Symposium 1: Multiple case-study on curriculum implementation and process quality in ECEC

Abstract symposium

  • Chair: Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland
  • Discussant: Antje von Suchodoletz, New York University Abu Dhabi, UAE

Evidence indicates that high quality of early childhood education and care provisions (ECEC) shapes children’s later learning and development. Structural quality determines child outcomes via process quality. Process quality refers to adult-child interaction, scaffolding, a positive classroom climate, and opportunities to learn.

Recent research has also focus on the role of classroom dialogue to build meaning and understanding. Drawing on research conducted in the EU funded CARE project papers in this symposium will present multiple case studies conducted in 7 countries: England, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal.

The symposium will show the evidence on the cultural sensitivity of the curriculum implementations and process quality in ECEC settings using mixed-method approach. The first paper reports commonalities and culturally different key elements of teacher-child interaction. The second paper report results on the relations between structural and process quality and teacher characteristics. The third paper presents patterns of educational dialogues within the classrooms through microanalysis. The final paper will give insights in developing a reflection on a cross-national cultural-sensitive quality framework of indicators.

The discussion will highlight the cultural sensitivity of ECEC quality and curriculum implementations across Europe. Overall, the papers of the symposiums suggest that the classroom quality should be a priority in ECE.

Paper 1: The quality of teacher-child interaction in 7 European countries

Joana Cadima, Pauline Slot, Jenni Salminen, Giulia Pastori, & Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen

Recent research has drawn attention to the importance of interactions between adults and children in early childhood settings. A general positive emotional classroom climate with warm relationships between children, responsive and sensitive adults, and interactions characterized by high level of verbal and cognitive stimulation, have been considered key aspects of adult–child interactions that positively contribute to child development (Howes et al., 2007; Lerkkanen et al., 2012; Mashburn et al., 2008).

Systematic evidence, however, on levels of quality of teacher-child interactions that allows for understanding commonalities and differences across European countries is still very limited. In some countries (e.g., Poland), only a few studies have examined the level of teacher-child interaction quality. In addition, available European studies vary in terms of measures used and overall procedures, making it hard to understand the quality and its variations across settings and countries.

In this study, using a common conceptual and methodological framework, we examine the quality of teacher-child interactions through a multiple case study. The main goal of this particular paper is to highlight core commonalities and culturally different key-elements of teacher-child interaction in European ECEC centers. The data was collected in 28 ECEC centers for 0-3 and 3-5-year-old children in 7 European countries
 (Germany, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and England), chosen to represent relevant variation in early childhood systems and cultural values.

Centers were considered 
to constitute ‘good practices’, based on previous studies with standardized quality measures and/or according to expert opinion. For each center, four different types of activities (play, care routines, activities with academic content, and creative activities), that reflect children’s daily experiences in the classroom, were video recorded.

Video-recordings were centrally analyzed and scored by three certified researchers from three different countries using the same observational standard measure, Toddler and Pre-K versions of the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS). Observers rated the CLASS dimensions on three domains: emotional support, classroom organization and instructional or educational support. One video per center (25% of the videos) was double coded by two observers, to check the inter-rater reliability.

In addition, the core team responsible for rating the videos had regular meetings to discuss ratings, and cultural issues. The results suggest adequate levels of quality on the three domains of teacher-child interactions. Findings also highlight important variations on the CLASS domains both within and across centers. The results will be discussed in terms of understanding classroom processes in light of different European settings and variations in teacher’s role.

Paper 2: Relations between teacher and ECEC center characteristics and curriculum and classroom quality across Europe

Pauline Slot, Joana Cadima, Jenni Salminen, Giulia Pastori, & Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen

Process quality, referring to children’s daily experiences while involved in activities and interactions is seen as a major proximal determinant of children’s developmental and educational outcomes (Howes et al., 2008; Pianta et al., 2005; Thomason & La Paro, 2009), whereas aspects of structural quality, such as group size, children-to-staff ratio and required staffs’ qualifications, are considered the more distal, regular aspects of quality, which are assumed to be important preconditions for process quality (e.g. Cryer, Tietze, Burchinal, Leal & Palacios, 1999; Philips et al., 2000; Pianta et al., 2005; Vandell, 2004). Aspects of structural quality are major factors in the costs of ECEC (Mashburn et al., 2008), but how strongly structural quality relates to process quality is not yet clear.

Moreover, this relationship may vary by type of ECEC provision, age of the children enrolled, and cultural context. Also, characteristics of staff working with children, including pre-service training and work experience, and contextual characteristics, such as opportunities for in-service professional development and the organizational climate, are considered important determinants of process quality (Goelman et al., 2006; Phillips et al., 2000). The present study aims to increase our understanding of the relations between structural and process quality in seven European countries, with different ECEC systems, quality standards, and ECEC policies using the same measures to assess teacher, classroom and center characteristics, and curriculum and classroom quality in a multiple case study.

Information was gathered from participating countries on observed process quality (with the CLASS Toddler/Pre-K), curriculum of provided activities (using a teacher report) and teacher, classroom, and center characteristics (using a teacher report). Information on the curriculum included a wide range of activities, such as language, literacy, math, science, self-regulation, and play. Teachers were asked to provide information on their background (e.g. age, education level, work experience, job satisfaction, and self-efficacy) and on classroom (e.g. group size, ratio, classroom composition) and center characteristics (e.g. organizational climate and opportunities for professional development).

The first results, based on 82 teachers and observed 28 classrooms, revealed variation within and across countries in teacher characteristics, classroom characteristics and center characteristics. Correlation analyses revealed positive relations between group size and curriculum. Also, teachers’ higher job satisfaction was related to more provision of language, science, self-regulation and pretend play activities. Multivariate regression analyses revealed that the center characteristics (i.e. organizational climate and professional development activities) showed the strongest relation with curriculum. Further analyses will be performed to investigate the associations of teacher, classroom, and center characteristics with observed classroom quality. Results will be interpreted in view of system or country specific features. Implications for policy and practice will be discussed.

Paper 3: Educational dialogues in the ECEC classrooms

Jenni Salminen, Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen, Pauline Slot, Joana Cadima, & Giulia Pastori

Educational dialogues refer to extended verbal exchange between the teacher and children, during which teacher and children ask questions, listen to each other and share their points of view (e.g., Alexander, 2006). Educational dialogues are typically differentiated from educational interactions following Initiation-Response-Feedback (IRF) pattern (Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) and from less purposefully oriented social sharing.

The daily interactions in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings provide multiple opportunities for educational dialogues to emerge. Socioculturally oriented research (Rogoff, 2003; Mercer & Littleton, 2007) emphasizes that the development of language and thinking take place in the interaction with social and cultural environments.

Thus, it is also reasonable to conjure that educational dialogues reflect the prevailing cultural contexts and educational systems within different countries. The aim of the current study was to identify patterns of educational dialogues within the ECEC classrooms for 3–5-year old children in 7 European countries. The research questions were: 1) What kind of educational dialogues can be identified in the 3–5-year-olds classrooms during academic activities and free play? and 2) How does teacher’s pedagogical practices support and enhance educational dialogues in classroom?

The data has been gathered from 28 ECEC classrooms for 3–5-year old children in seven European countries: England, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal. Teacher-child interaction was video recorded in 20 minute segments during free play, academic activities, daily routines (i.e., lunch) and creative activities within each of the countries. For this study, the micro analysis were made from video data of academic activities and free play (n = 28 videos) using qualitative content analysis (e.g., Patton, 2002). The educational dialogues were identified by reflecting the criteria set by Alexander (2006) and Muhonen et al. (2016). Altogether 20 potential interactional episodes were identified.

First, the results indicate that educational dialogues occur relatively rarely within the classrooms of 3–5-year old children. Second, the analysis revealed that four episodes of educational dialogue were identified from academic activities. Third, emerging educational dialogues (5 episodes) were observed during free play where dialogues were taking place between teacher and one (or two) child and they were facilitated in order to enrich play or verbally label what children were doing, rather than having a clear focus on expanding shared understanding via dialogue.

Further, educational dialogues were highly dependent on the teacher’s ability to facilitate and construct the dialogue (create a dialogical space) together with the children as well as on the situational factors of the learning environment. As the results indicated the importance of teachers establishing sensitive stance toward children’s needs and initiations in order to actively support the emerging talk and dialogue in the classroom, the practical results of this study have particular significance in teacher education and in developing the pedagogical practices in the ECEC.

Paper 4: A cultural analysis of ECEC quality in 7 countries: the view of the insiders

Giulia Pastori, Susanna Mantovani, Alessia Agliati, Joana Cadima, Pauline Slot, Jenni Salminen & Marja-Kristiina Lerkkanen

Positive benefits of ECEC attendance are closely linked to the quality of the provisions (Sylva et al., 2004) and this issue has drawn researchers’ and institutions’ attention and interest in monitoring quality of ECEC and in getting to a shared understanding and language on quality (Ishimine & Tayler, 2014; Grammatikopoulis et al., 2015). The international debate on quality raises crucial questions on how far quality can be considered a universal concept and how far “is a value- and cultural-based concept” (OECD, 2013, p. 35) and how far its conceptualization may vary across different cultural contexts (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence 2007; Tobin et al., 2009; Vandenbroeck & Peeters, 2014).

As documented in studies related on parental ethno-theories (Super, Harkness 2004, 2009) and on ECEC teachers’ ethno-theories (Tobin et al.,  1989, 2009; Tobin, Arzubiaga, & Adair, 2014; Tobin, Mantovani, & Bove, 2010), adults upbring and educate children in similar and different ways, as they follow diverse ideas about children, their development pace, their learning process, about what make a child prepared to face the world, and as Super and Harkness highlight (2004), there is a lack of studies on the differences among European countries.  The debate on universal versus cultural-related quality values still require a theoretical and empirical efforts to get to a balanced understanding and to develop a cultural-sensitive quality framework of indicators.

In the multiple case-study, seven countries (England, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal) collected video-data from four “good practice” ECEC centres on curriculum implementation, pedagogical approach and global process quality. A qualitative and cultural ethnographic research (Alexander, 2000, 2008; Gillen et al., 2007; Moran et al., in press; Rogoff, 2003; Tobin et al., 1989, 2009) of the selected ECEC settings has being conducted, involving the teachers’ protagonist of the video-clips as key-informants on the local pedagogical theories-beliefs that underpin the activities videotaped.

Observations, video-cued one-to-one and focus group interviews were aimed to listen and to understand the point of view of the insiders-interviewees, their vision on education, on the relationship with a child/children, on the activity in the video clips, their major beliefs on what is quality in ECEC, and to compare them at a cross-national level. A content-ground qualitative analysis of the collected data has been carried out, based on full transcriptions of the teacher interviews and on the classroom video recordings, anchoring words and clips, in describing emerging meanings and interpretations on values and objectives, educational strategies (e.g., providing good climate, managing misbehaviour and conflicts, fostering learnings), communication, emotion, images of the child, the teacher and the service. The analysis of the collected data is providing portrays of local pedagogies and give insights in developing a reflection on a cross-national cultural-sensitive quality framework of indicators.