English-Language Learners

Trend Watch: What’s Best Practice for Preschool ELLs?

By Mary Ann Zehr — April 26, 2010 2 min read
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The Illinois board of education is poised to vote on regulations that would require public school districts to provide English-language learners who are preschoolers with the same kinds of services they give to ELLs in grades K-12. In a story published Friday at edweek.org, I write about the viewpoints of educators who support and oppose the proposed regulations.

For my story, I interviewed Linda Espinosa, a professor emeritus of early-childhood education at the University of Missouri, in Columbia. She backs the Illinois board in its proposed requirement for public preschools to officially identify ELLs.

But she told me she thinks the board’s proposal to require transitional bilingual education at the preschool level, which is already required at the K-12 level in the state, is misguided. Espinosa says research shows that two-way bilingual education is more effective than transitional bilingual education, so she believes Illinois would be making a mistake in ruling out that option by requiring only one type of bilingual education. In two-way bilingual programs, students who are dominant in English and students who are dominant in another language learn both languages in the same classrooms. In transitional bilingual education, typically students are separated out from their native-English-speaking peers to receive instruction in some subjects in their native language. The emphasis in transitional bilingual education is to move students to English fluency as soon as possible, not to necessarily help them keep their native language.

Meanwhile, Colorin Colorado has just posted a Webcast with a guest who describes a two-way bilingual program in Corpus Cristi, Texas. The guest, Rebecca Palacios, who taught preschool to ELLs for more than 30 years, stresses the importance of a two-way program offering activities that get students to practice using both their native language and second language. She says preschools need to have a “print-rich environment” and teachers who know how to ask leading questions that will get the children talking. Her preschool, she said, provided materials that supported children in creative play, such as having centers for playing with sand and playing with water. It also had centers for music, art, science, social studies, and literacy. Colorin Colorado is produced by WETA, a public broadcasting station here in the nation’s capital, and supported with funding from the American Federation of Teachers and the U.S. Department of Education.

The debate in Illinois about how best to support the learning of preschool ELLs is a signal that this topic is becoming hot in the field. If your state has something going on in this area, tell the rest of us about it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.