Child & Youth Care Forum

, Volume 44, Issue 6, pp 757–776 | Cite as

Are Approaches to Learning in Kindergarten Associated with Academic and Social Competence Similarly?

  • Rachel A. Razza
  • Anne Martin
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
Original Paper



Approaches to learning (ATL) is a key domain of school readiness with important implications for children’s academic trajectories. Interestingly, however, the impact of early ATL on children’s social competence has not been examined.


This study examines associations between children’s ATL at age 5 and academic achievement and social competence at age 9 within an at-risk sample. We tested whether ATL followed a compensatory growth model (was most helpful to those with the fewest skills) with respect to academics, and a cumulative advantage model (was most helpful to those with the most skills) with respect to socioemotional outcomes.


Participants (n = 669) were drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a predominantly low-income, minority sample. Models regressing age 9 academic and social competence on age 5 ATL tested for moderation of ATL by age 5 levels of competence within each domain.


ATL was associated with both academic (i.e., reading and math achievement) and social (i.e., externalizing problems and social skills) competence. Interestingly, ATL was more advantageous with respect to externalizing problems for children with higher initial levels of competence (fewer problem behaviors), but more advantageous for academic competence for children with lower initial levels of competence.


Findings highlight the importance of early ATL for both academic and social success and support it as a critical intervention target. While ATL may help narrow the achievement gap for at-risk children, reducing the gap in externalizing problems may require targeted strategies for those with high early problem behavior.


Approaches to learning Classroom behavior Academic achievement Social skills Problem behavior 


