Tools of the Mind (Tools) offers a comprehensive curriculum and teacher training program for Pre-K and K classrooms that targets the development of students’ fundamental learning skills, or mental “tools,” both cognitive and affective. The Tools curriculum dates back to 1993, when Dr. Elena Bodrova and Dr. Deborah Leong began working with early childhood classrooms to improve children’s learning and support teachers with new techniques for teaching young children.
Today, the program is being taught to more than 300,000 students in urban, rural, public, and private schools. It can be implemented in multiple settings serving children ages 3-6, including public and private schools, Head Start programs, public and private preschools, and early childhood education centers. It can be used in half-day and full-day programs and in multi-age classrooms. While typically used during school year, its use can be extended to a summer program.
Tools is a holistic science-informed, research-based developmental approach that includes the development of play and social-emotional skills, as well as underlying cognitive and academic skills. In Tools Pre-K and K classrooms, children daily engage in a variety of literacy, math, and science activities, such as Scaffolded Writing and Buddy Reading, that are specifically designed to support self-regulation and EF while at the same time building academic skills. Tools teachers are trained to provide children with individualized scaffolding geared to their level of development. Research has shown that students participating in the Tools program outperformed their peers on the measures of executive functions, reasoning ability, and attention, and demonstrated larger gains in reading, vocabulary, and mathematics.
In Pre-K classrooms, Tools teachers support children’s engagement in mature make-believe play in theme-based play centers that change over the course of a year. Specific instructional strategies, such as Play Planning, are utilized to support skill development in executive function, literacy, and SEL. During Play Planning, Pre-K students plan the first few minutes of their play by saying, drawing, or writing what they are going to do, which helps children self-regulate and act with intention. In K classrooms, children dramatize stories and their Play Plans evolve into Learning Plans that help students set goals for what they wish to accomplish each day and week. From these goals, children take part in “playful, purposeful learning” that often involves playing increasingly more challenging learning games with a partner or with a small group of peers. Children learn to monitor and evaluate their work by working in pairs and checking each other’s work products against the set of learning goals each of the “Study Buddies” had set for themselves.
Tools PreK and Kindergarten curricula are aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, Common Core State Standards, and New Generation Science Standards. The curricula are also aligned with the major assessment instruments used in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms including ECERS, CLASS, and TS GOLD. When a school district or a program has unique local requirements, Tools staff work with the district to make sure that Tools meets these requirements.
Tools has a strong professional development focus in training teachers in its approach to self-regulation and foundational literacy and numeracy skills development through four 1- to 2-day workshops and online modules that take place over two years. Training includes on-site and virtual technical assistance from a Tools trainer, curriculum manuals with classroom activities, and a subscription to iScaffold—a virtual coach app for teachers. Kindergarten training uses the same model and offers the same features as for Pre-K, with an additional subscription to the program’s PowerTools Literacy Solution reading platform.
A unique feature of Tools is its computer-based tool iScaffold that helps teachers implement the program with high fidelity. Another technology component currently used in Tools Kindergarten classrooms— the PowerTools iPad app—combines teaching of reading and science concepts with promoting the development of executive functions. When children interact with the app, they engage in self-monitoring, self-reflection, and strategy use. The app also promotes co-regulation as children are encouraged to use it with a partner.
In 2001, the program was given the distinction of an “exemplary educational intervention” by UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education. Tools of the Mind is also a CASEL SELect program, meeting high design-quality and evidence-based criteria.
KEY STUDIES SUMMARY
A study of 723 kindergarteners across 12 districts and 29 schools showed a significant increase in working memory and academic performance in math. The program was implemented for one year following training of teachers and teaching assistants. A one-year follow-up study found SEL improvements including significantly lower levels of aggression, conduct and general behavior problems with better performance than the control group in working memory, reading and mathematics. (Blair, C., & Raver, C. (2014). Closing the achievement gap through modification of neurocognitive and neuroendocrine function: Results from a cluster randomized controlled trial of an innovative approach to the education of children in kindergarten. Plos ONE, 9(11), e112393. doi: 10.1371/ journal.pone.0112393.) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0112393
An RCT study of 715 kindergarteners found that children who used Tools of the Mind showed a reduction in behavioral issues and increases in self-regulations, social-emotional competence and positive teacher-child relationship, accord to teacher-reported data. (Blair, C., McKinnon, R., & Daneri, M. (2018). Effect of the tools of the mind kindergarten program on children’s social and emotional development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 43, 52-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.01.002.) http://insight.bostonbeyond.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/SEL-article-Blair.pdf
OTHER RESEARCH AVAILABLE:
Bodrova, E., & Leong, D. J. (2001). Tools of the Mind: A case study of implementing the Vygotskian Approach in American early childhood and primary classrooms. Innodata Monographs 7. Geneva, Switzerland: UNESCO International Bureau of Education. http://www.ibe.unesco.org/fileadmin/user_upload/archive/Publications/innodata/inno07.pdf
Diamond, A., Barnett, W., Thomas, J., & Munro, S. (2007). The Early Years: Preschool program improves cognitive control. Science, 318(5855), 1387-1388. doi: 10.1126/science.1151148. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174918/
Barnett, W., Jung, K., Yarosz, D., Thomas, J., Hornbeck, A., Stechuk, R., & Burns, S. (2008). Educational effects of the Tools of the Mind curriculum: A randomized trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23(3), 299-313. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2008.03.001 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8732/c14f80545ae0be8d858bc3a03edbbe2c7250.pdf
Imholz, S., & Petrosino, A. (2012). Teacher Observations on the Implementation of the Tools of the Mind curriculum in the classroom: Analysis of interviews conducted over a one-year period. Creative Education, 3(2), 185-192. doi: 10.4236/ce.2012.32029. https://file.scirp.org/pdf/CE20120200002_11368128.pdf
Millaway, S. A. (2015). Impact of Tools of the Mind on Middle School Achievement, Saint Peter’s University. http://librarydb.saintpeters.edu:8080/handle/123456789/193
Related publications on the Tools of the Mind website. Go to https://toolsofthemind.org/learn/resources/ and click on “Research on Tools”