Abstract. Descriptive and ecobehavioral analyses were used to
explore the daily activity contexts in classroom settings reflecting two
distinct models of early childhood education. Activity context, social
configurations, teacher behavior, and child behavior were explored, with
specific consideration given to peer verbal behavior as an indicator of
social interaction. Twenty-four children between the ages of 3 and 6
years enrolled in a Montessori classroom and 26 children between the
ages of 3 and 5 years enrolled in a traditional preschool classroom were
observed over a 3-month period using the Ecobehavioral System for
Complex Assessment of Preschool Environments (ESCAPE; Carta, Greenwood,
& Atwater, 1986). Overall, activity context, social configurations,
teacher behavior, and child behavior varied across settings in ways
consistent with program philosophies. However, levels of peer verbal
interaction did not vary significantly.
Increasing numbers of children are spending at least part of their
day in alternate care and learning environments. In 2005, 57% of
children ages 3-5 attended center-based programs alone (U.S. Department
of Education, National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2007).
The range of programs in which children may be enrolled is broad, and
so, too, are the guiding philosophies and educational goals behind the
programs (Barnett, 1986). Whatever the model, classroom environments for
young children influence children's behavior (Odom, Favazza, Brown,
& Horn, 2000). In each classroom, variable exist that can be grouped
into physical, programmatic, and social environments (Nordquist &
Twardosz, 1990). Variables in each of these categories may affect
children's behavior. For example, research has demonstrated
differences in children's social behavior under different
environmental conditions, including type of toys available, group
density, and length of activity periods (Brown, Fox, & Brady, 1987;
Quilitch & Risley, 1973; Tegano & Burdette, 1991). To understand
children's behavior and the impact of the environment, an
examination of the ways in which children interact with their ecology is
Ecobehavioral analysis is an observational approach that focuses on
the relation between child behavior and ecological variables (Greenwood,
Carta, Kamps, & Arreaga-Mayer, 1990). As opposed to examining the
global quality of an early childhood program and how it might affect
child behavior (Dunn, 1993; Howes & Smith, 1995), ecobehavioral
approaches address the interaction of people and ecological variables at
a micro-level. Specifically, ecobehavioral approaches examine the extent
to which an individual's behavior covaries with aspects of an
individual's ecology, including materials, activities, and other
individuals in the environment (Kontos, Burchinal, Howes, Wisseh, &
Previous applications of ecobehavioral analysis in early childhood
have focused primarily on special education and regular education
settings and how differences in classroom variables across those
settings impact child behavior (Brown, Odom, Li, & Zercher, 1999;
Kontos, Moore, & Giorgetti, 1998; McCormick, Noonan, & Heck,
1998). For example, Odom, Peterson, McConnell, and Ostrosky (1990)
observed the classroom ecologies of special education preschool
classrooms and early education classrooms to identify those activities
most likely to encourage peer interaction. Results indicated that
children in special education classrooms spent a substantial amount of
time in gross motor, pre-academic, and snack activities, whereas
children in early education classrooms spent more time in play, class
business, and clean-up activities. In terms of social interaction, which
was defined as peer verbal interaction, the base rate for children in
early education classrooms was significantly higher than the base rate
for children in special education classrooms. Additionally, conditional
probabilities indicated that peer verbal interaction occurred
significantly above the base rate for both groups during play
Analysis of child and classroom characteristics among typically
developing children is less common (Kontos et al., 2002; Kontos &
Keyes, 1999). Given the range of philosophies and the resulting
curriculum and program models, it is possible that child behavior varies
greatly in settings that reflect differences in program philosophies.
However, the covariation of target child behaviors and environmental
variables in early childhood settings with distinctly different guiding
philosophies does not appear to have been documented. Thus, the purpose
of this study was to conduct a descriptive and ecobehavioral analysis of
two distinctly different models of early childhood education: a
Montessori program and a traditional program. These programs were
specifically chosen because of the distinct way in which the classroom
environment and activities reflect different guiding philosophies. For
example, Montessori classrooms typically are equipped with specific
materials (e.g., letter and sentence cards, cylinders of varying
lengths, counting rods) that are very different from what might be used
in a more traditional classroom (e.g., blocks, dramatic play materials).
Further, there is a large emphasis on reality in the Montessori
curriculum, whereas traditional classrooms typically include an area
devoted to dramatic play and cultivating imagination (Humphryes, 1998).
Given research that suggests that social interaction and complex
interactions are more likely to occur during pretend or dramatic play
(Kontos et al., 2002; Kontos & Keyes, 1999; Odom et al., 1990), it
was expected that such differences in classroom environments would
impact children's social behavior. Specifically, it was
hypothesized that greater levels of peer verbal interaction would be
found in the traditional setting when compared to the Montessori
Given the small number of participants, this study is viewed as a
pilot, demonstrating the use of a descriptive method for examining how
differences in program philosophy may co-vary with contextual factors,
and with teacher and child behaviors. Descriptive analyses are
exploratory in nature and are intended to describe, without evaluation,
the classroom ecologies of different models of early education.
