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Competencies for prevention of learning problems in early childhood education


Source: Educational Horizons, Vol. 53, No. 4 (SUMMER 1975), pp. 151-157
Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International
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Educational Horizons

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Competencies for prevention of learning
problems in early childhood education

What Problems Will Be Prevented?

any early childhood education pro- A variety of conditions has the potential
One gram any of earlygram
should the childhood
should most be prevention important education of goals of
be prevention learn- pro- of
learn- for interfering with a child's progress in
ing problems. Most educators are aware of school. Potential problems lie in each of the
the efficacy of preventive programs; at least major domains: cognitive, affective, and
they verbalize the rationale for early child- psychomotor. Teachers1 must be prepared to
hood programs as partly preventive. recognize early signs of difficulties in any of
Throughout the history of American educa- the three domains, and they must be able
tion, time and financial resources have to provide intervention so that the further
been concentrated on remedial rather than development of any problem may be pre-
preventive programs. In recent years,vented. how- Most educators have no difficulty in
ever, planned intervention programs for realizing the association between cognitive
young children have become more prevalent. problems and success (or lack of success) in
The phenomenon of the cumulative deficit the school situation. Affective and psycho-
is well documented, and educators are motor problems, however, also can influ-
searching for ways of eliminating it. ence both present functioning and future
Weikart (1969) aptly summarized the success. For purposes of this discussion, a
case for prevention through early interven- learning problem is defined as any existing
tion: or incipient condition in any domain that
can be reliably inferred from a child's be-
Interest in preschool intervention is high
because this field holds up the promise of havior and that has the prognosis of inter-
developing techniques that are not simply fering with the child's success in present or
future school-related activities.
patchwork but are, in an important sense,
preventive. Early childhood seems to be the
Who Will Be Involved In Prevention?
most promising time for effecting desired
changes in intellectual growth pattern, estab- The individuals who will need to be most
lishing a sound basis for academic learning, directly involved in preventive aspects of
and thereby preventing the failure and frus- early childhood education programs are
tration that are the result, partly, of the those who are, in general, least prepared
handicaps disadvantaged children bring with to assume these roles. Professionals and
them to the public schools; for it is in in- others who usually work with children in
fancy and early childhood that wide ranging normal school or child-care situations are
curiosity and an abundant will to learn are
found almost universally [pp. 1-2].
most opportunely placed to provide preven
tion. Unfortunately, these individuals
Although Weikart's statements are directed usually have not received the training
toward the value of intervention for disad- necessary to insure competencies in preven-
vantaged children, the comments certainly
tive roles. The two models presented here
are appropriate for all children. could provide the basis for either preservice
The purpose of this paper is to present or inservice training programs aimed at the
two models that indicate the set of compe- acquisition of necessary prevention com-
tencies, and the systematic procedures for petencies. In the past, groups with special
implementing those competencies, for pre- skills, for example, the special educator
venting learning problems in young chil- and/or the school psychologist, have pro-
dren. The competencies are within the roles vided some of the competencies that are
of any professional who deals with young
children in any early childhood situation. 1For ease of communication the term "teacher" will

Many of the competencies also can reason- be used to refer to teachers as well as to professionals
who have responsibilities similar to those of teachers,
ably be expected of others working under but who are not usually called "teachers," for ex-
the guidance and supervision of a pro- ample, senior child care specialist, child development
fessional. associate.


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152 Educational Horizons- Summer 1975

