Promising and Effective Early Care and Education Practices and Home Visiting Programs for Dual Language Learners
A large and growing share of the children under age 5 in the United States have a first language (L1) that is not English, and many of these children are served by early care and education (ECE) programs (Espinosa et al., 2017). The proportion of U.S. children from birth to age 5 who are identified as dual language learners (DLLs)1 and are enrolled in ECE programs is greater than the percentage of children identified as English learners (ELs) in kindergarten and is growing across the nation (National Institute for Early Education Research, 2013). Illustrating the greater representation of DLLs during the early childhood years, while approximately 30 percent of children enrolled in the federal Head Start/Early Head Start Programs have been identified as DLLs (Office of Head Start, 2015b), just 9 percent of all children in U.S. K-12 public schools were identified as ELs in the 2011-2012 school year (Child Trends, 2014). In addition, more than one-quarter of the children served in Head Start and Early Head Start Programs live in households where a language other than English is spoken (Migration Policy Institute, 2016). Consequently, most if not all ECE teachers and staff will work with DLLs during their careers and will require an understanding of the elements and strategies of effective practices that promote the healthy development, learning, and achievement of DLLs.
1 When referring to young children ages birth to 5 in their homes, communities, or ECE programs, this report uses the term “dual language learners” or “DLLs.” When referring to children ages 5 and older in the pre-K to 12 education system, the term “English learners” or “ELs” is used. When referring to the broader group of children and adolescents ages birth to 21, the term “DLLs/ELs” is used.
U.S. policy makers at all levels of government generally agree that investments in children’s early learning and healthy development promote equity and reduce costs to society in the long run. Compared with the K-12 education system, however, the delivery of ECE to young children is far more dispersed across multiple agencies and funding streams at the federal, state, and local levels.2 A review conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2012 identified 45 federally funded programs that directly provide early learning programs or financially support children ages birth through 5.3 At the federal level, about 50 percent of eligible low-income children are served by the Head Start and Early Head Start programs. More than 850,000 eligible families receive subsidies for child care through the Child Care Development Fund (Administration for Children and Families, 2014). In addition, 40 states now fund pre-K programs, which vary widely across states in their eligibility criteria, delivery mechanisms, funding sources, and learning standards. Likewise, the policies and regulations that govern ECE programs vary substantially across states, localities, and programs.
This chapter reviews relevant research on guiding principles, programs, practices, and strategies that promote positive developmental and educational outcomes for DLLs in home visiting programs and ECE settings. While a robust body of research addresses the developmental trajectories of DLLs (see Chapter 4), and a small but growing body of research deals with effective programs and practices for preschool-ages DLLs, there are no known studies of the effects of specific ECE practices for DLL infants and toddlers (Fuligni et al., 2014). Therefore, this chapter reviews relevant research on features of high-quality ECE for infants and toddlers generally, combined with the developmental literature on DLLs reviewed in earlier chapters, to arrive at findings and conclusions about effective practices for the youngest DLLs.
The years from birth through age 5 are critical for building the foundational knowledge and language skills required for future success in school and life. It is clear that early experiences shape development in a dynamic process that is interactive and cumulative (Institute of Medicine and
2 See Kagan and Reid (2008) for a thorough account of the history of early childhood education in the United States. See also Herfeldt-Kamprath and Hamm (2015) for an explanation of the funding streams and state and local efforts to improve the delivery of education and health care to infants and toddlers.
3 Among the 45 programs, 12 have an explicit purpose of providing early learning or child care services.
National Research Council, 2015). Decades of research have shown that high-quality ECE can improve school readiness scores and promote overall development for children living in poverty (Camilli et al., 2010; Wong et al., 2008; Yoshikawa et al., 2013). Recent data suggest that ECE services provided early (by age 2) and continuously are particularly effective in giving DLLs added language advantages at kindergarten entry (Yazejian et al., 2015).
If the benefits of ECE programs in improving school readiness, school achievement, and lifelong learning are to be achieved and sustained, the specific developmental characteristics of DLLs need to be understood and integrated into the learning environments and educational practices of these programs. Many of the developmental characteristics of children ages birth to 3 and 3 to 5 are distinct from those of other age groups, and the policies, standards, licensing requirements, and practices of ECE systems vary across these two age groups.
Birth to Age 3: Infant and Toddler Development, Care, and Education
As described by Lally and White-Tennant (2004), all infants and toddlers need a safe, healthy, engaging, and secure environment where they can develop social attachments and physical and intellectual abilities, as well as build positive self-identities and trust of others. The authors argue that it is critical for humans to experience protective environments and high-quality care during the first 3 years of life because this is a period of rapid brain growth that influences all later functioning. They assert that long-term school success must begin with effective care and education in infancy. This assertion echoes the findings of the influential National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2000) report Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development, which identifies social-emotional strengths developed during the first 3 years as critical to all future learning. During these first 3 years, when children are highly dependent on responsive and nurturing adults, the quality of their care and learning opportunities will literally shape the neurocognitive architecture of their brains (Harvard National Center on the Developing Child, 2011).
Across most theories of early development, social interactions and relationships are viewed as the foundation for language, cognitive, and socioemotional development (Bowlby, 1969; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Erikson, 1965; Vygotsky, 1978). Neurons to Neighborhoods (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000, p. 341) emphasizes this aspect of early development: “Young children’s relationships with their primary caregivers have a major impact on their cognitive, linguistic, emotional, social, and moral development. These relationships are most growth-promoting
when they are warm, nurturing, individualized, responsive in a contingent and reciprocal manner, and characterized by a high level of ‘goodness of fit.’”
The family’s culture also plays a significant role in adult-child interactions. The intimate work of raising very young children is greatly influenced by a family’s culture. Many aspects of infant/toddler care and adult interactions vary significantly among different cultures. Examples of practices closely tied to a family’s culture include
- feeding and nutrition,
- sleep patterns and arrangements,
- positioning and physical closeness of the infant or toddler,
- who uses language and when and how, and
- the role of extended family networks in raising the child (Lynch and Hanson, 2011; National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, n.d.).
The ability to listen attentively, speak with clarity, and communicate personal needs depends on social interactions and relationships with attentive adults that include meaningful language exchanges beginning during infancy. It is crucial that ECE programs recognize the impact of relationships on development across all domains and create the conditions for close, positive, responsive, and individualized caregiver-child relationships (National Research Council, 2000).
