Enhancing Policy and Practice for Young Dual Language Learners: What Does the Research Base Look Like?

Topic: English Language Learners, Research

It’s critically important that more and better data on English Language Learners (ELLs) be collected so the early childhood field can move ahead with much-needed analyses that can help inform policy on a number of fronts. NIEER’s compilation of state efforts to collect data on the ELL population and support of ELLs is a welcome development. As language issues continue to assume a higher profile in the field, it’s also important to bring together in one place a comprehensive look at the extant research base and develop recommendations for developing data going forward.

I recently co-presented on the topic of ELLs at the NAEYC Professional Development Institute in Phoenix with Dr. Eugene García, NIEER Scientific Advisory Board member and vice president of Arizona State University, specifically on the research base for policy and practice for young dual language learners (DLLs). Drawing from our book Developing the Research Agenda for Young English Language Learners, which will be released at the end of June by Teachers College Press, we provided syntheses of the literature for young ELLs on critical topics such as demographics, development of bilingualism, cognitive and neurological benefits of bilingualism, and family relationships, as well as classroom, assessment, and teacher-preparation practices. Participants discussed the policy implications of the research such as:

1. Fund and establish quality data systems to provide information on who is being served and under what conditions and what the gaps are.

2. Form early learning councils in local communities to plan coherent provision of services and recruit underserved families, especially those of limited English proficiency.

3. Require bilingual education program improvement plans to ensure that programs assess their provision of service for DLLs and use that to improve.

4. Increase provision of high-quality dual language preschool.

  • Fund more and conveniently located high-quality preschool so that all families have access.
  • Improve systematic dual-language programming using:
    • Two-way immersion side-by-side classrooms,
    • Two- way immersion rotating times of day,
    • Push-in home language instruction (daily “specials” teacher).

5. Educate and hire qualified bilingual staff by recruiting and providing incentives for bilingual individuals to obtain early childhood education qualifications or by providing training in the home language of the children to the existing workforce.

6. Provide pre-service and in-service education on dual language acquisition and effective teaching practices for DLLs.

7. Support language minority family engagement and encourage parents to support home language use and read books in the home language.

8. Implement appropriate assessment measures that assess the knowledge base of the child (not just English proficiency), are validated for use with the DLL population, and lead to improved teaching.

We would appreciate it if you could take the time to review the entire power point presentation and give us your thoughts so we may continue the discussion begun at the conference.

– Ellen Frede, Co-Director, NIEER