Preschool Interventions: How Accurate Is The Research?

Early childhood educators are grateful for the work that researchers do to increase our understanding of the field of preschool education and how improve it. However, no one study alone can solidify advances –- research-based progress comes from the sum of findings as a whole, not just the parts. 

Given the power of studies to explain trends and necessary changes in early childhood education, a recent study examined a plethora of existing research to see what would emerge on a popular topic, naturalistic instruction. Naturalistic instruction is a popular teaching method which combines interventions seamlessly into classrooms by embedding them in “naturally occurring” activities. This strategy is known by many other descriptive names, including “activity-based intervention” and “embedded instruction.”

This study draws conclusions about naturalistic instruction and about how to improve education research overall. To begin, the authors set some parameters for the types of studies they would review. They chose to focus on studies that were published since the early 1980’s and taking place within preschool classrooms “during ongoing activities." They limited their review to 43 empirically-based papers published in peer-reviewed journals. The vast majority of these chosen studies were looking at the effectiveness of naturalistic instructional approaches. The remaining studies were examining the reliability of teaching this approach in the classroom.

The Exam

This research-review-study had several explicit goals intended to support deeper understanding of the naturalistic instructional approach and to push stronger research practices. Specifically, they sought to answer questions about the settings, students and teachers, teaching techniques, effectiveness, and experimental design. This examination revealed promising findings, along with a few causes for concern.

The Results

On the plus side, naturalistic approaches seem to provide successful interventions. In the authors’ words, these “approaches resulted in acquisition of targeted skills for almost all young children” from the reviewed research. However, the authors argue that many of the studies were too vague in their descriptions to be helpful. They explain that nearly half of the research did not provide adequate descriptions of the teaching methods. Similarly, nearly half of the studies are not repeatable due to a lack of information regarding timing and frequency such as the number of times an intervention is provided per day or per week, as well as, the total time an intervention was used in the classroom. Further, the studies lack adequate data on the children receiving the interventions and on the adults teaching it.

Given all of these areas needing improvement, these researchers recommend that preschool intervention researchers in general use higher standards for “data collection and reporting practices.” Further, taking into consideration the weaknesses in the specific research on naturalistic instructional approaches, the authors argue that understanding this intervention and its effectiveness has only just begun. Studies such as the ones reviewed are beginning to form a “foundational evidence base” from which future, stronger research can build.

StepUp Summary

StepUp combines movement, rhythm, and repetition with curriculum. As children progress through the program levels, they develop fluency in reading decoding, handwriting, and math fact retrieval.  

Watch this video to see StepUp to Learn in action!


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