Katerina Bodovski and graduate student Min-Jong Youn at Pennsylvania State University's Educational Theory and Policy program found a strong relationship between first-grade students' behaviors and skills, and their achievement in reading and mathematics at the end of the fifth grade.
Bodovski and Youn used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study -- Kindergarten Cohort, a large, nationally representative set of data for elementary school students.
Specifically, the researchers looked at several dimensions of first-grade behavior including:
-- Approaches to learning, e.g., eagerness to learn, attentiveness and organization.
-- Interpersonal skills, e.g., forming friendships, getting along with others.
-- Externalizing problem behaviors, e.g., arguing and fighting.
-- Internalizing problem behaviors, e.g., anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem.
Of these dimensions, approaches to learning appeared to be the most substantial element in predicting later math and reading achievement, the researchers said.
"Although other behaviors may be important for different outcomes, only approaches to learning -- often referred to in educational literature as student engagement -- had a significant association with later achievement," Bodovski said in a statement. "As long as children are engaged, interested, and focused on tasks, little disruptions or even arguments among them are less crucial."
The findings were published in the Journal of Early Childhood Research.