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for teacher’s report form and 199 profile. Burlington, VT: University of VT, Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  3. Allison, P. D. (2009). Missing data. In R. E. Millsap & A. Maydeu-Olivares (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of quantitative methods in psychology (pp. 72–89). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andrade, B. F., Brodeur, D. A., Waschbusch, D. A., Stewart, S. H., & McGee, R. (2009). Selective and sustained attention as predictors of social problems in children with typical and disordered attention abilities. Journal of Attention Disorders, 12(4), 341–352.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1998). Children’s interpersonal behaviors and the teacher–child relationship. Developmental Psychology, 34(5), 934–946.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Blacher, J., Baker, B. L., & Eisenhower, A. S. (2009). Student–teacher relationship stability across early school years for children with intellectual disability or typical development. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 114(5), 322–339.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Blair, C. (2002). School readiness as propensity for engagement: Integrating cognition and emotion in a neurobiological conceptualization of child functioning at school entry. American Psychologist, 57(2), 111–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Blair, C., & Razza, R. P. (2007). Relating effortful control, executive function, and false belief understanding to emerging math and literacy ability in kindergarten. Child Development, 78(2), 647–663.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Blair, C., & Ursache, A. (2011). A bidirectional model of executive functions and self-regulation. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vohs (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (2nd ed., pp. 300–320). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  10. Bodovski, K., & Farkas, G. (2007). Mathematics growth in early elementary school: The roles of beginning knowledge, student engagement, and instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 108(2), 115–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brock, L. L., Rimm-Kaufman, S., Nathanson, L., & Grimm, K. J. (2009). The contributions of ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ executive function to children’s academic achievement, learning-related behaviors, and engagement in kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 24(3), 337–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillside, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Coolahan, K., Fantuzzo, J., Mendez, J., & McDermott, P. (2000). Preschool peer interactions and readiness to learn: Relationships between classroom peer play and learning behaviors and conduct. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(3), 458–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Papp, L. M. (2004). Everyday marital conflict and child aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 191–202.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Diamond, A., Barnett, S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). Executive function can be improved in preschoolers by regular classroom teachers. Science, 318, 1387–1388.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. DiPerna, J. C., Lei, P., & Reid, E. E. (2007). Kindergarten predictors of mathematical growth in the primary grades: An investigation using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Kindergarten Cohort. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(2), 369–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. DiPrete, T. A., & Eirich, G. M. (2006). Cumulative advantage as a mechanism for inequality: A review of theoretical and empirical developments. Annual Review of Sociology, 32, 271–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DiPrete, T. A., & Jennings, J. L. (2012). Social and behavioral skills and the gender gap in early educational achievement. Social Science Research, 41, 1–15.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Duncan, G. J., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Klebanov, P. K. (1994). Economic deprivation and early childhood development. Child Development, 65, 296–318.Google Scholar
  20. Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., & Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Peabody picture vocabulary test (3rd ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Services Inc.Google Scholar
  22. Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A. J., Spinrad, T. L., Fabes, R. A., Shepard, S. A., Reiser, M., & Guthrie, I. K. (2001). The relations of regulation and emotionality to children’s externalizing and internalizing problem behavior. Child Development, 72(4), 1112–1134.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Epsy, K. A., McDiarmid, M. D., Cwik, M. F., Stalets, M. M., Hamby, A., & Senn, T. E. (2004). The contribution of executive functions to emergent mathematic skills in preschool children. Developmental Neuropsychology, 26(1), 465–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Erickson, M. F., Sroufe, L. A., & Egeland, B. (1985). The relationship between quality of attachment and behavior problems in preschool in a high risk sample. Child Development Monographs, 50, 147–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fantuzzo, J., Bulotsky-Shearer, R., McDermott, P., McWayne, C., Frye, D., & Perlman, S. (2007). Investigation of dimensions of social–emotional classroom behavior and school readiness for low-income urban preschool children. School Psychology Review, 36(1), 44–62.Google Scholar
  26. Fantuzzo, J. W., Gadsden, V. L., & McDermott, P. A. (2011). An integrated curriculum to improve mathematics, language, and literacy for Head Start children. American Educational Research Journal, 48, 763–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fantuzzo, J., Perry, M. A., & McDermott, P. (2004). Preschool approaches to learning and their relationship to other relevant classroom competencies for low-income children. School Psychology Quarterly, 19(3), 212–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Foulks, B., & Morrow, R. D. (1989). Academic survival skills for the young child at risk for school failure. Journal of Educational Research, 82(3), 158–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Garmezy, N., Masten, A. S., & Tellegen, A. (1984). The study of stress and competence in children: A building block for developmental psychopathology. Child Development, 55(1), 97–111.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Goodman, R., Meltzer, H., & Bailey, V. (1998). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A pilot study on the validity of the self-report version. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 7, 125–130.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Gresham, F. M., & Elliott, S. N. (2007). Social skills rating system. Toronto: Pearson Publishing.Google Scholar
  32. Halle, T., Forry, N., Hair, E., Perper, K., & Vick, J. (2009). Disparities in early learning and development: Lessons from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). Washington, DC: Child Trends.Google Scholar
  33. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625–638.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2005). Can instructional and emotional support in the first-grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? Child Development, 76(5), 949–967.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Harris, M. J., Milich, R., Corbitt, E. M., Hoover, D. W., & Brady, M. (1992). Self-fulfilling effects of stigmatizing information on children’s social interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(1), 41–50.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Huang, F. L. (2014). Further understanding factors associated with grade retention: Birthday effects and socioemotional skills. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(2), 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hughes, J. N., & Kwok, O. (2006). Classroom engagement mediates the effect of teacher-student support on elementary students’ peer acceptance: A prospective analysis. Journal of School Psychology, 43(6), 465–480.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Hyson, M. (2008). Enthusiastic and engaged learners: Approaches to learning in the early childhood classroom. New York: Teachers College Press and Washington, DC. NAEYC.Google Scholar