Ecobehavioral analyses are intended to explore the co-variation of
specific classroom variables with verbal peer interaction, an indicator
of peer social interaction consistent with Odom et al. (1990). In
discussing results, descriptive comparisons between the two settings are
made; no attempt was made, nor was it the intention of the authors, to
examine the differences between the two settings from a statistical
standpoint. This study extends previous research by focusing on the
relation between child behavior and classroom characteristics among
typically developing children in early childhood education settings with
different guiding philosophies.
Participants and Settings
Fifty children enrolled in two early childhood programs
participated in the study. Twenty-four children were enrolled in a
Montessori program and 26 children were enrolled in a traditional early
childhood education program. None was identified as having a disability,
and English was the primary language of all but two participants. In the
Montessori program, children ranged in age from 3 years, 1 month to 6
years, 2 months; 11 participants were boys (45.8%) and 13 participants
were girls (54.2%). In the traditional program, children ranged in age
from 3 years, 6 months to 6 years, 6 months; 16 participants were boys
(61.5%) and 10 participants were girls (38.5%). Both programs served
predominantly white children of higher socioeconomic status, according
to the report of the program director; no data were collected on these
variables. A letter of invitation explaining the study was sent to the
parents or legal guardians of the children enrolled in each program.
Only those children for whom consent was obtained were included in
observations. Although differences between participants and
non-participants were not formally evaluated, the homogeneity of both
programs suggests there would be few differences between the two groups
in terms of typical demographic variables.
Both settings were located in a large city in southwest Tennessee,
and each was selected to represent a specific early childhood education
philosophy. The Montessori program was selected because it was
affiliated with and certified by the Association Montessori
International (AMI), and the traditional program was selected as a
representative of an early childhood education program accredited by the
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Each
program employed a curriculum and approach to early childhood education
that was substantially different from one another, and each setting
adhered to the specific philosophy that guided its practices, according
to program directors. Additionally, each setting was recommended as
exemplary by an early childhood program director affiliated with the
local university. It should be noted that the defining characteristics
of the Montessori program and the traditional programs participating in
this study may not reflect potential differences that may be found
regionally in each type of program, nor do they account for the
existence of programs that are affiliated with both Montessori and NAEYC
accreditations, and thus, have a more eclectic approach to early
Montessori Setting. The Montessori setting consisted of one
classroom of children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Mixed-age
groupings were used so that children become accustomed to interacting
with both older and younger children and so that the older children
could serve as both models and teachers to their younger peers
(Humphryes, 1998; Patterson, 1977). The setting was divided by bookcases
into areas consistent with the Montessori curriculum (Humphryes, 1998):
1) practical life (e.g., care of self and the environment); 2) sensorial
(e.g., discriminatory use of senses); 3) mathematics (e.g., concrete
materials for basic concepts and computations); 4) culture (e.g.,
materials for organizing the biological and physical world, coordination
of music, movement, and song); and 5) language arts (e.g., phonetic
program of individual sounds in language). Each of the areas contained
Montessori learning materials, including polishing materials, an iron
and ironing board, sensorial objects, number roads, and letter and
sentence cards. Aesthetically, the setting reflected the Montessori
emphasis on simplicity and minimal distraction (Humphryes, 1998); with
the exception of a few paintings, there were no commercial materials,
posters, or bulletin boards.
All observations were conducted during the morning activity time,
which is an uninterrupted three-hour work cycle characteristic of
Montessori programs (Humphryes, 1998). During observations, there were
approximately 30 children and three adults present, and children moved
about the room independently, selecting and engaging with materials,
generally with little direction or assistance from the classroom
teachers. Because children are encouraged to choose activities and
materials independently, children were not engaged in the same
activities at the same time (Humphryes, 1998; Patterson, 1977).
Consistent with Montessori philosophy, the teachers in the Montessori
setting provided assistance and instruction when needed throughout the
morning to individual children and to small groups of children engaged
in a variety of activities, acting as facilitators of learning
Traditional Setting. The second setting was a religiously
affiliated early childhood education program in which children were
grouped in classrooms according to age. To include the same age range as
the Montessori program, a total of five classrooms were observed during
morning activities: two classrooms of 3-year-old children, one classroom
of 4-year-old children, and two classrooms of 5-year-old children. Each
classroom was equipped with multiple activity centers designated by
tables or divided by bookshelves, and including a snack table, a reading
center, an arts and crafts table, a dramatic play area, and a learning
table for math or writing. The setting was decorated with brightly
colored posters and bulletin boards with commercial materials and
children's work. There were between five and 15 children and two
teachers in each classroom during observations.