Specific features of positive adult-child interactions that have been linked to cognitive and language development in infants and toddlers include adult responsiveness to infant cues, sensitivity, positive affect, empathy, warmth, joint attention,4 verbalization, and adult-child synchrony (Halle et al., 2011). In addition, the construct of joint attention has been positively associated with language development as well as social-emotional and some aspects of cognitive development (Dodici et al., 2003; Markus et al., 2000). These terms have been operationalized in slightly different ways across measures of infant/toddler and adult interaction scales, but the basic constructs generally agree. Responsiveness and sensitivity, for example, typically include both physical and verbal responsiveness to the child’s cues (Atkins-Burnett et al., 2015). Such “contingent responsiveness” (see also Chapter 4) requires that early care providers be emotionally and physically available and able to read the child’s signals of interest, enjoyment, or distress. Adult warmth can be communicated through smiling, praise, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
4 Joint attention is shared focus on an object or event by the child and adult, as well as the understanding of both that the focus is shared.
An important feature of infant/toddler development is children’s growing ability to regulate their own behavior (Cook et al., 2004). Having consistent routines and setting positive limits have been shown to help older infants and toddlers manage their behavior (Strain and Bovey, 2011; Winton et al., 2008). ECE providers can support the cognitive development of infants and toddlers by providing them with diverse and interesting materials and helping them actively explore how the world works; rolling balls up and down a ramp, for example, helps toddlers develop a concept of gravity. During this period of development, children have an endless curiosity about how things work and abundant motivation to discover new concepts. Adults promote emerging conceptual understandings by helping young children reason, organize their knowledge, and solve problems; scaffolding their levels of play; and directing their attention to salient features of the environment (Lobo and Galloway, 2008).
The many ways in which caregivers promote language and early literacy development are discussed in Chapter 4. For all children across all settings, the quantity and quality of adult language that is directed to a child, as well as the diversity of that language, are related to cognitive and language outcomes (Dodici et al., 2003; Hart and Risley, 1995; Huttenlocher et al., 2002; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2005) (for a contrasting view, see Dudley-Marling and Lucas ). The posing of questions with adequate wait time, conversational turn taking, extended vocabulary, and diversity of talk all have been identified as important dimensions of ECE providers’ behavior that promote young children’s language development (Booth, 2006; Hudson, 1990; Hurtado et al., 2008; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 1996).
In addition to positive, trusting, and nurturing relationships, certain parent and caregiver behaviors have been shown to foster the development of early literacy skills, such as an interest in books and print; enjoyment of being read to; oral language abilities, including vocabulary size and narrative skills; listening comprehension; differentiating between pictures and print; and book handling (DeBruin-Parecki et al., 2000). Strong empirical evidence shows that these emergent literacy skills are developmental precursors to future reading and writing abilities (Hammer et al., 2007; Whitehurst and Lonigan, 1998). As pointed out in Chapter 4, the language skills that infants and toddlers develop before they are able to retell a story or identify letters of the alphabet predict more advanced oral language abilities during the preschool years, and are important for kindergarten readiness and later reading comprehension (Gardner-Neblett and Iruka, 2015).
Specific types of experiences during children’s first 3 years will support the development of these early literacy skills. ECE providers can foster both specific literacy skills and a love of literacy by engaging infants and tod-
dlers with age-appropriate books; using a variety of words, such as adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, in addition to nouns and pronouns and speaking in complex sentences; and creating emotionally positive experiences with books and reading activities (National Research Council, 1998; Whitehurst et al., 1994).
Another important feature of ECE programs is the relationship between the ECE professionals and parents and family members (Halgunseth et al., 2013; Raikes et al., 2006). Family engagement with ECE programs has been linked to multiple important child outcomes across all groups of families and ages of children (Fantuzzo et al., 2004; Jeynes, 2012). Positive, mutually respectful relationships between ECE professionals and parents promote open and ongoing communication about the child’s experiences and progress, as well as any potential concerns (Zero to Three, 2010). By coordinating their approaches and sharing information, ECE staff and parents can create a more consistent and predictable environment that promotes healthy development.
Considerable evidence reveals that while school-family partnerships are important for improved outcomes for all children, families of DLLs often have lower levels of school engagement relative to families of their monolingual counterparts and face unique barriers to making these connections with ECE settings. Although there have been no empirical studies on the impacts of ECE programs on the development of DLL infants and toddlers in particular, it is reasonable to use findings from the developmental literature to guide the design of services for very young DLLs and their families with special attention to their dual language status (see Chapter 4 for a full discussion of language and brain development in DLLs). The research on general infant/toddler ECE also is applicable in many respects to DLLs. Multiple studies have found that infant/toddler care for both DLLs and monolinguals tends to be of lower quality than care provided during the preschool years (Burchinal et al., 2015; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2005). Since the earliest years are so important for language and social-emotional development, and the impacts of ECE on children’s cognitive, language, and social development tend to be stronger for younger children, these findings have important implications for program improvement (Burchinal et al., 2015). Box 5-1 describes a promising program for low-income Latina mothers and their infants that is designed to increase the responsive language interactions that are so important to the later verbal and cognitive development of infants and toddlers.
Ages 3 to 5: The Prekindergarten Years
The prekindergarten years are a sensitive period for language development. If young children lack sufficient opportunities to acquire language, persistent, lifelong language deficits may result (Kuhl et al., 2005). This is also a time of rapid social-emotional and cognitive growth. During these years, children move from using simple sentences to communicate basic ideas and needs to having extended and detailed conversations with many back-and-forth exchanges about experiences, ideas, and feelings (Biemiller, 2009; Dickinson et al., 2010; Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).
A common theme across multiple studies (see Chapter 4 for a full review) is the role of individual factors in predicting second-language outcomes. Individual differences, including the child’s L1, cognitive abilities, previous learning experiences, cultural background, and prior knowledge, can play an important role in the process of learning a second language. Thus, it may prove beneficial for preschool programs to collect information about DLLs’ background, including their family, culture, early exposure to language(s), prior knowledge, and skills in each language. Knowledge about these individual factors provides important background information about
each child’s developmental context and how to design specific instructional activities that are responsive to their unique learning needs.
