How prevention curricula are taught under real-world conditions: Types of and reasons for teacher curriculum adaptations

Michelle Miller-Day, Jonathan Pettigrew, Michael L. Hecht, Young Ju Shin, John Graham, Janice Krieger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Purpose: As interventions are disseminated widely, issues of fidelity and adaptation become increasingly critical to understand. This study aims to describe the types of adaptations made by teachers delivering a school-based substance use prevention curriculum and their reasons for adapting program content. Design/methodology/approach: To determine the degree to which implementers adhere to a prevention curriculum, naturally adapt the curriculum, and the reasons implementers give for making adaptations, the study examined lesson adaptations made by the 31 teachers who implemented the keepin' it REAL drug prevention curriculum in 7th grade classrooms (n=25 schools). Data were collected from teacher self-reports after each lesson and observer coding of videotaped lessons. From the total sample, 276 lesson videos were randomly selected for observational analysis. Findings: Teachers self-reported adapting more than 68 percent of prevention lessons, while independent observers reported more than 97 percent of the observed lessons were adapted in some way. Types of adaptations included: altering the delivery of the lesson by revising the delivery timetable or delivery context; changing content of the lesson by removing, partially covering, revising, or adding content; and altering the designated format of the lesson (such as assigning small group activities to students as individual work). Reasons for adaptation included responding to constraints (time, institutional, personal, and technical), and responding to student needs (students' abilities to process curriculum content, to enhance student engagement with material). Research limitations/implications: The study sample was limited to rural schools in the US mid-Atlantic; however, the results suggest that if programs are to be effectively implemented, program developers need a better understanding of the types of adaptations and reasons implementers provide for adapting curricula. Practical implications: These descriptive data suggest that prevention curricula be developed in shorter teaching modules, developers reconsider the usefulness of homework, and implementer training and ongoing support might benefit from more attention to different implementation styles. Originality/value: With nearly half of US public schools implementing some form of evidence-based substance use prevention program, issues of implementation fidelity and adaptation have become paramount in the field of prevention. The findings from this study reveal the complexity of the types of adaptations teachers make naturally in the classroom to evidence-based curricula and provide reasons for these adaptations. This information should prove useful for prevention researchers, program developers, and health educators alike.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-344
Number of pages21
JournalHealth Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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