The traditional setting reflected NAEYC standards for
developmentally appropriate practice in that classrooms incorporated
time and materials for play, child-directed learning activities, and
large- and small-group activities (NAEYC, 1997). Teachers conducted
large-group activities, such as circle time, to assign class jobs and
discuss class business (e.g., discussing the date and weather). Teachers
introduced the schedule and new center activities before the children
engaged in free-play activities or other scheduled large-group
activities, such as music or playground time. The emphasis on play in
the traditional setting is characteristic of the principles of child
development and learning that are reflected in developmentally
appropriate practices (NAEYC, 1997). The teachers' roles throughout
the day appeared to be direct; they guided activities, such as reading
stories, during the morning routine, leading art and writing projects
during free-play activities, and assigning children to centers for
free-play. The teachers also monitored classroom behavior and prompted
the children about expected behaviors, such as using "inside
voices" and treating each other with respect.
Observations were conducted using the computerized Ecobehavioral
System for Complex Assessment of Preschool Environments (ESCAPE; Carta,
Greenwood, & Atwater, 1986) with the help of laptop computers.
ESCAPE employs a momentary time sampling procedure that utilizes
ecological variables in coding observations. A 60-second cycle is
divided into four intervals, and when signaled by a tone, a designated
child is observed. After each tone, observers had 15 seconds to code
specific ecological variables, teacher variables, and child variables
that were observed. This process is repeated for the duration of the
The broad categories of ecological, teacher, and child variables
are broken down further into descriptors that are mutually exclusive.
For example, during a Designated Activity Ecological Variable interval,
the observer can only code one activity. Data were collected for all
However, only the variables of Verbal Behavior, Designated
Activity, Grouping, Teacher Behavior, and Teacher Focus were used in the
molar and ecobehavioral analyses. Operational definitions for these
variables are included in Table 1.
The first author, an undergraduate student, and five graduate
students trained in observation and recording methods conducted a
minimum of three 30-minute observations for each child participant over
a 12-week period. Prior to data collection, observers spent two weeks at
each setting so that children could become accustomed to the presence of
new adults and computers in the classrooms. A total of 2,700 minutes of
observations were conducted in the Montessori setting and a total of
2,790 minutes were conducted in the traditional setting. All
observations were conducted during morning activity times (8:30 a.m. to
10:30 a.m.) and sampled a range of activities, such as music, outdoor
play, and snack. Observations were conducted randomly in each setting,
and no attempt was made to equate times of observations or activities
observed beyond conducting all observations within the morning time
period when most classroom activity occurred (according to the center
Prior to beginning data collection, observers were trained in
observation procedures and operational definitions for coded behaviors,
using the ESCAPE training procedures. Each observer conducted three
30-minute observations and met a 90% criterion in all three sessions
before collecting data for the study. Interobserver agreement data were
collected by having two observers simultaneously observe the same child.
Observations were analyzed by comparing the agreement and disagreement
of the observers on each variable for each interval. The percentage of
agreement was determined by the ESCAPE reliability program, which
calculates interobserver agreement by dividing the number of agreements
by the number of agreements plus disagreements and multiplying the
result by 100%. The analysis yields an overall agreement percentage as
well as agreement percentages for each variable and a Kappa coefficient.
After data collection began, interobserver agreement checks were
obtained for approximately 20% of the total observations conducted.
Overall agreement percentages ranged from 83% to 98% and the overall
Kappa was .859. Interobserver agreement percentages for specific
variable categories are as follows: Designated Activity (83%-100%);
Grouping (83%-100%); Teacher Behavior (74%-100%); Teacher Focus
(58%-100%); and Verbal Behavior (74%-100%). When reliability agreements
dropped below 85% in a variable category of interest or overall, areas
of disagreement were scrutinized to determine sources of error. In
conducting analyses, data with reliability agreements less than 85% in
the variable of interest were dropped from the analyses; only 9 files
totaling 270 minutes were excluded from the analyses overall, which is
less than 5% of the entire sample of data.
Descriptive analysis of selected variables was conducted for each
setting by using the Ecobehavioral Assessment Systems Software (EBASS;
Greenwood, Carta, Kamps, & Delquadri, 1997) computer program. This
analysis computes the percentage occurrence of selected variables. Data
were generated by combining all child data files within a setting and
selecting a variable of interest. Variables selected for the descriptive
analysis were Designated Activity, Grouping, Teacher Behavior, Teacher
Focus, and Verbal Behavior. These variables were selected to describe
the activity context, social configurations, teachers' role in the
classroom, and peer verbal interaction, respectively. Peer verbal
interaction was the initial variable of interest; the other variables
were selected based on research suggesting that type of activity, social
configurations, and teacher behavior affect peer social interaction.
Results are presented as proportion of intervals observed.
Given research that suggests children engage in more peer
interaction during play (Kontos et al., 2002; Kontos & Keyes, 1999;
Odom et al., 1990), children's activities in each program were
analyzed descriptively. Table 2 presents the results of this analysis.
The most visible difference between the settings is in the proportion of
intervals observed in Pre-Academic and Play activities. In the
Montessori program, children spent the highest proportion of time
engaged in Pre-Academic activities, whereas children in the traditional
program spent the highest proportion of time engaged in Play activities.
