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Relating Kindergarten Attention to Subsequent Developmental Pathways of Classroom Engagement in Elementary School

Abstract

We examine the relationship between children’s kindergarten attention skills and developmental patterns of classroom engagement throughout elementary school in disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods. Kindergarten measures include teacher ratings of classroom behavior, direct assessments of number knowledge and receptive vocabulary, and parent-reported family characteristics. From grades 1 through 6, teachers also rated children’s classroom engagement. Semi-parametric mixture modeling generated three distinct trajectories of classroom engagement (n = 1369, 50% boys). Higher levels of kindergarten attention were proportionately associated with greater chances of belonging to better classroom engagement trajectories compared to the lowest classroom engagement trajectory. In fact, improvements in kindergarten attention reliably increased the likelihood of belonging to more productive classroom engagement trajectories throughout elementary school, above and beyond confounding child and family factors. Measuring the development of classroom productivity is pertinent because such dispositions represent precursors to mental health, task-orientation, and persistence in high school and workplace behavior in adulthood.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Data for the PPVT, which represents an important control variable, was not available in the 2000–2001 cohort.

  2. 2.

    Indeed, there may be conceptual interdependence between the constructs of attention and classroom engagement. The kindergarten correlation between the four most suspected CE items (in the form of one factor: follows directions; completes work on time; works independently; and follows rules and task instructions) and the attention predictor is 0.08 (p < 0.05). Separate correlations between each item and the attention predictor resulted in correlations of 0.56, 0.46, 0.52, and 0.46, respectively. While this significant correlation supports the idea of conceptual overlap between the two constructs, both assessed at kindergarten by the same data source, researchers and clinicians and teachers may not find it as meaningful to measure the attention factor in the upper grades given that children face increasing demands from the school environment (above and beyond commonly requested kindergarten behaviors). Thus, classroom engagement, as a measure, likely represents a more applicable estimate in behavioral classroom research because it is developmentally adapted to student-environment fit processes in elementary school.

Abbreviations

MLPS:

Montreal longitudinal preschool study

PPVT:

Peabody picture vocabulary test

NKT:

Number knowledge test

CE:

Classroom engagement

SBQ:

Social behavior questionnaire

MOC:

Mixtures of curves

BIC:

Bayesian information criterion

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC, International Collaboration Fund, #861-2007-1005, with first author as principle investigator) and team funding from the Fonds de Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FRSC, #136876). Authors had full access to data, are responsible for its integrity, and accuracy of analysis.

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Correspondence to Linda S. Pagani.

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Pagani, L.S., Fitzpatrick, C. & Parent, S. Relating Kindergarten Attention to Subsequent Developmental Pathways of Classroom Engagement in Elementary School. J Abnorm Child Psychol 40, 715–725 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9605-4

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Keywords

  • School readiness
  • Attention
  • Classroom behavior
  • Learning-related behavior
  • Classroom productivity
  • Approaches to learning