now being suggested for individuals who D. Prepare and evaluate individual pro-
work in normal educational situations with files of each child's strengths and
weaknesses on educationally relevant
normal children. It is quite likely that those
individuals with specialized training will bevariables.
involved in the retraining of regular teach-
E. Evaluate the adequacy of the infor-
mation available to make appropriate
Two Decision Models for Prevention decisions about referral to other spe-
Two decision models are suggested in
this paper: an Identification Model and a F. Prepare adequate documentation for
Diagnostic Teaching Model. Both set forth the case if the decision to refer is
the competencies needed to become suc- affirmative.
cessfully involved in preventive aspects of
early childhood programs. Prevention in- Relationship between objectives and the
volves two major groups of competencies. Identification Model. These six objectives
One of these groups concerns early identifi- are directly associated with the six steps in
cation of children with existing or incipient the Identification Model, which is shown in
learning problems. The other involves a Figure 1. The first two steps in the Identifi-
method of individualized instruction aimed cation Model specify that the teacher eval-
uate all the children in the classroom to
at prevention or early amelioration of learn-
ing problems. identify those children who exhibit devi
The competencies required of teachers, tions from normal behavior. Objectives A
and B are related to the first and second
both in the process of identification and in
diagnostic, or individualized, teaching, are steps in the Identification Model.
outlined and discussed in the following
paragraphs. In addition, the competencies Figure 1. Decision Model for the
Identification of Handicapped Children.
are flow charted in Figures 1 and 2. This
format emphasizes the importance of the se-
quence of behaviors and the alternative
courses of action to be considered at the
various decision points. To implement the
models successfully, it is critical that indi-
viduals behave systematically and analyze
their behavior systematically.
Decision Model for the Identification of
Problems in Young Children
The following objectives are proposed as
the set of competencies required for ade-
quate early identification of problems in
young children:
A. Know the characteristics of children
with learning problems and be aware
of symptoms that are indicative of
potential learning problems.
B. Screen all children in regular class-
room programs for deviations and
determine the extent of the inter-
individual differences.

C. Select and use, for those children

with deviations, appropriate com-
mercial and teacher-constructed ap-
praisal and diagnostic procedures to
obtain more precise information
about the nature of each child's
deviations. 'This step is the subject of the second decision mod

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Competencies for prevention of learning problems - Cartwright and Cartwright 153

Evaluation is a routine and continuous other home environment, might not be

process that is an integral part of the totalout even though he exhibits the
same verbal behavior.
educational effort. Evaluation, by definition,
includes both data collection and making During the first phase of the Identifica-
value judgments about the data. Since chil-tion Model, the teacher surveys the entire
dren are constantly behaving, data are con- group of children for performance on cer-
tinually generated in the classroom. Teach- tain, relevant variables to select those indi-
ers need to organize these data and to use vidual children who exhibit deviations of a
sufficient degree to warrant more inten-
them to make early identification decisions.
To be alert to problems and to make ap- sive study. With the completion of the
propriate educational judgments (that is, screening at any one time, the teacher will
judgments that result in educational plan- have formulated "suspicions" or hypotheses
ning aimed at intervention for the purpose about some of the children and will proceed
of preventing potential learning problems, to the third step in the Identification Model
correcting existing learning problems, or for these children. The teacher continues to
enhancing learning assets), teachers need use the screening process for all children as
information about the atypical conditions new data are available; thus, screening is a
and characteristics that are likely to be pres- continuous and circular process.
ent, to some degree, in groups of young Next, the teacher gathers precise infor-
children. Knowledge about both normal and mation concerning the nature and the ex-
possible abnormal behavior in each of the tent of each selected child's deviation. Ob-
domains (cognitive, affective, and psycho- jective C is associated with this step.
motor) is prerequisite for the task of screen- Through this procedure, information about
ing children in terms of deviations. each child's intra-individual differences is
Two important generalizations related toadded to information previously obtained.
objective A should be emphasized: (1) iden- To perform at the third stage of decision
tical behaviors may appear in children with making, teachers need to determine the
different problems, and (2) the same prob- child's strengths and weaknesses through
lem may produce different behavior in dif- application of a variety of appraisal pro-
ferent children. Since preprimary- and cedures. The emphasis at step three of the
primary-level children may not yet manifest Identification Model is on individualizing
clear-cut signs of atypical behavior, the appraisal for each child in terms of devia-
ability to observe and record the subtle cluestions noted during screening. The teacher
to incipient problems is important. does not proceed to step three for all chil-
Acquisition of prerequisite information dren; more data are gathered only for those
allows the teacher to identify, or screen out,children who were screened out at step two.
those children who exhibit significant devia-The teacher seeks additional information,
tions from normal behavior. Achievement of and the nature of the information needed
objective B enables the teacher to make cor- will depend upon the nature of the devia-
rect use of the data usually readily avail- tion for which the child was originally
able in school or other similar situations. screened out of the total group.
The fact that a child is screened out does Tentative completion of the third stage in
not mean that he will be physically separ- the Identification Model, together with
ated from the group for further study. achievement of competencies in objectives
The relative nature of normality in terms D and E, enables the teacher to evaluate the
of sociocultural factors and societal and comprehensiveness of the obtained data
educational expectations is an important and, consequently, to make the decisions re-
consideration in deciding whether or not a quired in steps four and five. At the fourth
deviation is great enough to be considered step, teachers are concerned with determin-
significant. A contrast between cases in the ing the comprehensiveness of the informa-
area of language development provides an tion obtained. The professional who works
example of this point. A three-year-old in a regular classroom or child-care program
child who has been reared in an environ- is in an ideal position to collect data about
the typical
ment rich in verbal stimuli might well be behavior of children in a variety
of is
screened out for further study if he situations.
not Teachers need to be persuaded
saying more than twenty or thirty single to become more confident of their abilities
words; a child of the same age, from an- to make assessments in areas of their com-