Additionally, children in the Montessori program were observed in
Transition activities more than children in the traditional program. In
other designated activities, proportion of intervals observed was
similar in both settings.
Because the Montessori program used mixed-age grouping and the
traditional program grouped children by age, a descriptive analysis of
Designated Activity was conducted separately by age of the child.
Because of the small number of 6-year-old children, 5- and 6-year-old
children were collapsed into one group. Results by age were consistent
with the overall results from each program, suggesting little difference
in activity context in each setting when age was considered.
Social configurations have been demonstrated to differentially
affect children's behavior (Kontos & Keyes, 1999; Kontos &
Wilcox-Herzog, 1997); thus, a descriptive analysis was conducted to
examine grouping as a variable. Table 3 presents the results of this
analysis. In general, children in each program engaged in different
social configurations during activity time, with Solitary and Small
Group arrangements predominant in the Montessori program and Small Group
and Large Group arrangements predominant in the traditional program. A
descriptive analysis conducted separately for each age group suggested
that grouping patterns were similar in each setting when age was
Teacher Behavior and Teacher Focus
Research suggests that the teacher's role in the classroom
affects young children's behavior (Chandler, Fowler, & Lubeck,
1992; Kontos et al., 2002; Kontos & Wilcox-Herzog, 1997); thus,
descriptive analyses were conducted examining Teacher Behavior and
Teacher Focus to further describe the role of the teacher in the
classroom. Table 4 presents the results of these analyses. In both
settings, No Response (e.g., the teacher is not engaged in an observable
verbal or physical response directed at any child) was coded for the
greatest proportion of the intervals observed. In the Montessori
program, the only other coded category accounting for more than .10 of
the total behavior observed was Verbal Prompt, which includes asking
questions or giving directions to children. In the traditional program,
Verbal Prompt, Discussion, and Verbal Instruction each accounted for
more than .10 of the total behavior observed.
In terms of Teacher Focus, in both settings, behaviors directed
toward children other than the target child were coded for the largest
proportion of the observations, with similar proportions across the two
settings. In the Montessori program, however, the None category
accounted for a large proportion of time observed, indicating the
teacher was not focused on any child in particular, whereas in the
traditional program, Target and Other accounted for the second largest
proportion of time observed.
A descriptive analysis of Verbal Behavior was conducted to examine
Talk to Peer as an indicator of the level of peer social interaction.
The overall results are depicted in Table 5. In general, in both
settings, little verbal interaction was coded, either with peers or
teachers. To further examine peer social interaction, a descriptive
analysis of Talk to Peer was conducted by age. As Table 6 demonstrates,
in the Montessori program, differences between the age groups appear
small, whereas in the traditional program, differences between the age
groups are more visible.
Summary of Descriptive Analyses
Overall, results from the descriptive analyses suggest that
classroom ecologies reflect the guiding philosophies of the programs.
Specifically, activity context in the programs differed in terms of the
emphasis on the work cycle of the Montessori program and play in the
traditional program. Results related to grouping were consistent with
the structure evidenced in the routine and schedule of the programs,
with children in the Montessori program spending the larger proportion
of time engaged in Solitary activities and children in the traditional
program spending the larger proportion of time engaged in Large-Group
activities. Somewhat counterintuitively, in both settings, No Response
was the predominant code for teacher behavior and No Talk was the
predominant code for child Verbal Behavior. Several interpretations of
these findings in the context of the study are addressed in the
Although descriptive analyses provide information about classroom
and child variables, the way in which the classroom variables interact
with child variables is not evident; a more dynamic analysis is needed.
The EBASS computer system was used to conduct an ecobehavioral analysis
of peer verbal interaction, as it occurred under different ecological
and teacher conditions. This analysis computes the probability of child
behavior, as it occurs simultaneously with the ecological variables. The
base probability, or unconditional probability, of the behavior is
compared with the occurrence of the behavior under selected conditions
to determine if selected conditions are associated with increases or
decreases in the probability of the behavior. For the purpose of this
study, Talk to Peer was selected as the target behavior, or general
indicator of social interaction, consistent with the findings of Odom et
al. (1990). Designated Activity, Grouping, Teacher Behavior, and Teacher
Focus were selected as the ecological and teacher conditions, based on
research suggesting these variables may impact social interaction. Only
activities occurring more than .05 of the observed time were included in
the analysis, as these are thought to provide a stable estimate of the
ecobehavioral relation (Greenwood, Delquadri, Stanley, Terry, &
Peer Verbal Interaction in Designated Activities
In the Montessori program, none of the Designated Activities was
statistically significant in terms of their relation to Talk to Peer.
