A Carnegie Foundation (1992) survey of 7,000 kindergarten teachers revealed that 35 percent of their students were not prepared to enter school. How can kindergarten teachers help children acquire the necessary attention, listening and social skills associated with success in school? Researchers Gregg A. Brigman and Linda D. Webb, Florida Atlantic University, evaluated the effectiveness of Ready to Learn, a kindergarten program designed to improve students learning skills before they enter first grade. These researchers studied whether teachers can be trained to incorporate such teaching into their existing
curricula. This study of 12 kindergarten classrooms with a total of 260 students provides evidence that materials and teaching strategies exist that can improve
students’ learning skills, potentially preventing failure and increasing achievement in the early grades.
Teachers in the experimental classrooms were trained in the Ready to Learn curriculum and five specific teaching strategies for use throughout the school day. At the end of the year, students in these experimental classrooms scored significantly better than comparable classes on measures of listening comprehension
Skills important for success in school include attending, listening, working cooperatively with others and following directions. Studies have shown these skills are correlated with school achievement. Most previous research on teaching readiness skills has involved individual or small-group interventions. Programs that provide intervention for entire classrooms have not been well investigated, according to Brigman and Webb.
Ready to Learn
The Ready to Learn curriculum focuses on teaching learning and social skills as part of the regular classroom curriculum; specific teaching strategies are used to reinforce attending, listening and social skills each day throughout the year. This embedded approach is key, in these researchers’ opinion, because it allows for easy integration into the existing program. Ready to Learn is based on a model of interpersonal skills that begins with treating others with respect.
These researchers believe that when people have good interpersonal skills, they treat others with decency, reducing social conflicts and distractions from learning.
Classes were randomly assigned to the experimental or control group. Classes had approximately the same number of high-, medium- and low-ability students,
as well as equal numbers of boys and girls. The three schools involved in the study were primarily white, middle class and suburban. The three key skills were attending (paying attention, being on task and following directions); listening comprehension (understanding the main idea and knowing when and how to ask questions to clarify understanding); and social skills (learning to work cooperatively, encourage oneself, and increase persistence). The five teacher strategies
were modeling, coaching and cueing; peer reporting; story telling; story retelling; and encouraging.
The Ready to Learn kit contained a teacher’s manual, story book with audio cassettes, sample parent newsletters and posters. The teacher’s manual included
lesson plans, descriptions of the five teaching strategies to be used, and follow-up activities that reinforced targeted skills. Teachers used these materials daily for at least 12 weeks. Skills taught through stories and followup activities were reinforced throughout the year.
Teachers involved in the study received 16 hours of training in three sessions. In the initial full-day session before school began, teachers were given the
conceptual framework and research base of Ready to Learn and instruction on curriculum delivery. Two half-day workshops were held in October and
November to provide a review of skills and strategies and to discuss progress and problems with implementation of the program.
Brigman and Webb studied the effect on kindergartners’ behavior and achievement of directly teaching these attention, listening and social skills. Students were pretested and posttested on the Listening Comprehension Subtest of the Stanford Early School Achievement Test and the Comprehensive Teacher’s Rating Scale.
There was a significant positive difference between children who received Ready to Learn training versus comparison students in both listening comprehension
and behavior. This research provides evidence that entire classrooms of students can be taught prerequisite learning and social skills that enhance school
Brigman and Webb recommend that future studies examine the long-term effects on the academic and social performance of students in experimental and
control classrooms. They also recommend direct classroom observation of learning and social behaviors by independent researchers. To measure long-term effects, students’ reading should be tested in third grade and the drop-out rates of these groups in high school should be compared. In addition, Brigman and Webb suggest that follow-up training be carried out during first and second grade to reinforce skills.
“Ready to Learn: Teaching Kindergarten Students School Success Skills”, The Journal of Educational Research,Volume 96, Number 5, June 2003, pp. 286-292.
Published in ERN September 2003 Volume 16 Number 6