Importance of Oral Language and Early Literacy Skills for DLLs’ Academic Success
Research with both monolingual and DLL populations has found that vocabulary is one of the best predictors of reading comprehension, that vocabulary is more than just learning words, and that it is learned in multiple contexts both at home and at school (Fiorentino and Howe, 2004; Weisberg et al., 2013). The differences in vocabulary learning between DLLs and their monolingual counterparts usually do not indicate language delays or potential learning problems but are a typical feature of early dual language learning (see Chapter 4). Conboy (2013, p. 19) clearly makes this point:
Bilingual lexical learning leads to initially smaller vocabularies in each separate language than for monolingual learners of those same languages, and total vocabulary sizes (the sum of what children know in both their languages) in bilingual toddlers are similar to those of monolingual toddlers (Pearson et al., 1997). Thus, the differences noted in brain activity across bilingual and monolingual children should not be interpreted as evidence of a delay induced by bilingualism, but rather, as a distinct developmental pattern of specialization linked to experience with each language (emphasis in original).
Given that vocabulary size is a key goal in preschool and important to future reading comprehension, it is critical for ECE teachers to understand this difference between DLL and monolingual preschoolers. To determine a preschool DLL’s vocabulary size, one must assess the words a child knows in both languages. If a DLL preschooler does not know the English word for window, for example, the child may understand the concept of a window but know a different word, such as ventana.
Oral language skills (e.g., vocabulary, listening comprehension), grammatical knowledge, and narrative production have garnered particular attention from both educators and researchers attempting to meet the learning needs of DLLs. Research with young Spanish-speaking DLLs from low socioeconomic backgrounds has found that they may be at risk for delays in their early literacy development because of their weaker oral language abilities (Espinosa and Zepeda, 2009; Mancilla-Martinez and Lesaux, 2011). Given the importance of oral language abilities for future reading skills and the fact that DLLs often do not receive adequate support for advanced levels of oral language development (Espinosa and Gutiérrrez-Clellan, 2013), ECE providers need instructional guidance on what constitutes a rich and engaging language environment for DLLs.
DLLs have varying amounts of exposure and environmental support for each of their languages, and their proficiency in both their L1 and English varies accordingly. A preschool DLL may be fluent in both languages, proficient in the L1 but know very little English, have some English conversational language abilities but little English academic language skill, or have minimal proficiency in both languages (Páez and Rinaldi, 2006; Place and Hoff, 2011). Recently, several studies have shown that lower levels of English proficiency at kindergarten entry are related to later school and specifically English reading difficulties (Galindo, 2010; Halle et al., 2012). And in a secondary analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 (ECLS-K) dataset, Halle and colleagues (2012) found that when DLLs became more proficient in English during the preschool years, they had better overall achievement in math, science, and reading that lasted through 8th grade. These studies underscore the importance of systematic exposure to English during the preschool years to the future school performance of DLLs. Recent research on the amount of time it takes for DLLs to become reclassified as fully proficient in English in school (see Chapter 6) also has found that early proficiency in both L1 and English at kindergarten entry is critical to the process of becoming academically proficient in a second language (Thompson, 2015; see also Chapter 10).
Other Learning and Developmental Domains
Additional learning and developmental domains that are important to academic success for preschool DLLs include math, executive function skills, social-emotional development, and loss of L1.
Math The ways in which different languages describe math concepts influence young children’s understanding of those concepts (e.g., Mandarin and Korean) (Chang and Sandhofer, 2009; Sarnecka et al., 2011). Chang and Sandhofer (2009), for example, investigated factors that influence young children’s early understanding of math concepts. They compared English- and Mandarin-speaking parents’ use of counting and number vocabulary when reading picture books to their DLL children and found that the Mandarin-speaking parents used three times more number words than their English-speaking counterparts in the study. The authors attribute this finding to the different syntactic characteristics of each language. Mandarin does not denote plurals, so the parents had to use more number words, thus providing the child with more specific number language input. In addition, the way different languages express some math concepts may make those concepts easier for children to grasp. In Korean, for example, fractions are termed “of four parts, one,” instead of “one-fourth.” This feature of the
language makes the math concept of fraction more transparent and was related to higher scores for Korean students relative to their English-speaking peers on a fraction concept test (Paik and Mix, 2003; Sandhofer and Uchikoshi, 2013). Finally, some research has found that when preschool DLLs know certain math concepts, such as the number 5, in one language, they are likely to know the concept in their other language as well or can learn it easily (Sarnecka et al., 2011). This finding indicates that conceptual knowledge about number appears to transfer across languages and in turn, that preschool teachers should learn about both the salient features of DLLs’ L1 and what mathematical concepts they know in that language.
Executive function skills During the preschool years, bilingual children have shown advantages in executive function tasks that require selectively attending to competing options and suppressing interfering information, skills that are important to school readiness (Bialystok and Viswanathan, 2009; see also Chapter 4 for more detailed discussion). Although controversial, findings of a bilingual advantage in executive function skills have been noted across cultural and socioeconomic groups, as well as different language combinations (e.g., English-Spanish, English-Mandarin, English-French, and English-Tamil) (Carlson and Meltzoff, 2008; Sandhofer and Uchikoshi, 2013). However, these cognitive advantages depend on the extent to which the child is bilingual and may be related to other aspects of development, such as culture and genetic traits. DLLs who show strong skills in both of their languages show larger executive control advantages than those who are stronger in one language (Bialystok and Majumder, 1998; Sandhofer and Uchikoshi, 2013). Thus it is important for ECE programs serving DLLs to consider the amount and frequency of exposure in each language.
Social-emotional development Evidence indicates that DLLs have comparable or better social-emotional competencies relative to their monolingual English peers (Crosnoe, 2007; Halle et al., 2014). These competencies are important for school readiness and need to be recognized and built upon by ECE providers, preschool teachers, and school administrators.
Using data from the ECLS-K cohort, Crosnoe (2007) found that kindergarten teachers rated the Spanish-speaking children of recent Mexican American immigrants more positively than their English-only counterparts on such aspects of social-emotional competence as self-control and externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Others have found evidence that the use of DLLs’ L1 in ECE programs has a positive effect on their peer and teacher relationships and acts for them as a protective factor for some outcomes, including social-emotional competencies, although these find-
ings may also be related to culturally based patterns of parenting (Winsler et al., 2014).
Loss of L1 When DLLs are exposed to English during the preschool years, they often start to show a preference for speaking English and a reluctance to continue speaking their L1 (Hakuta and D’Andrea, 1992; Oller and Eilers, 2002; Wong-Filmore, 1991). ECE professionals and program administrators need to understand that there are developmental risks associated with loss of a child’s L1. Children who do not develop and maintain proficiency in their home language may lose their ability to communicate with parents and family members and risk becoming estranged from their cultural and linguistic heritage (Wong-Filmore, 1991; see Chapter 6 for a more detailed discussion). DLLs who have a strong base in their L1 and acquire high levels of English proficiency will realize the cognitive, linguistic, social, and cultural benefits of becoming bilingual as well as the ability “to establish a strong cultural identity, to develop and sustain strong ties with their immediate and extended families, and thrive in a global multilingual world” (Espinosa, 2006, p. 2).