That is, Talk to Peer was not likely to occur either above or below the
base rate level of .15 during any Designated Activity. In the
traditional program, the base rate of Talk to Peer was .17, and Play as
a Designated Activity increased the probability that children engaged in
Talk to Peer above the base rate (.33), as did Snack (.22), with both
results significant at the p < .001 level. Designated Activities that
were associated with probabilities of Talk to Peer significantly less
than the base rate included Transition (.15), Fine Motor (.11),
Pre-Academic (.07), Class Business (.04), and Story (.02), all of which
were significant at least at the p < .05 level.
Peer Verbal Interaction and Grouping
Given differences in the Grouping in the two settings and previous
social configuration research (Kontos & Keyes, 1999; Kontos &
Wilcox-Herzog, 1997), an ecobehavioral analysis of Grouping and Talk to
Peer was conducted to explore the relation between the two variables. In
the Montessori program, the overall probability of Talk to Peer
increased significantly above the base rate of. 15 when the children
were observed in Small Group (.24) and decreased significantly below the
base rate when children were observed as Solitary (.06), with both
results statistically significant at the p < .001 level. Examination
of the relation between grouping and peer verbal interaction by age
reflected a similar pattern. In the traditional program, overall, the
analysis indicated a statistically significant increase above the base
rate of .17 in the probability of Talk to Peer in Small Group (.28) and
a statistically significant decrease in the probability of Talk to Peer
in Large Group (.07), with both results significant at the p <. 001
level. Examination by age reflected a similar pattern.
Peer Verbal Interaction and Teacher Variables
In light of previous findings indicating that children engage in
less complex interactions with their peers when teachers are involved in
the activity (Kontos et al., 2002), an ecobehavioral analysis was
conducted using Teacher Behavior, Teacher Focus, and Talk to Peer to
examine the effects of teacher presence on children's social
interactions. In the Montessori program, no significant results were
found when examining the occurrence of Talk to Peer under different
conditions of Teacher Behavior or Teacher Focus. That is, Talk to Peer
was not likely to occur at either above or below the base rate level of
.15 under differing conditions of Teacher Behavior or Teacher Focus. The
traditional program showed statistically significant increases at the p
< .05 level in the probability of Talk to Peer occurring above the
base rate of .17 when the Teacher Behavior was No Response and the
Teacher Focus was None. The probability of Talk to Peer increased
further when Teacher Focus was Other (p < .001). There was a
statistically significant decrease at the p < .001 level in Talk to
Peer when the Teacher Behavior was Read/Sing (.04) and when Teacher
Focus was Target and Other (.07) and Target (.04).
Summary of Ecobehavioral Analyses
In general, findings from the traditional program reflect previous
research examining the effect of classroom variables on peer social
interaction. Specifically, Talk to Peer was more likely to occur during
play activities and in the absence of teacher presence. Findings from
the Montessori program, however, appear to be unique, albeit difficult
to interpret. Ecobehavioral analyses did not yield activity contexts or
teacher variables that were associated with increases or decreases in
peer social interaction, as indicated by Talk to Peer. Equally
interesting is the analysis of grouping and peer verbal interaction; in
both settings, Talk to Peer was less likely to occur in the social
configuration in which children spent the largest proportion of their
time, according to the descriptive analysis. That is, in the Montessori
program, Solitary decreased the probability of Talk to Peer, and in the
traditional program, Large Group decreased the probability of Talk to
In general, the results of the study indicate that children in the
two models of early childhood education were observed in activity
contexts consistent with and reflective of the distinct program
philosophies. That is, children in the Montessori program were observed
primarily in Pre-Academic activities, whereas children in the
traditional program were observed primarily in Play activities. Although
differences in activity context between the two settings may seem
logical and predictable, given the guiding program philosophies, this
study documents those differences and supports the notion that
environmental differences impact children's behavior, or the
activities in which children are engaged. Further, in general, the
patterns of activity context were consistent across children of
different ages, suggestive of the influence of the environment beyond
simple developmental differences. This difference in activity context is
particularly important, given research (Cemore & Herwig, 2005; Elias
& Berk, 2002; Gayler & Evans, 2001; Krafft & Berk, 1998),
developmental theory (e.g., Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget), and position
statements (NAEYC, 1997) that emphasize the importance of play in
Different educational philosophies also seemed to be reflected in
the differences in social configurations. That is, although both groups
of children spent similar amounts of time in small groups, children in
the Montessori program were observed spending a large proportion of time
in solitary activities and children in the traditional program spent a
large proportion of time in large-group activities. These social
configurations have the potential to affect social behavior, as
indicated by the ecobehavioral analysis of Grouping and Talk to Peer.
Small groups in both settings were associated with greater occurrences
of Talk to Peer, and solitary and large group arrangements were
associated with lower probabilities in the Montessori and in the
traditional settings, respectively. In both settings, it appears that
small groups were more conducive to peer verbal interaction, which
suggests that this social configuration could be used strategically to
promote such interaction. It is likely that in the large group, either
peer verbal interaction is less acceptable, as is the case when it is a
teacher-directed activity, or less frequent because of the increased
number of participants, as might be the case with a large group of
children engaged in play.
