Expel preschoolers or teach them social skills?

A program that trains teachers to help little kids develop social skills could be an effective way to bring down the high expulsion rate in US preschools.

Preschoolers are expelled for behavior problems at three times the rate of school-age children, with black children representing a disproportionate number of those expulsions.

“African-American children make up nearly half of the expulsions and less than 20 percent of the children in pre-K programs.”

“African-American children make up nearly half of the expulsions and less than 20 percent of the children in pre-K programs,” says Mary Louise Hemmeter, professor of special education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. “It’s troubling to think that we’re expelling children from preschool because they don’t know how to get along with others, when preschool is the place where they’re going to learn those friendship skills.”

Hemmeter is one of the developers of the nationally recognized Pyramid Model, a positive behavior support approach for developing young children’s social-emotional competence in the classroom, and preventing and addressing challenging behaviors.

Her recent study, published in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, is the first to examine a classroom-wide implementation of the model.

How it worked in the classroom

Hemmeter conducted the study with 494 students and 40 early education teachers in public school early childhood classrooms. She compared the efficacy of the model in classrooms where teachers received professional development, including coaching, to implement the practices, compared to those who implemented the practices on their own.

Teachers who received coaching and other professional development supports were found to have implemented 69.9 percent of the practices, whereas teachers in the control condition implemented only 44.2 percent of these practices.

“Children are getting expelled for doing things that young children do.”

Teachers in the group that received coaching shared that their students had fewer problem behaviors and stronger social skills, and took more ownership of the classroom. They also reported that the practices helped them communicate more effectively with children, be more patient, and be a better teacher.

“Children are getting expelled for doing things that young children do, like biting and hitting and taking toys and being aggressive,” Hemmeter says. “Many children are going to do that unless we teach them what to do instead. Our work is focused on promoting social-emotional competence as a way of preventing problem behavior and ultimately as a way of preventing expulsions and suspensions of young children. It’s important for programs to support teachers in carrying out effective practices that help children learn social skills and reduce problem behavior.”

The data provide promising evidence that the combination of high-quality training, and implementation guides and materials, along with practice-based coaching focused on the Pyramid Model practices, contributed significantly to the teachers’ successes in reducing problem behaviors in their classrooms.

Researchers from the University of South Florida collaborated on the work, which was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Source: Vanderbilt University

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Source: Futurity