Implications for Effective Practices for Preschool DLLs
Research on the developmental characteristics of preschool children in general and the impact of dual language learning on cognitive, language, social, and cultural development during the preschool years has the following implications for preschool programs serving DLLs:
- The cognitive, social-emotional, language, and literacy development of DLLs may vary depending on their early language experiences and cultural backgrounds. Therefore, ECE teachers need to have in-depth conversations with parents to learn about DLLs’ family practices, languages, and cultural values.
- Preschool DLLs need systematic exposure to English to prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond. However, important benefits are lost if the acquisition of English comes at the expense of continuing development in the child’s L1.
- Because bilingualism conveys some social, cultural, linguistic, and cognitive advantages, ECE programs can best serve DLL preschoolers by
- providing them with high-quality language experiences and support in mastering both of their languages, recognizing that the cognitive advantages of bilingualism are greatest when DLLs have comparable levels of proficiency in both their languages; and
- understanding that DLLs may have social-emotional advantages in the classroom relative to their monolingual peers, such as greater self-control and interpersonal skills, that need to be recognized and leveraged for improved academic achievement.
This section reviews research on effective models and instructional strategies for home visiting and ECE programs.
Home Visiting Programs
The federal Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program targets5 a population with a high proportion of families who are non-English speakers with DLLs. It is critical that home visiting practitioners and policy makers understand the strategies and elements of effective practices that promote the healthy development, learning, and achievement of these children. Yet while there is a robust body of research on the developmental trajectories of DLLs, the effectiveness of evidence-based home visiting models has not been studied specifically in this population.
Families of DLLs differ on important demographic variables, such as socioeconomic status, number of children in the home, family structure, early language and literacy practices, and commitment to home language and culture maintenance, that influence development and learning (see Chapter 3) (Espinosa et al., 2017; Winsler et al., 2014). Within this population are factors that influence the risk of poor educational outcomes, such as poverty linked to toxic stress;6 high rates of maternal depression; and high rates of trauma linked to neighborhood, school, or domestic violence. At the same time, specific protective factors that build resilience in children, such as high rates of father involvement, child-centeredness and family warmth, stronger family and ethnic community supports, strong beliefs in education, and trust in and respect for educational and health professionals
5 Home visiting services funded by MIECHV are targeted at pregnant mothers and young families and their children who are living in communities with high rates of poverty, teenage births, violence, or other criteria discussed later in this chapter.
6 Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity without adequate adult support. This kind of prolonged activation of the stress response systems can disrupt the development of brain architecture and other organ systems and have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the life span (Harvard National Center on the Developing Child, 2016).
(Toppelberg and Collins, 2010), explain why some DLLs in families that have recently immigrated fare better in certain developmental domains than their U.S.-born peers. The federal MIECHV program represents a unique opportunity to address those aspects of DLLs’ home environments that negatively affect their development.
Emergence of the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
Many states funded home visiting programs prior to MIECHV (and continue to do so) with other federal funding sources, as well as through state appropriations for education, child welfare, health, and other social services (Johnson, 2009).7,8 Extensive research has documented that home visits by a trained professional (nurse, social worker, early childhood educator, or other) during pregnancy and the early years can improve the lives of children and families. This research has documented the benefits of the most common evidence-based home visiting models on a range of long-term outcomes, such as preventing child abuse and neglect, supporting positive parenting, improving maternal and child health, and promoting child development and school readiness (Sama-Miller et al., 2016). Home visiting programs are concerned not only with the child’s healthy development but also with the development and health of parents and family, particularly their mental health and well-being. Families of DLLs often are eligible to enroll voluntarily in home visiting programs as a result of their economic status and other factors (see Box 5-2). Despite the promise of these home visiting programs, however, the committee identified several problems with how they serve DLLs and their families.
MIECHV provides grants to states, territories, and tribal entities to fund home visiting programs based on home visiting service delivery models that have demonstrated effectiveness according to specific criteria of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness (HomVEE) study is a major ongoing
7 The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended Title V of the Social Security Act to create the MIECHV program (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2011), and Congress approved $100 million in initial funding for the program. In 2014, funding increased to $371 million, and the program served 145,561 parents and children in 825 of the 3,142 counties in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories (23% of all rural counties and 29% of all urban counties) (Health Resources Services Administration, 2015a, 2015b). In 2015, funding was further increased to $386 million. MIECHV has funded more than 1.4 million home visits since 2012. It is administered by two agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).
8 Other federal sources of funding for home visiting programs include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant, and Medicaid.
federal initiative tasked with documenting the effectiveness of home visiting models. HomVEE has reviewed 44 existing home visiting service delivery models, 19 of which have been found to demonstrate effectiveness (Avellar et al., 2016). Four of these models—Early Head Start-Home Based Program, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parents as Teachers—are those most commonly adopted at the state level, although they differ in their program goals, their target populations, program intensity and duration, required qualifications of home visitors, and the flexibility localities have in designing their programs (Michalopoulos et al., 2015). To determine the effectiveness of a home visiting model, HomVEE reviews the evidence of its impact on eight major outcomes. While all of these eight outcomes are relevant to DLLs and their families, the discussion here highlights aspects of five critical outcomes of particular relevance to this report—child health, child development (including language) and school readiness, linkages and referrals to other community resources and supports, maternal health, and positive parenting practices.
Evaluations of Home Visiting Models
There have been two major evaluations of home visiting models: HomVEE and the HHS-funded Mother and Infant Home Visiting Program Evaluation (MIHOPE).
Home Visiting Evidence of Effectiveness Study (HomVEE) HomVEE, a major ongoing national study being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research (Avellar et al., 2016), is tasked with documenting the effectiveness of home visiting models and identifying those models that meet the HHS criteria for an “evidence-based early childhood home visiting service delivery model.” The evaluation considers only models aimed at improving outcomes in at least one of the following eight domains: (1) child health; (2) child (including language) development and school readiness; (3) family economic self-sufficiency; (4) linkages and referrals; (5) maternal health; (6) positive parenting practices; (7) reductions in child maltreatment; and (8) reductions in juvenile delinquency, family violence, and crime. A home visiting model must meet one of the following criteria for HHS to consider it evidence-based:
- at least one high- or moderate-quality impact study must find favorable, statistically significant impacts in two or more of the eight outcome domains; or
- at least two high- or moderate-quality impact studies using non-overlapping study samples must find one or more favorable, statistically significant impacts in the same domain.