Results of the analysis of the occurrence of Verbal Behavior are
particularly interesting for several reasons. Given the differences in
activity contexts in the two settings (specifically, the difference in
levels of Play), differences in grouping, and earlier research
indicating that children engage in peer interaction more frequently
during play (Kontos et al., 2002; Kontos & Keyes, 1999; Odom et al.,
1990), one might have predicted the occurrence of Talk to Peer to be
higher for children in the traditional program, consistent with the
hypothesis of the study prior to data collection. However, ecological
differences in the settings did not result in a large discrepancy in
peer interaction as represented by Talk to Peer; children in both
settings had similar base rates of Talk to Peer. Thus, the hypothesis
was not supported.
One possible explanation for the finding is that differences in the
environment resulted in qualitative differences in verbal behavior as
opposed to differences in the pure frequency of the behavior. For
example, anecdotal observations in the Montessori program indicated that
Talk to Peer occurred more as a means of communicating about
Pre-Academic material or activities (e.g., inviting a peer to work with
them and talking about materials). In the traditional program, Talk to
Peer appeared to occur not only as a means of communicating about
materials, but also as a way to facilitate dramatic and pretend play, a
function that appeared to be absent in the Montessori program during
Although no specific data were collected to address the potential
function of Talk to Peer, qualitative differences between the two
settings are reflected in the ecobehavioral analysis of Talk to Peer and
Designated Activity and Talk to Peer and Teacher Behaviors, partially
supporting the function hypothesis. In the Montessori program, the
likelihood of Talk to Peer occurring was similar across all activities,
with none statistically significant. The occurrence of Talk to Peer
across activities and in the virtual absence of Play suggest that
children may have used peer verbal interaction in a different way than
might occur during Play. In the traditional program, the likelihood of
Talk to Peer occurring was greatest when children were engaged in Play
and Snack. Play and Snack tend to be more social as opposed to academic
activities; thus, it is possible that Talk to Peer served as a means of
social interaction. Conversely, the probability of Talk to Peer
occurring was lowest for Story, Class Business, and Pre-Academic, in
that order. These activities tend to be teacher-directed and peer verbal
interaction would not be encouraged, or perhaps even acceptable. The
ecobehavioral analysis of Talk to Peer and Teacher Behaviors support
this notion, in that there was a decreased probability of Talk to Peer
when Teacher Behavior was coded as Read/Sing and Teacher Focus was
Target and Other or Target.
In addition to minimal differences in the base rates of Talk to
Peer, in both settings, children spent the largest proportion of time
not engaged in verbal behavior. Although the base rate for Talk to Peer
was higher in both settings than that found by Odom et al. (1990), the
large proportion of time spent with no verbal behavior is of interest.
One explanation is that children may have been engrossed in their
activities, whether it be Pre-Academic or Play. Another explanation is
that the result may be reflective of the developmental stage of the
children, a stage at which there is less emphasis on verbal
communication. Indeed, a developmental progression is reflected in the
analysis of Talk to Peer by age in the traditional program, with the
behavior increasing as the age of the child increases. This pattern was
not evident in the Montessori program, however, and potentially may be
related to the differences in grouping. It may be that Montessori's
multi-age grouping facilitates verbal interaction, with the older
children providing advanced models for the younger children (Humphryes,
1998). Future research may address the effect of multi-age grouping on
certain child outcomes, such as language, social competence, and
cognitive performance. A final explanation for the large proportion of
No Talk may be the constraints of the coding system. Because ESCAPE uses
a momentary time sampling method and only one child is observed at a
time, it is likely that children were engaged in verbal behavior that
was not captured by the coding system.
There are several limitations of the present study that are
important to consider when interpreting the results. Certain artifacts
of the methodology deserve consideration in terms of their effect on the
results. Difficulties were encountered during observations and coding in
terms of the materials used. This may have resulted in an artificial
inflation of the Pre-Academic category in the Montessori program. A
Montessori program uses materials that are specifically designed to
reflect conceptual challenges and build on previous concepts. For
example, a puzzle of the African continent may serve as a manipulative
to develop fine motor skills and also serve as a tool to teach social
studies and geography; these materials would be coded as Instructional,
and the Designated Activity would be coded as Pre-Academic. In a
traditional program, the puzzle may depict cartoon characters and, thus,
primarily serve as a means of developing fine motor skills; materials
would be coded as Manipulative and the Designated Activity as Fine
Motor. The central consideration in coding Pre-Academic over another
code was whether or not the material or activity was related to reading,
mathematics, handwriting, science, social science, or health and safety.
Consequently, topographically similar behavior may have been coded
differently in the two different settings. Although this may require
qualification of the results, this apparent difference between the two
settings is noteworthy in and of itself. That is, the very nature of the
materials in the Montessori setting potentially supports different
behaviors than those supported by materials used in other settings.
