districts are rural or suburban in Tennessee; the 6th district is an urban district in North Carolina. The sample is ethnically diverse but all of the children come from low income families as a requirement of their eligibility for the pre-kindergarten classrooms. 

Research Methods:  Schools will be randomly assigned either to implement the Tools of the Mind curriculum or to serve as a business as usual control group. Within a school, all prekindergarten classrooms will be assigned to the same condition. Teachers in the treatment condition will receive training from Leong, Bodrova and their Tools trainers; Tools requires two years of training with full implementation expected the second year. Two cohorts of children will be assessed, the first cohort followed through 1st grade and the second cohort through kindergarten. In the 4th year, school systems will be offered the option to have their control teachers trained. Children's skills in literacy, mathematics and self regulation will be assessed individually pre and post in prekindergarten with a post assessment each year of follow up. Teacher ratings of self regulation and language skills will be gathered pre and post each year of the project. Tools has several fidelity measures to assess implementation. The first year will be spent refining and testing these measures to create a single, integrated fidelity tool. Data will be collected from both target and control classrooms with the resulting fidelity measure in three classroom observations per year during the 2nd and 3rd years of the project.

Data Analysis:  Multilevel regression (HLM) with pretest and demographic covariates will be used in an intent-to-treat analysis to assess the effects of the Tools curriculum on the outcome measures at the end of pre-k and kindergarten and, for the first cohort, at the end of 1st grade. Interactions between treatment condition and gender, ethnicity, and pretest will be examined to determine if there are differential effects for any major subgroups of children. Selected variables from the fidelity observations will be used in treatment-on-the-treated analyses to estimate the effect of different degrees of implementation on the outcomes and identify the aspects of fidelity most strongly related to the gains made by the children in the classroom