The most recent HomVEE report reviews 44 existing home visiting service delivery models (Avellar et al., 2016), 19 of which demonstrated effectiveness according to the HHS criteria. Seven of these 19 models had favorable effects on in the same domain (e.g., child health, maternal health, child development and school readiness, positive parenting practices) in two or more samples, while 8 had favorable effects on child and language development and school readiness.9 Studies of the 4 most common models assessed child language development using such measures as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, Communicative Development Inventories, and Preschool Language Scales in English. However, none of these studies assessed the development of L1 (when applicable), which would have been feasible as versions of these measures are available and commonly used for Spanish as well as other languages.
The most recent HomVEE report (Avellar et al., 2016) concludes that most of the program models analyzed had favorable effects, which varied across models, and that all 19 models deemed evidence-based according to the HHS criteria had favorable impacts for at least 1 year after enrollment. However, none of these studies disaggregated DLL subgroups, leaving some question as to whether these home visiting models are equally effective in supporting the families of monolinguals and DLLs:
The HomVEE review identified several gaps in the existing research literature on home visiting models that limit its usefulness for matching program models to community needs . . . more evidence is needed about the effectiveness of HV models for different types of families with a range of characteristics. . . . HomVEE found little or no research on the effectiveness of home visiting program models for immigrant families that have diverse cultural backgrounds or may not speak English as a first language. (Avellar et al., 2016, p. 17)
Mother and Infant Home Visiting Program Evaluation (MIHOPE) study One of the key findings of the HHS-funded MIHOPE study was that states focused their funds on expanding the four most common evidence-based home visiting models noted earlier.10 According to the MIHOPE report (Michalopoulos et al., 2015), home visiting programs have three functions: (1) to assess family needs, (2) to educate and support parents, and (3) to help families gain access to services, with the overall goal of improving outcomes for families throughout their children’s early years and beyond.
9 See http://homvee.acf.hhs.gov/Outcome/2/Child-Development-and-School-Readiness/3/1 [February 23, 2017].
10 (1) Early Head Start-Home Based Program Option, (2) Healthy Families America, (3) Nurse-Family Partnership, and (4) Parents as Teachers. For complete descriptions of these models, see Michalopoulos et al. (2015).
Although only 8 percent of the mothers in the evaluation sample reported poor English-speaking ability, Michalopoulos and colleagues (2015) found that these families may be more of a challenge to serve if home visitors and other service providers are unable to speak in the mother’s L1. In addition, the authors note that losing L1 may put individuals at risk for chronic health conditions and mental health problems.
Access to Services and Engagement of Families of DLLs
Boller and colleagues (2014) found that agencies implementing home visiting programs struggled to maintain caseloads and to deliver services of the intended intensity. Importantly, higher-risk families were most likely to leave the program earlier, between 6 and 12 months. Enrolling and retaining families who speak a language other than English may be more challenging because of the accumulation of additional risk factors, such as underutilization of health services and Head Start and the undocumented status of parents. These factors may contribute to the underrepresentation of the families of DLLs in home visiting programs (see Box 5-1).
The extent to which programs reach out to families with DLLs varies substantially across localities and program types. For instance, New York’s assessment reported on four operating home visiting programs, only one of which explicitly targeted families with literacy and language barriers (Michalopolous et al., 2015). The committee reviewed each state’s MIECHV information fact sheet11 and in contrast with some early childhood programs, such as Head Start and Early Head Start, could find no explicit references to serving immigrant families or families who speak a language other than English. Thus no state-level information is available on strategies for outreach and engagement targeting these groups.
Competencies Required of Home Visitors Serving Families of DLLs
A home visiting professional who does not share the cultural and linguistic background of the families being served may find it difficult to achieve the program goals, although sharing a background does not guarantee the absence of misconceptions or biases that may compromise the ability to serve families well. Home visitors often function independently in a highly unstructured environment, which requires manageable caseloads and additional supervision and support. It is critical to have the linguistic and cultural competence to interact with families that speak a language other than English and have specific immigration, refugee, or cultural
backgrounds (Pumariega et al., 2013); also essential is to have knowledge of child development to support DLLs’ L1.
MIHOPE provides information about the qualifications and educational and linguistic backgrounds of home visitors (Michalopoulos et al., 2015). The majority of both supervisors and home visitors describe themselves as non-Hispanic white, and no data are available regarding the language skills of these professionals.
The MIECHV Technical Assistance Coordinating Center (Health Resources and Services Administration, 2016) summarizes critical HV core competencies. While cultural, linguistic, and developmental competencies are critical for serving families of DLLs, the report makes no mention of them, suggesting that the program does not consider them. In this connection, it is important to note that, according to a 2009 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nurse-based programs are more effective than those that are not nurse-based, but programs that are staffed by paraprofessionals of the same cultural backgrounds as the target populations are as if not more effective if the paraprofessionals are retained for 2 or more years.12
An in-depth qualitative study of 14 immigrant Latina mothers illustrates the importance of some of these cultural and linguistic core competencies. It also documents how highly the participating mothers valued home visiting services and the bilingual/bicultural paraprofessional staff—who themselves were immigrants—that delivered the services (Paris, 2008). The study details many aspects of the relationships between the home visitors and participants that merit further investigation, such as
- use of bicultural and multilingual paraprofessionals as home visitors in communities that are mistrustful of outsiders;
- use of home visitors who are trained in relationship-building skills;
- provision of support and referral to services for immigrant mothers in the context of a trusting relationship with the home visitor; and
- use of paraprofessional home visitors who have “social proximity” to the communities they serve (i.e., live in the same communities or ones similar to those they are serving) and can help mothers navigate a new country/culture.
