CLI receives Institute of Education Sciences grant

Stock Image - CLI Grant

A new grant for the Children’s Learning Institute will help determine how to support teachers and parents of young children experiencing language difficulties. (Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock)

Dr. Tricia Zucker
Tricia Zucker, PhD

The Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) at McGovern Medical School has received a new grant from the Institute of Education Sciences focused on improving outcomes in schools with a focus on how to best support teachers and parents of young children experiencing language difficulties.

Tricia Zucker, PhD, Harriet and Joe Foster Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and co-director of the CLI, is the principal investigator for the grant.

“We are excited that this new research will help us understand how to best tailor a system of supports to match the needs of diverse preschoolers who are experiencing language difficulties,” Zucker said. “Past research at CLI shows that young children benefit when their teachers and parents work together. But this study helps to tease apart what level of personalization – across the school and home environments – is needed to gets students on track who are demonstrating early language delays. Importantly, this program is also available in English or Spanish to allow us to best support emergent bilinguals.”

The grant, “Teaching Together: The added value of tiered school plus home interventions for young children at-risk for language difficulties,” is funded for nearly $3.8 million over four years by the Institute for Education Sciences. The project will study the efficacy of the Teaching Together program for pre-kindergarten children who are at risk of academic difficulties due to limited oral language skills.

The initial year of the project trains research staff and will recruit a study sample, followed by a randomized control trial over the second and third years. The control trial will feature a “business as usual” (BAU) control group and two intervention groups known as Developing Talkers (DT) and Teaching Together (TT) programs. DT groups will feature 20 weeks of instruction from the classroom teacher, while the TT group includes the classroom instruction plus family engagement support.

This additive research design aims to understand what tailored levels of support are most effective for supporting language outcomes. To that end, the researchers will examine increasing levels of personalization starting with two tiers of classroom support. Then at home, the study will further examine the impacts of adding Tier 1 family supports such as after-school family events as well as more personalized Tier 2 parent coaching sessions.

The final year of the project will be used to disseminate results and make resources available is there are beneficial findings.

“Building strong language skills in the preschool period is essential to longer-term school success,” Zucker explains. “By the end of this study, we will be able to explain to school leaders and policymakers what classroom and family supports are most cost effective for improving early language outcomes and getting kids off to a strong start in school. More broadly, these sorts of programs in schools create social conditions in childhood that ensure good health for our community and reduce inequalities created for families experiencing poverty.”