The following is a joint announcement from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT and the University of Chicago’s Behavioral Insights Parenting Lab.
J-PAL North America and the Behavioral Insights and Parenting Lab (BIP Lab) at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy have announced a collaboration on an innovative research initiative called Learning Curiosity. The joint project will experimentally compare two distinct approaches to text-based parental engagement programs intended to boost young children’s language skill and curiosity for learning.
Fitting squarely within both J-PAL and BIP Lab’s missions, Learning Curiosity will produce insights on whether open-ended, conversational parent-child interactions about new words are more effective for increasing both children’s language skills and curiosity to learn than conventional, closed-ended approaches intended largely to teach students the right answers.
Learning Curiosity is the first study to systematically evaluate these two distinct approaches in the home environment. It will directly inform the design of both future parent-engagement programs and preschool curricula. The six-month evaluation will be conducted with 750 low-income families in Illinois, including those with children enrolled and not enrolled in preschool.
“We are pleased to partner with the BIP Lab on this important evaluation,” says Kim Dadisman, J-PAL North America associate director of policy. “If the evaluation demonstrates positive results, Learning Curiosity’s text-based approach is scalable as a light-touch parent resource and has promise to also inform other early childhood programs.”
The work is motivated by research findings that conventional academic approaches succeed in building basic skills in the short run, but that they may be ineffective at building complex problem-solving skills, or even building basic skills, in the long run. Yet most preschool classrooms and parent-engagement programs focused on school readiness are characterized by conventional adult-child interactions, where the primary goal is to teach children the correct answers.
“A more child-centered approach to skill-building like Learning Curiosity, which focuses on promoting curiosity and critical thinking, may build both basic and complex skills in the long run,” says Michelle Park Michelini, BIP Lab executive director. “These are the skills that are required to succeed beyond school in the future labor market.”
The work builds upon the BIP Lab’s completed proofs of concept for implementing behaviorally informed text-based programs in low-income families through a partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education on Chat2Learn and through a pilot experiment also funded by J-PAL North America.
“We look forward to partnering with J-PAL North America on this evaluation, which represents a crucial step toward helping us understand how adults can best promote children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning while also building foundational academic skills,” says Ariel Kalil, BIP Lab co-founder. “Most disadvantaged young children are not, in fact, enrolled in preschool, so we need to know how to best support parent-child learning interactions at home for these children especially.”
“Curiosity is linked to motivation and long-run skill development, so we are excited to be systematically exploring this important dimension of children’s development,” says Susan Mayer, BIP Lab co-founder.
The Learning Curiosity evaluation is funded through the J-PAL North America Social Policy Research Initiative, which supports research that contributes to poverty and inequality reduction through randomized evaluation.
J-PAL North America has funded 55 evaluations to date on education-related programs, ranging from early literacy to technology-assisted learning and information programs about higher education. The Learning Curiosity evaluation will be implemented in 2023 by the BIP Lab research team. J-PAL North America and the BIP are committed to working together to share study results and translate these results to relevant policy lessons and recommendations for the broader early childhood education community.