Approach to L1 and dual language development The general public, even speakers of languages other than English, holds significant misconceptions about dual language development. Even well-intended professionals may exhibit implicit biases (Banaji and Greenwald, 2013). To the best of the committee’s knowledge, neither the federal MIECHV nor state programs
12 See http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/123/2/598.full [February 23, 2017].
have policies or guidelines with respect to supporting the development of L1. It is unclear whether home visitors receive any training in providing such support, or what guidance families receive about the benefits of supporting the development of L1 for optimal language development and early stimulation for infants and young children. Misinformation, bias and discrimination, and misconceptions about how to ensure that a child learns English may lead untrained home visitors to convey erroneous views to the families they are supporting, with negative consequences for the child’s development. As discussed in Chapter 4, maximizing cognitive and language stimulation at home requires that parents use the language they know best. Doing so provides a solid cognitive-linguistic base for emerging literacy and school-based reasoning and facilitates learning English and other languages later on. Home visiting services that encourage parents to take a positive view of dual language development bolster exposure to and use of L1, which protects against the loss of L1—an unfortunate but frequent occurrence. Low-status languages (such as Spanish) are more likely to be lost to attrition than high-status languages (such as French or German), requiring a proactive stance toward their maintenance and growth on the part of the home visitor. Support for the development of L1 needs to extend to young children with delays and disabilities (Toppelberg and Collins, 2016; see Chapter 9).
As noted above, neither federal nor state home visiting programs have guidelines for a coherent, science-based approach to DLLs’ language development. Nor is support for L1 development explicitly stated as an outcome or task of home visiting services. While evidence-based home visiting models have overall beneficial impacts on language outcomes, it is unclear how these outcomes are achieved in DLLs without an explicit and proactive approach to support for L1.
Screening and assessment of DLLs One of the goals of MIECHV is the early screening and identification of children with developmental delays and their appropriate linkage and referral for services (early identification is discussed in Chapter 9). Relative to their monolingual peers, however, DLLs with developmental delays and disabilities are less likely to be identified and referred for early intervention. The risk of underidentification is particularly significant for language delays, which can erroneously be attributed to normal bilingual development. (Overidentification is less likely in the early years, but may occur if low English abilities due to a lack of opportunity to learn English are misinterpreted as a language delay in a normally developing child.) Home visitors can play a crucial role in the early identification and referral of these DLLs.
Mental health considerations Home visitors serving families of DLLs need to be aware of the risks and exposures outlined previously in this chapter that can lead to mental health problems as well as recognizable signs of depression and psychological trauma, and of available resources for addressing these issues. The negative impact on children of institutional and individual discrimination, for example, has been documented (Brown, 2015). This and other traumas may lead to posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, sleep disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, and other mental health disorders. As a result, home visitors and their supervisors need to be knowledgeable about such resources as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which lists resources and evidence-based practices for addressing the consequences of psychological trauma.13
At the same time, it is important to note that, despite the accumulation of risk in subgroups of families of DLLs, their strength and resilience in the face of adversity has been well documented (Oppedal and Toppelberg, 2016; Toppelberg and Collins, 2010). Home visiting programs that target DLLs and their families with research-based methods and guidance may provide additional supports that help mitigate the effects of these experiences.
Early Care and Education Programs
Although nonparental care during early childhood has become normative for children in the United States, and high-quality ECE services appear to be especially important for DLLs, published work on the early care arrangements of DLLs overall is relatively scarce (Burchinal et al., 2015; Hirshberg et al., 2005; Loeb et al., 2004). Some research has found that parents whose primary language is not English are less likely to use formal center-based ECE settings and more likely to use informal care, such as that provided by relatives, than families that speak only English, especially when children are ages 0-4 (Cannon et al., 2012; Halle et al., 2009; Hirshberg et al., 2005). A few studies have found that immigrant families of DLLs prefer programs in which their home language is used (Ward et al., 2011), while others have found that some Latino families express a desire for their children to learn English during the preschool years (Vesely, 2013). Some evidence indicates that when DLLs do attend formal ECE programs (described in Table 5-1), they are more likely than other groups to experience poor-quality services (Karoly and Gonzalez, 2011; Matthews and Ewen, 2006).
A recent study examined the ECE experiences of infant/toddler and preschool-age DLLs using the nationally representative Early Childhood Lon-
|Head Start||Head Start aims to promote the school readiness and healthy development of children ages 3 and 4 living in poor households.* It is the largest federal program focused on meeting the developmental needs of children from low-income families. Launched in 1965, it was most recently reauthorized by the Head Start for School Readiness Act. Head Start services usually include a 9-month educational program, as well as nutritional, social, and some medical services. In 2014, the program served more than 1 million children and their families (Administration for Children and Families, 2015), reaching approximately 40 percent of the nation’s eligible children (Schmit and Matthews, 2013). The Office of Head Start provides grants to approximately 1,700 public and nonprofit organizations for the administration of program services (Administration for Children and Families, 2015).|
|Early Head Start||Early Head Start extends the education and child care services of Head Start to children ages 0-3. It also provides home visits for low-income pregnant women and their families to conduct needs assessments and offer individualized information, as well as referrals to additional resources and services related to parenting and general child well-being. In 2016, there were 149,986 Head Start slots (National Head Start Association, 2016).|
|Migrant and Seasonal Head Start||A smaller program within Head Start, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start provides child care services to nearly 30,000 children of migrant farm workers. It was created to ensure that young children would not be cared for by their parents in the fields, where they could potentially be exposed to dangerous chemicals and extreme weather conditions (National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, 2015).|
|Child Care and Development Fund||This block grant program provides federal funding to states, territories, and tribes to assist low-income parents with the cost of child care so they can work or receive education and/or training. Participating families receive either a voucher that can be used to pay for child care in a state-approved facility or a contracted slot in a child care facility. The program enables families to enroll in center-based facilities and preschools that are funded privately by nonprofit and for-profit entities. In 2013, approximately 1.45 million children and more than 870,000 families received child care assistance on a monthly basis from this program.|
|State-Funded Prekindergarten Programs||An estimated 4 percent of the nation’s 3-year-olds and 29 percent of its 4-year-olds are served by state-funded prekindergarten programs (Barnett et al., 2015). The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) includes competitive grant funding for early childhood education, to be administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goals of this new funding are to improve access to and the quality of preschool by enhancing coordination and collaboration across the various systems that provide early childhood education. Most state programs are administered by the state education department and consist of mixed delivery systems; however, public funding for preschool also is provided to students in community-based and private child care centers and nursery schools (Bornfreund, 2015; Demma, 2015).|
* In 2015, a family of four earning less than $24,250 was considered below the federal poverty level (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2015).
gitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) dataset (Espinosa et al., 2013). This study found that the proportion of DLLs in nonparental care was lower than the proportion of English-only children at all ages assessed (9, 24, and 52 months). About one-third of the DLLs and one-half of the English-only children were in an out-of-home ECE setting at 9 and 24 months, whereas about two-thirds of DLLs and three-fourths of English-only children were in some form of ECE at 52 months. When the analysis adjusted for family demographic variables, however, no reliable differences were found between DLL and English-only families in the use of ECE programs. This finding suggests that the use of nonparental ECE services is driven by such factors as socioeconomic status rather than language status. Some differences were noted, however, in the types of ECE DLLs attended even after controlling for family demographic factors: DLLs were more likely than English-only children to be in a relative’s care at 9 and 24 months and less likely than all other groups to be in child care homes. Significantly, once the analysis controlled for family demographics, the quality of services did not differ between programs that DLLs attended at 2 years and center-based ECE they attended at 52 months. Informal family-based child care programs, which preschool DLLs attended at slightly higher rates than their
English-only counterparts at 52 months, were found to be of lower quality than the center-based programs after adjusting for demographic variables.