  39. Kagan, S. L., Moore, E., & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (1995). Reconsidering children’s early learning and development: Toward shared beliefs and vocabulary. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel.Google Scholar
  40. Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. (2014, June). Where are States today? Medicaid and CHIP eligibility levels for children and non-disabled adults as of April 1, 2014. Fact Sheet. Retrieved from:
  41. Kochanska, G., & Knaack, A. (2003). Effortful control as a personality characteristic of young children: Antecedents, correlates, and consequences. Journal of Personality, 71(6), 1087–1112.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Ladd, G. W., & Burgess, K. B. (1999). Charting the relationship trajectories of aggressive, withdrawn, and aggressive/withdrawn children during early grade school. Child Development, 70(4), 910–929.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Lavigne, J. V., Gibbons, R. D., Christoffel, K. K., Arend, R., Rosenbaum, D., Binns, H., et al. (1996). Prevalence rates and correlates of psychiatric disorders among preschool children. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 204–214.Google Scholar
  44. Leppanen, U., Niemi, P., Aunola, K., & Nurmi, J.-E. (2004). Development of reading skills among preschool and primary school pupils. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(1), 72–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Liew, J. (2012). Effortful control, executive functions, and education: Bringing self-regulatory and social-emotional competencies to the table. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 105–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Li-Grining, C. P., Votruba-Drzal, E., Maldonado-Carreño, C., & Haas, K. (2010). Children’s early approaches to learning and academic trajectories through fifth grade. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1062–1077.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Luthar, S. S., Cicchetti, D., & Becker, B. (2000). The construct of resilience: A critical evaluation and guidelines for future work. Child Development, 71(3), 543–562.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. McClelland, M. M., Acock, A. C., & Morrison, F. J. (2006). The impact of kindergarten learning-related skills on academic trajectories at the end of elementary school. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21(4), 471–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McClelland, M. M., Morrison, F. J., & Holmes, D. H. (2000). Children at-risk for early academic problems: The role of learning-related social skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15, 307–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McDermott, P. A., Fantuzzo, J. W., Warley, H. P., Waterman, C., Angelo, L. E., Sekino, S., & Gadsden, V. L. (2011). Multidimensionality of teachers’ graded responses for preschoolers’ stylistic learning behavior: The Learning-To-Learn Scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 71, 148–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McWayne, C. M., Fantuzzo, J. W., & McDermott, P. A. (2004). Preschool competency in context: An investigation of the unique contribution of child competencies to early academic success. Developmental Psychology, 40(4), 633–645.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Mercer, S., & DeRosier, M. (2008). Teacher preference, peer rejection, and student aggression: A prospective study of transactional influence and independent contributions to emotional adjustment and grades. Journal of School Psychology, 46(6), 661–685.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., & Wu, Q. (2011). Kindergarten children’s growth trajectories in reading and mathematics: Who falls increasingly behind? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(5), 472–488.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Newcomb, A. F., Bukowski, W. M., & Pattee, L. (1993). Children’s peer relations: A metaanalytic review of popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, and average sociometric status. Psychological Bulletin, 113(1), 99–128.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Ponitz, C. C., McClelland, M. M., Matthews, J. S., & Morrison, F. J. (2009). A structured observation of behavioral self-regulation and its contribution to kindergarten outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 45(3), 605–619.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Raver, C. C., Jones, S. M., Li-Grining, C. P., Zhai, F., Bub, K., & Pressler, E. (2011). CSRP’s impact on low-income preschoolers’ pre-academic skills: Self-regulation and teacher-student relationships as two mediating mechanisms. Child Development, 82(1), 362–378.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Reichman, N. E., Teitler, J. O., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. S. (2001). Fragile Families: Sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23(4–5), 303–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rothbart, M. K., & Bates, J. E. (2006). Temperament. In W. Damon, R. Lerner, & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology. Social, emotional, and personality development vol 3 (6th ed., pp. 99–166). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  59. Royston, P. (2007). Multiple imputation of missing values: Further update of ice, with an emphasis on interval censoring. The Stata Journal, 7(4), 445–464.Google Scholar
  60. Rubin, K. H., & Burgess, K. (2002). Parents of aggressive and withdrawn children. In M. Bornstein (Ed.), Handbook of parenting (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 383–418). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  61. Rueda, M. R., Rothbart, M. K., McCandliss, B. D., Saccamanno, L., & Posner, M. I. (2005). Training, maturation and genetic influences on the development of executive attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(41), 14931–14936.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Sameroff, A. J., Bartko, W. T., Baldwin, A., Baldwin, C., & Seifer, R. (1998). Family and social influences on the development of child competence. In M. Lewis & C. Feiring (Eds.), Families, risk, and competence (pp. 161–186). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.Google Scholar
  63. Sorhagen, N. S. (2013). Early teacher expectations disproportionately affect poor children’s high school performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(2), 465–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stanovich, K. E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(4), 360–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stipek, D., Newton, S., & Chudgar, A. (2010). Learning-related behaviors and literacy achievement in elementary school-aged children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25(3), 385–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Tominey, S. L., & McClelland, M. M. (2011). Red light, purple light: Findings from a randomized trial using circle time games to improve behavioral self-regulation in preschool. Early Education and Development, 22(3), 489–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. von Hippel, P. T. (2007). Regression with missing Ys: An improved strategy for analyzing multiply imputed data. Sociological Methodology, 37(1), 83–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wentzel, K. R., & Asher, S. R. (1995). The academic lives of neglected, rejected, popular, and controversial children. Child Development, 66(3), 754–763.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. West, J., Denton, K., & Germino Hausken, E. (2000). America’s kindergartners (NCES 2000070). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  70. Woodcock, R., & Johnson, M. (1989). Woodcock–Johnson psycho-educational battery-revised. Allen, TX: DLM.Google Scholar
  71. Woodcock, R. W., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2001). Woodcock–Johnson III tests of achievement. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel A. Razza
    • 1
  • Anne Martin
    • 2
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Child and Family StudiesSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Children and Families, Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations