With the nation’s school-age population becoming more linguistically and culturally diverse, early-childhood educators should do more to embrace the differences that the nation’s youngest English-learners bring to the classroom, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute concludes.
Drawing on interviews with classroom teachers and program directors, family surveys and focus group discussions, and classroom observations, the researchers explored what teaching methods have worked for young English-learners in six classrooms that represented three program types: Head Start, public pre-kindergarten, and private schools.
The report identified practices, such as incorporating students home languages in classroom rituals and routines, that help children in “superdiverse” settings feel more welcome. The researchers also outlined principles, including the belief that bilingualism is an asset and encouraging families to share their languages with the school community, that drove the work of the programs.
The report offers suggestions—ranging from classroom practices to national policy recommendations—for how to improve all early-childhood programs that support dual-language learners. The recommendations include:
- Cultivate strategies to help teachers support English and home-language development.
- Collect detailed information regarding families’ linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
- Create national and state policies that explicitly support the inclusion of home languages.
The Migration Policy Institute report is the latest strand of research the organization has released that explores how to improve early education for dual-language learners, children who are 8 or younger with at least one parent who speaks a language other than English.
The institute has become more attuned to the needs of this population as it becomes more diverse: the nation’s dual-language-learner population has grown by about 24 percent since 2000, and those students represent a wider range of languages and cultures than in the past.
They argue that little is known about what works well in classrooms where children speak a variety of languages.
Photo Credit: Teaching assistant Richard Nolasco listens to Joshua Flores and Ke’mari Barnes during their prekindergarten class at Tulsa’s Dual Language Academy. The population of Oklahoma’s second-largest school district has shifted dramatically in recent years, with nearly 1 in every 3 students coming from homes where Spanish is the primary language. --Shane Bevel for Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.