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1 54 Educational Horizons- Summer 1 975

petency. They mustF. also recognize

Identify and their
use appropriate evalua-
itations and be prepared to refer the case
tion procedures.
a specialist in those instances where addi-
G. Draw upon existing sources of infor-
tional data, which the teacher is not quali-
mation regarding specialized strate-
fied to gather, are required.
gies and materials.
If a negative decision for a particular
child is reached at step four, it is necessary H. Consult with available resource per-
sons for assistance.
to return to step three and continue to col-
lect the information required to complete a
profile for that child before proceeding to Relationship between objectives and the
step five. However, if an affirmative deci- Diagnostic Teaching Model.
sion is made at step four, the teacher should These objectives are directly correlated
decide whether or not referral is in order. with the steps in the Diagnostic Teaching
Model shown in Figure 2.
In reaching an answer to the referral
question, the teacher asks himself: Have I Figure 2. Decision Model for Diagnostic Teaching.
exhausted all sources of information avail-
able to me in my role as a classroom
teacher? Can I make educational plans for
this child on the basis of information cur-
rently available? Do I need more informa-
tion before making educational plans for
this child?

If the decision is for referral, the teacher

will proceed to step six and prepare docu-
mentation prior to making the referral. If
the decision for referral is negative, the
teacher accepts responsibility for modifying
the child's educational program within the
regular classroom setting. Tasks associated
with modifying the educational program
constitutes the Diagnostic Teaching Model.

Decision Model lor Diagnostic Teaching

of Young Children
The following objectives are proposed as
the set of competencies required for individ-
ualized early intervention aimed at preven-
tion or early amelioration of learning prob-

A. Identify characteristics of individual

children that indicate special teach-
ing or management procedures are
B. Specify relevant educational objec-
tives for individual children.

C. Select techniques for effective class-

room management.
In large measure, the competency for
D. Choose and use specialized teaching
Objective A of the Diagnostic Teaching
strategies for teaching specific objec- Model involves a recapitulation of the com-
tives for children with varying beha-
petencies of the Identification Model. The
vioral and learning characteristics.
focus should be on enabling the teacher to
E. Choose and use special materials in determine specific educational needs and
association with specific strategies. relevant characteristics for individual learn-

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Competencies for prevention of learning problems - Cartwright and Cartwright 155