Other primary variables of interest were not subject to the same
potential discrepancies in coding, as these variables were identical
across settings; thus, no qualification is needed in interpreting those
results. Finally, the ESCAPE system could not be used to directly
compare the findings in the two settings. That is, results were
calculated separately for each setting and then compared descriptively.
Statistical analysis of the results would determine whether differences
observed reached statistical significance.
Although Talk to Peer was not subject to coding difficulties and
appears to provide a consistent representation of the same behavior
across both settings, it is a narrow and limited representation of such
a complex topic as social interaction. The decision to use Talk to Peer
to represent social interaction, while consistent with other research,
meant that other aspects of social interaction would not be included or
captured in the data. For example, if the target child were engaged in
social interaction during the observation, but at the precise moment of
the tone signal was listening to a peer, the behavior would not be coded
as Talk to Peer.
A final limitation is the small sample size and the use of only one
setting as representative of each program type. This significantly
limits the generalizability of the results. Although the settings were
selected as ably representing the espoused program philosophies
(according to indicators of accreditation and personal recommendation),
a larger sample would increase the generalizability of the results. In
addition, data from the traditional classrooms were aggregated, which
may have obscured differences in individual classrooms. However,
analyses by age for Activity Context and Grouping yielded results
similar to those found for all the classrooms combined. In addition,
data were aggregated to facilitate descriptive comparisons between the
multi-age Montessori setting and the traditional setting. Finally,
because no data were obtained regarding philosophy fidelity beyond
accreditation and director report, it is unclear the extent to which
each of the settings accurately represented the particular philosophies.
It is possible that the behaviors and ecological variables observed were
particular to the specific setting and not reflective of the overall
guiding philosophy. In future studies, philosophy fidelity could be
documented by videotaping classroom activities and having experts review
the videotapes and code the setting, based on descriptions of various
This study focused exclusively on a descriptive exploration of
classroom ecologies and an exploration of child behavior as it covaried
with ecological variables in two different early childhood education
environments. No attempt was made to examine child outcome variables.
However, the findings of the study have implications related to child
outcomes. Developmental theory, policy, and research suggest that
sociodramatic play may be important for cognitive, social, and emotional
development. The absence of sociodramatic play in the Montessori
program, then, would seem to be a potential disadvantage. However, it is
likely there are other aspects of the Montessori program that provide
opportunities for similar development, thereby compensating for the
absence of sociodramatic play. It is critical to identify the features
of classroom environments--Montessori or otherwise--that support young
children's positive development. Differences in the types of
activities provided for children and the types of activities in which
they engage may result potentially in different outcomes, or differences
in the level of achievement. Although Montessori education was not
associated with higher levels of academic achievement in the upper
grades (Lopata, Wallace, & Finn, 2005), the relation between program
model and early skill development needs to be more clearly defined.
Given the importance of quality early education, independent of the
model, to later outcomes, the relation between early education program
models and indicators of growth and development in such areas as
language, early literacy, early numeracy, motor skills, social
competence, and self-regulation is worthy of exploration.
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Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Robin
L. Hojnoski, Lehigh University, College of Education and Human Services,
Bethlehem, PA 18015; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robin L. Hojnoski (1)
Allison S. Margulies (2)
Jillaynne Bose-Deakins (3)
Kimberly M. Sumara (4)
Jennifer L. Harman (5)
The University of Memphis
(1) Robin L. Hojnoski is now at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA
(2) Allison Margulies is now at the Kennedy Krieger Institute,
(3) Jillayne Bose-Deakins is now with the Northern Suburban Special
Education District, Chicago, IL.
(4) Kimberly Sumara is now with the Memphis City Schools, Memphis,
(5) Jennifer Harman is now at the University of Florida.
Operational Definitions of Observational Categories
Verbal Behavior "... verbal or signed expression by the observed
student" (p. 63).
1. NOTALK "... lack of verbal or signed expression by the
observed student" (p. 63).
2. TOTEACHER "... verbal or signed expressions by the observed
student that are directed at the teacher, a
teaching adult, or another unspecified adult"
3. UNDIRECTED "... verbal or signed expressions by the observed
student that appear to have no specific
direction" (p. 64).
4. TOPEER "... verbal or signed expressions by the observed
student that are directed at a peer or peers"
5. CN'TTELL "... target child could not be observed because
she/he was temporarily out of sight or out of
earshot" (p. 64).
Teacher Behaviors "... defined as the behavior being emitted by the
defined teacher" (p. 65).
1. PHYSASST "... providing children with physical guidance or
help ... only coded when the 'teacher' helps the
child engage in a behavior" (p. 65).
2. GEST/SIGN "... communicating via physical responses or
providing a physical cue to respond" (p. 65).
3. APPROVAL "... expressing praise, appreciation, or
satisfaction with the Glasswork, conduct, or
performance of one or more students" (p. 65).
4. DISAPPROV "... a redirection of student behavior through the
expression of dissatisfaction with the behavior,
Glasswork, appearance, or performance of one or
more students" (p. 66).
