Two Communities Work to Meet the Needs of Young Dual Language Learners

Feb 25, 2013

By Emily Firgens

Research indicates that dual language learners (DLLs) benefit from participating in high quality preschool programs. Data show that in the U.S. 25 percent of children under age 6 have immigrant parents, and Spanish is the primary language spoken in the homes of 26 percent of children enrolled in Head Start. With so many young children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, it is critical that child care and early education programs work to meet these children's needs. Recent research highlights how two communities are working to ensure that their young, diverse populations are ready for school entry.

Red Bank Public Schools in New Jersey serve a largely Hispanic, low-income population. A recent case study from the Foundation for Child Development (FCD) highlights how Red Bank schools are supporting young dual language learners (DLLs) with a pre-kindergarten through third grade approach.  Red Bank's approach focuses on the whole child, emphasizing "make-believe play, self-regulation, community partnerships to support arts programming, and holistic assessment."  Red Bank schools have reached out and partnered with community-based early education providers to expand early learning opportunities for DLLs. Multiple funding sources from the local, state, and federal level have helped support the development and expansion of Red Bank's pre-kindergarten and DLL education. The district continues working on raising proficiency on state third and eighth grade tests in math and reading, and the past few years have shown steady improvement with more students testing proficient or higher.

Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP) is also taking steps to improve the preschool programs young DLLs attend, focusing specifically on teacher quality. First Five L.A. and Mathematica recently published a brief that highlights five effective practices for instructing DLLs. These include:

  • providing instruction in the home language as well as English;
  • teaching children letter sounds and sound blending to promote literacy acquisition;
  • practicing book reading in English and DLLs' home language;
  • providing opportunities for DLLs to practice their language skills with peers whose English skills are more developed; and,
  • using evidence-based curricula.

LAUP is working to promote the use of these practices through the development of a teacher institute focused on vocabulary development, DLL-specific trainings, and a library of professional development resources on teaching DLLs.

As Red Bank and L.A. continue to work on and improve their strategies for teaching DLLs, they both offer good examples of how communities can intentionally target and support the needs of young DLLs.  Creating and executing early education programs that support the diverse cultural and linguistic needs of young children and families is challenging, but states and communities can take steps to offer quality programs for DLLs. Writing state early learning standards with DLLs in mind and utilizing dual language learner teacher competencies to support the teaching of DLLs are important components in meeting the needs of these young learners in early education programs. 

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