ers. Many of the generalizations and data concerned with the teacher's ability to select
collection techniques used with the Identi- and use specialized teaching strategies and
fication Model would be applicable to Ob- associated materials. In contrast, Objective
jective A. C concerns effective classroom management
The selection, administration, and inter- and involves general procedures that would
pretation of published diagnostic tests and be appropriate for use with a variety of
procedures for designing, using, and inter- problems, both learning and behavioral,
preting teacher-constructed diagnostic testsand for learners with a variety of character-
are involved in this first step. In many in- istics and needs.
stances, a diagnostic procedure will not yield Objectives C, D, and E, and the third,
adequate information about a learner; there- fourth, and fifth steps in the individualized
fore, teachers need to be competent in the teaching process, involve focusing the
skills of observation. They should be able teacher's attention on general and specific
to set up the environment as a "test" for instructional procedures that might be em-
certain observable behaviors, determine ployed in the regular classroom to assist the
which observable behaviors will be recorded, child in accomplishing the educational ob-
and design records for collecting observa- jectives that have been prescribed for him.
tional data. All teachers have some specialized stra-
After specific needs and relevant char- tegies and materials in their repertoires. It
acteristics for an individual learner have is unrealistic to expect all teachers to have
been determined, the teacher should be comprehensive knowledge of published and
ready to specify appropriate objectives for teacher-developed strategies and materials.
the child. This is the competency for Ob- Rather, the focus should be on grasping the
jective B and the second step in the model. underlying principles involved in matching
Knowledge of the child's competencies, the unique characteristics and needs of
gained from Objective A, should be used the learner and the unique properties of the
in determining which target behaviors are strategy and materials.
appropriate for a given child. The fifth step in the model and the com-
To formulate appropriate objectives, petency for Objective E require that the
teachers should be able to perform task teacher select an appropriate instructional
analyses of several broad areas, including device and, with a preferred instructional
academic, social-emotional, and motor. This methodology, try out the prescription with
ability will allow the teacher to delimit and the child on whom the diagnosis was made.
sequence specific behavioral objectives. The The teacher who satisfactorily attains the
teacher should be able to formulate objec- competencies for objectives A through E will
tives in terms of observable behaviors to be be prepared to write a preventive or reme-
displayed by the learner, the conditions dial prescription for individual children who
under which the behavior is to be exhibited, evidence a wide range of existing or inci-
and the criteria for an acceptable perform- pient educational problems. The teacher will
ance. be able to: (A) collect pertinent data, (B) rec-
For successful implementation of the ognize when to seek the advice of consul-
third level, and Objective C of the Diagnos- tants and other resource people, (C) gener-
tic Teaching Model, the teacher needs to be- ate pertinent educational objectives appro-
come aware of the range of instructional priate to various situations, (D) evaluate
procedures available for effectively manag- which educational methodology seems ap-
ing educational problems. The principles of propriate for individual children, and (E)
behavior modification should be especially consider the instructional devices that might
useful for implementing this competency. In be used to facilitate the accomplishment
addition to behavior modification, other of the educational goals for individual
topics related to Objective C include setting children.
limits, developing routines, providing learn- The teacher competency associated with
ing and behavioral models, planning the Objective F, and the sixth step in the process,
physical arrangement of the classroom, and is especially pertinent in view of the experi-
understanding techniques of communicat- mental nature of a diagnostic teaching situa-
ing with young children to promote mental tion. Since there is no formula to be applied
health. in selecting a teaching strategy for a learner,
Competencies for objectives D and E are any match between learner needs-charac-

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1 56 Educational Horizons- Summer 1975

teristics and strategy-material is tentative through the main sequence of diagnostic