5. VERBPRMPT "... asking questions or giving direction to
children" (p. 66).
6. VERBINSTR "... engaging in talk (non-questions and
non-commands) related to the preschool
curriculum" (p. 66).
7. READ/SING "... telling a story, reciting a poem or
fingerplay, or performing a song with one or more
children" (p. 66).
8. DISCUSS "... engaging in talk unrelated to the preschool
curriculum" (p. 66).
9. NORESPONS "... when the person coded in the Teacher
Definition variables makes neither an overt nor
an observable response at either the target
student or any other student in the class or when
No Staff is coded" (p. 66).
10. CN'TTELL "... when the teacher's behavior has not been
observed because she/he is temporarily out of
sight or because the behavior does not fit any
of the above designations" (p. 66).
Teacher Focus "... defined as the direction of the behavior of
the adult" (p. 66) coded in the Teacher
l. NONE "... the adult is not directing overt behavior
towards any student in the classroom" (p. 67).
2. OTHER "... no adult is directing behavior towards the
observed student and the defined teacher is
directing behavior towards a student other than
the observed student" (p. 67).
3. TARG+OTH "... the adult directs behaviors toward the
observed child and other children" (p. 67).
4. TARGET "... the adult directs behavior toward the
observed child in a one-on-one situation" (p. 67).
5. CN'TTELL "... teacher's focus has not been observed
because she/he is temporarily out of sight"
Designated "... learning experience or focus of instruction
Activity being provided" (p. 67).
1. SNACK "... the preparation and/or the eating of real
food" (p. 68).
2. PLAY "... activities ... in which children interact
with toys or pretend play materials" (p. 68).
3. TRANSIT "... the time between activities/tasks when the
target child is engaged in: (1) getting materials
for a new activity, (2) moving to a different
activity or location to begin a new activity, or
(3) waiting for a cue to begin a new activity"
4. PREACADEM "... devoted to the teaching/learning of skills
related to reading, mathematics, handwriting,
science, social science, health, and safety"
5. FINEMOTOR "... movement of small muscles to move fingers,
wrists, and hands, usually involving the grasp"
6. MUS/RECIT "... one or more children singing, dancing,
listening to music, clapping and moving to music,
doing finger- plays, or reciting poems" (p. 68).
7. CLEANUP "... putting away toys, instructional materials,
worksheets, play equipment, furniture, or food"
8. CLASSBUS "... group discussion periods ..." (p. 69).
9. STORY "... the reading or telling of a tale" (p. 69).
10. SELFCARE "... teaching or the occurrence of skills that
involve personal needs and hygiene ..." (p. 69).
11. GRSS "... the teaching of movement of the large
MOTOR muscles in the arms, legs, and feet" (p. 69).
12. TIMEOUT "... child has been removed from the group or from
participation as a disciplinary action" (p. 69).
13. LANGPROG "... instruction of specific speech or language
skills" (p. 69).
14. CN'TTELL "... the above listed activities do not apply or
seem to fit the situation or if two or more of
the definitions stated above seem to fit equally
as well" (p. 69).
Grouping "... defined by the number of students who are:
(1) engaged in the same Designated Activity and
(2) in the same vicinity as the observed child"
1. SMALLGRP "... observed child is engaged in an activity or
in a free choice situation and is in a location
with four or fewer children" (p. 73).
2. LARGEGRP "... observed child is engaged in an activity with
five or more children" (p. 73).
3. ONEONONE "... observed child is engaged in an activity by
him- or herself with one adult" (p. 73).
4. SOLITARY "... observed child is engaged in an activity by
him- or herself" (p. 73).
5. CN'TTELL "... size of the group cannot be
determined ..." (p. 73).
Proportion of Intervals Observed in Activity Context
Designated Activity Montessori Traditional
Snack .04 .07
Play .04 .27
Transition .21 .13
Pre-academic .47 .16
Fine Motor .09 .09
Music .01 .03
Clean-up .03 .03
Class Business .00 .09
Story .00 .07
Self-care .05 .01
Gross Motor .01 .01
Proportion of Intervals Observed in Social Configurations
Grouping Montessori Traditional
Solitary .44 .11
Small Group .45 .41
Large Group .08 .41
One-on-One .01 .03
Teacher Variables in Proportion of Internals Observed
No Response .55 .28
Verbal Prompt .15 .20
Discussion .02 .15
Verbal Instruction .06 .12
Other .49 .46
None .40 .20
Target .02 .24
Proportion of Intervals Observed in Verbal Interaction
Verbal Behavior Montessori Traditional
No Talk .69 .60
Talk to Peer .15 .17
Talk to Teacher .01 .04
Undirected Verbal Behavior .08 .07
Proportion of Internals Observed in Talk to Peer By Age
Age of Child Montessori Traditional
3 Year-Olds .14 .10
4 Year-Olds .13 .17
5 Year-Olds .16 .20