Preliminary results from a pilot that used the LENA Grow professional development program with teachers in early childhood classrooms in Kansas City, Kansas, suggest that the program is well-received by teachers and creates positive outcomes for children.
Teachers reported that the program’s data-based coaching helped them to set and reach goals in their classrooms. Their efforts to improve classroom quality appear to have positively affected the children in their care: 82% of children in LENA Grow classrooms were assessed to be “on track” in their expressive language abilities at the end of the program compared to just 38% of a comparison group.
“It’s a really striking difference, and we’re still trying to understand why we see such a profound difference in the children,” Judy Carta, Senior Scientist at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, explained.
Nine classrooms participated in the pilot, which was led by the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project with funding from Start Young, an initiative to improve access to high-quality child care in Wyandotte County.
Teachers in the classrooms that used LENA Grow received targeted coaching and data reports on the amount of interactive talk in their classrooms for about five months. Children were assessed three times — before, during, and after the program — using the Early Communication Indicator, a measure of expressive language ability that’s known to predict later school readiness. A team from Wichita State University aggregated and evaluated the data.
To assess children using the ECI, an adult who is familiar to the child will engage with them around a toy, seeking to elicit vocalizations, verbalizations, communication, and playful interaction. Dr. Carta theorizes that children in LENA Grow classrooms may be uniquely prepared for this type of evaluation, because the teachers have been “sitting down and interacting with the children, engaging in that serve-and-return interaction that the LENA coaching really emphasizes.”
To dig deeper into why the pilot produced such significant results for children, the team will offer LENA Grow in three new centers during the second phase of their research, and has developed a classroom observation system to determine how frequently teachers use the LENA Grow Talking Tips after receiving targeted coaching. This next evaluation will help to determine to what extent the results seen in the children are due to LENA Grow versus other factors.
“We look forward to seeing if we can replicate the results we got, in terms of seeing significant differences in child outcomes based on increases in conversational turns,” Carta said.
In this first phase, the team discovered that teachers react well to the program and its feedback-based coaching, and that it may significantly boost children’s language abilities.
“Teachers found coaching based on the LENA data to be extremely helpful, and they didn’t want us to go away,” she said with a smile. “We now know that teachers who engaged in LENA Grow found that coaching and feedback based on LENA data to be meaningful and that children in their classrooms showed increases in their expressive language skills — a change not seen in programs that didn’t employ LENA Grow.”