and must be verified on an empirical basis. teaching behaviors.
For this reason, the published, and, especi-
ally, the teacher-constructed devices used A Final Note
for evaluation that yield immediate informa- The mere existence of early childhood
tion about performance, should be empha- programs does not guarantee that learning
sized. The interpretation of evaluative data problems will be prevented. Critics such as
and implications for changing strategy and Jensen (1969) and Cicirelli (1969) report
materials and/or objectives derived from that data gathered during the early years
the evaluative data are also important. for Project Head Start indicate that the pro-
Teachers should be able to decide upon ject was not successful in significantly re-
the appropriateness of various evaluative ducing later school failure. Spicker (1971)
techniques; make decisions about adjust- pointed out the obvious dangers in over-
ments to be made in goals, methods, and/orgeneralizing the results reported above and
materials; consider what additional re- concluded that "there are in fact almost as
many differences in content and quality
sources and/or consultants might be helpful
among preschool programs as there are
in determining an effective and efficient
educational and management program, and programs" (p. 629). Teachers must engage
review the steps that might be taken to in appropriate activities with young chil-
inform school personnel and parents. dren if prevention of learning problems is to
Competencies for objectives G and H are become an important component of early
childhood programs.
highly related to those for objectives D and
E. In the future, teachers will need increas- The two Decision Models described here-
ing knowledge about retrieval systems. in are suggested as viable alternatives for
There is a need for an awareness of the enabling regular classroom teachers and
others who deal with young children to in-
kind of descriptors required for information
retrieval and a need to know the type tegrate
of in- preventive procedures in early
formation that can be expected from a re- childhood programs more effectively.
trieval system. A great variety of strategies The Identification and Diagnostic Teach-
and materials for young children are cur- ing Models have been disseminated to ap-
rently being described and published. It proximately 9,000 preservice and inservice
is essential that the teacher be aware of teachers to date (Cartwright & Cartwright,
the available information. Because a teacher 1973). Evidence exists that suggests teach-
cannot be expected to develop new, spe- ers are applying the competencies associ-
cialized, and unique strategies and mater- ated with the models in classroom situa-
ials for each child, the teacher should be tions.
expected to know the resources that are
available concerning retrieval of instruc-
tional strategies and materials. REFERENCES
If the diagnostic teaching is successful, Cartwright, G. P. & Cartwright, C. A. Early identi
an affirmative response to the question, tion of handicapped children: A CAI course. Journ
"Did child reach the goal?", will be forth- of Teacher Education, 1973, 24, 128-134.
coming. The same sequence of behaviors is Cicirelli, V. The impact of head start: An evaluation
of the effects of head start on children's cognitive
then followed again for the next objective
and affective development. Springfield, Va.: U.S.
for the child. If the child did not reach the
Department of Commerce Clearinghouse, 1969.
goal, the model indicates the type of system-
Jensen, A. R. How much can we boost I.Q. and scholas-
atic analysis needed in order to determine tic achievement? Harvard Educational Review,
which step in the diagnostic teaching se- 1969,39,1-123.
quence was in error. If an error is found to Spicker, H. H. Intellectual development through early
childhood education. Exceptional Children, 1971,
be associated with one of the steps in the 37, 629-640.
process, the teacher simply cycles back andWeikart, D. P. The Ypsilanti preschool curriculum dem-
re-enters the system at the error point, cor- onstration project. Ypsilanti, Michigan: High-Scope
rects the original error, and continues again Educational Research Foundation, 1969.

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Competencies for prevention of learning problems- Cartwright and Cartwright 157

CAROL A. CARTWRIGHT (B.Ed., 1962, University of

Wisconsin; M.Ed., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is an
associate professor of early childhood and special educa-
tion at The Pennsylvania State University. A member of
Alpha Kappa Chapter of Pi Lambda Theta, she recently
spent a year on sabbatical in England and served as
Visiting Research Fellow at Plymouth Polytechnic in
Plymouth, England, and at Birkbeck College, University
of London.
Dr. Cartwright recently produced and hosted an informal
television course for parents entitled " Parenting ." She
has presented more than twenty professional papers at
local, state, and national meetings since 1968. In addi-
tion to Pi Lambda Theta, she is a member of the American
Educational Research Association, the Association for
Childhood International, the Council for ExceptionalCarol A. Cartwright
Children, the National Association for the Education of
Young Children, the Day Care and Child Development Council of America, the National
Society for the Study of Education, and Phi Delta Kappa.

G. PHILLIP CARTWRIGHT (B.S., M.S., University of

Illinois; Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh) is a professor of
special education at The Pennsylvania State University.
A former classroom teacher of the mentally retarded at
Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Cartwright recently spent a year on
sabbatical in England and was Visiting Research Fellow
at Plymouth Polytechnic in Plymouth, England, and at
Birkbeck College, University of London.
Dr. Cartwright is a member of the Council for Exceptional
Children, the American Association on Mental Deficiency,
the American Educational Research Association, the
American Psychological Association, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, and the
Society of Sigma Xi. He has presented more than thirty
papers at state and national meetings of various profes-
sional associations.
G. Phillip Cartwright

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