This study found further that the youngest DLLs—infants and toddlers—were most likely to have a provider who spoke their home language when they were cared for by relatives (93%) or in a child care home. The data collected for the study do not reveal to what extent or how these ECE providers used the DLLs’ home language with infants and toddlers in the ECE setting, only that they had the ability to do so. In contrast, only 23 percent of the children attending center-based programs at 52 months had a provider who spoke and reported using the children’s home language in the classroom. This study also found that DLL infants and toddlers were most likely to receive bilingual services when they were 9 months old; less likely at 24 months; and unlikely at 52 months, when they were more likely to attend center-based ECE (Espinosa et al., 2013). Notably, informal care by relatives and in family child care settings was found to be lower in overall quality than center-based care. In summary, this large nationally representative study shows that in the United States, DLLs who attend center-based ECE programs have fewer opportunities than their infant and toddler counterparts to develop proficiency in both of their languages, as English is the most common language used for instruction in preschools.
Taken together, these findings represent a challenge to the ECE professional community. Evidence indicates that DLLs benefit greatly from high-quality center-based ECE services, as well as from exposure to their first language in addition to a second (e.g., English). Yet currently, most center-based ECE programs have limited capacity to offer bilingual support (Adair, 2015). In addition, most infant and toddler DLLs receive informal ECE services, which often are rated lower in overall quality than center-based programs. These informal settings are where the youngest DLLs are most likely to experience support for continued development of their home language, but least likely to experience stimulating interactions that support conceptual and academic learning that is important to kindergarten readiness. The challenge for policy and practice, then, is how to both improve overall quality in informal ECE and increase the capacity of center-based programs to provide culturally and linguistically responsive care and education and to support the development of both languages.
Effective Preschool Practices
Strong evidence across multiple studies and decades of research indicates that a year or two of high-quality center-based ECE for 3- and 4-year-olds will improve these children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills at kindergarten entry (Barnett, 2011; Gormley et al., 2004; Karoly and Gonzalez, 2011; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Yoshikawa et al.,
2013). A meta-analysis integrating evaluations conducted between 1965 and 2007 of 84 diverse early education programs for young children found significant impacts of preschool attendance across cognitive, language, and school achievement outcomes (Duncan and Magnusen, 2013). Specifically, this meta-analysis found evidence of about a third of a year of additional learning, beyond what might have occurred without access to ECE. Other studies have yielded similar results. These studies include well-known small demonstration programs such as Perry Preschool (Schweinhart et al., 2005), which resulted in long-term positive schooling and life outcomes, as well as evaluations of large publicly funded preschool programs such as Head Start, which typically yield more modest effects (Puma et al., 2012). When analyzed across studies, the average impact of ECE on long-term academic success has been found to be larger than the average impact of many other well-known educational interventions, including class-size reductions in elementary schools and comprehensive school reform (Borman et al., 2003). A set of secondary analyses was conducted using the 2011 ECLS-K and the ECLS-B national datasets in combination with the evaluation results of the Tulsa Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program and Boston Public School Prekindergarten Program. These analyses found that high-quality universal prekindergarten programs could dramatically reduce or even eliminate gaps in reading and math achievement at kindergarten entry between children of color—specifically African American and Hispanic children—and their white peers, as well as between low-income children and their higher-income peers (Friedman-Krauss et al., 2016, p. 15).
When their quality is relatively high, ECE programs show larger impacts on children’s development and achievement immediately after the program and are most likely to result in long-term academic gains that are measurable later in schooling (Yoshikawa et al., 2013). While not everyone agrees on the essential features of high-quality preschool or why some effects appear to diminish during the elementary school years (Barnett, 2011), findings from rigorous experimental studies, several meta-analyses, and research reviews all highlight certain common elements generally considered to be part of a high-quality program for all preschool children (see Box 5-3).
These program features have been shown to be important for multiple outcomes (Barnett, 2011; Camilli et al., 2010; Pianta et al., 2009; Schweinhart et al., 2006). These outcomes include improved school readiness skills, particularly in the academic areas of language, literacy, and mathematics (Barnett et al., 2007; Magnuson and Waldfogel, 2008). Some studies also have shown that children who attend high-quality preschool programs have better academic achievement in high school, are more likely to complete high school and enroll in postsecondary education (Barnett, 2008; Campbell et al., 2012; Heckman et al., 2015), and exhibit higher lev-
els of adult functioning with significant cost-benefit returns on investment (Heckman, 2010; Heckman et al., 2015). Further, many of these features of high-quality preschool programs have been shown to have stronger associations with long-term outcomes for low-income children than for middle-class children (Magnuson et al., 2007).
Features of High-Quality ECE Programs for DLLs
Given the specific challenges and opportunities DLLs face in school and the growing number of such students in the United States, it is important to know how high-quality ECE programs impact these children in particular,
as well as the features of quality that are important to their development and achievement and any additional educational enhancements that may be needed to improve their short- and long-term outcomes.
Most studies focused on the features of ECE programs and children’s outcomes, such as those listed in Box 5-3, have either not included DLLs, not disaggregated results by language status, or administered cognitive and social assessments exclusively in English (Espinosa and López, 2007; National Research Council, 2008). Consequently, an evidence base that can inform the design of effective and high-quality ECE programs for DLLs is just beginning to emerge. Nonetheless, this emergent research is converging on findings regarding some of the elements of ECE programs that are important for DLLs: (1) the global quality of the ECE environment (including its positive emotional climate), (2) the language of instruction, (3) specific instructional and assessment practices, (4) teacher/provider qualifications and language abilities, and (5) home-school collaboration practices (Castro, 2014; Espinosa, 2013).
Since features of high-quality ECE instruction have been linked to positive language, literacy, and mathematics outcomes for most children, there is probably considerable overlap between what constitutes effective practice for monolingual English speakers and DLLs (Downer et al., 2012; Espinosa, 2010, 2013). Therefore, what is known about high-quality ECE in general is likely the foundation for effective practices for DLLs. However, multiple studies have concluded that basic high-quality ECE instruction must be enhanced to meet the unique linguistic and developmental needs of DLLs (Castro et al., 2011; Espinosa, 2010; Goldenberg et al., 2013; Roberts and Neal, 2004). Certain aspects of preschool instruction, such as a focus on oral language development and early literacy and math skills, as well as the creation of social environments that foster positive peer and adult relationships, are clearly important for all children. However, most recent research identifies specific instructional accommodations or enhancements as being critical aspects of high-quality ECE for DLLs.
An emerging focus of research is how to define and measure the quality of ECE for DLLs, given that most measures of ECE classroom quality were developed for use in settings with English-only instruction and/or monolingual populations (Castro et al., 2011; Zepeda, 2015). A review of the literature from the past decade conducted by the Center for Early Care and Education Research-Dual Language Learners (CECER-DLL) found that widely used instruments for measuring the quality of ECE programs functioned similarly for DLL and English-monolingual populations in the small number of studies that have examined this question. Measures designed to examine supports for DLLs specifically appeared to capture different dimensions of the environment from those captured by the general quality measures (Center for Early Care and Education Research-Dual Language
Learners, 2011). This review of 49 commonly used measures of the quality of ECE in center-based and/or home-based settings found that “it is not possible to draw conclusions about the validity of specific measures for use with DLLs, given that there were few studies for any particular tool. Only two research studies included measures that were designed specifically for examining early care and education for DLL populations” (p. 1). Thus, specific features of quality that have been linked to important gains for DLLs typically are not part of the preschool classroom/program quality improvement process or in many cases, ECE program monitoring or evaluation systems.
Additional evidence from a nationally representative study indicates that DLLs and their English-speaking peers are impacted by ECE experiences in slightly different ways. In a secondary analysis of the ECLS-K dataset, Crosnoe (2007) found that children from Mexican immigrant families generally benefited less than their U.S. born, English-speaking counterparts and may experience some unintended consequences when they attend formal ECE programs. Crosnoe found that while children of Mexican immigrant families gained cognitively from attending ECE programs, they also jeopardized the health, social, and emotional advantages of maintaining their L1 as they became more proficient in English and assimilated into American culture (Jackson et al., 2010). DLLs benefit from high-quality ECE environments just as monolingual English speakers do, although possibly to a lesser extent, but care is necessary that the academic benefits they realize are not associated with unintended social-emotional costs.
By contrast, other research has found that when DLLs attend high-quality preschool programs, they actually experience greater gains in their emergent English abilities relative to their English-only counterparts (Gormley, 2008; Gormley et al., 2005). Some studies have shown that preschool DLLs benefit more from attending center-based ECE programs such as Head Start relative to the general Head Start population (Bloom and Weiland, 2015; Cooper and Lanza, 2014; Lee et al., 2014). As Head Start and most state prekindergarten programs target low-income families and focus explicitly on language and literacy outcomes (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010), it is indeed likely that Head Start and other center-based preschool programs provide critical exposure and opportunities to learn English prior to kindergarten for non-English-speaking preschoolers. However, DLLs most often enter these preschool programs with lower language and early literacy scores relative to their English-only peers (Gormley, 2008; Páez et al., 2011). Therefore, even though they may make equivalent or greater gains relative to those realized by their English-only peers, DLLs begin preschool with lower language scores, which persist when they enter kindergarten (e.g., 0.4 standard deviation lower) (Miller and Garcia, 2008).
Results of an evaluation of the Educare Program, a comprehensive approach to ECE for low-income children ages 0-5 (Yazejian et al., 2015), reveal that Spanish-speaking DLLs who entered the program during infancy and who were enrolled continuously had higher English language scores at age 5 than those who entered the program at age 3. Educare implements most elements of general high-quality ECE—such as lead teachers with a bachelor’s degree, small child-staff ratios, ongoing professional development for teachers, continuous use of data to improve program quality, and extensive family engagement activities. Most of the DLLs enrolled in Educare (95%) speak Spanish in the home, and the majority of classrooms with DLLs (70%) have at least one adult who speaks Spanish. The Educare evaluation showed that although most instruction is conducted in English, DLLs do receive some support in their L1. Although how much or what type of L1 support is provided is unknown, the DLLs attending Educare programs did not show the decreases in their standardized Spanish language scores that have been reported in other English language immersion approaches to ECE for DLLs (Espinosa, 2013). This evaluation therefore confirmed that early and continuous English learning opportunities combined with support for continued development of the child’s L1 in high-quality programs can go a long way toward reducing the achievement gap at kindergarten entry (Espinosa, 2013; Rodriguez et al., 1995; Winsler et al., 1999a).
While there are no rigorous studies or clear consensus on the types and amounts of support for each language that are most effective for DLLs, most scholars agree that high-quality early learning opportunities will positively influence the school readiness of DLLs (Barnett, 2008; Camilii et al., 2011; Espinosa, 2010). Further, while it appears that DLLs make significant English language gains when they attend high-quality preschool programs, generic high quality without attention to the unique language needs of DLLs is probably not sufficient to significantly reduce the achievement gap at kindergarten entry and ensure long-term educational success. The features of high quality measured by common preschool quality assessments most likely need to be supplemented with specific instructional practices and strategies that have been shown to promote and accelerate learning and development for DLLs (Castro et al., 2011; Espinosa, 2013; Goldenberg et al., 2013).
Language of instruction A feature of ECE programs that may be uniquely important to the learning and development of DLLs is the language of instruction. This issue has been the most intensely debated aspect of the education of DLLs in K-12 settings for decades and is often politically charged (Gándara and Hopkins, 2010). All educators and scholars agree that to succeed in school and participate in civic life in the United States, all
children need to develop strong English proficiency, literacy, and academic content skills (see Chapter 7). However, questions about the ongoing role of DLLs’ L1 as English skills deepen, the social and cultural costs of losing proficiency in L1, the role of ECE programs in systematically supporting and promoting L1 development, and community values that may promote English-only approaches have not been resolved. Further, many practical questions remain around the best methods for promoting English language development while continuing to support multiple L1s in English-dominant ECE settings.
As discussed above, systematic exposure to English during the preschool years will lead to rapid gains in certain aspects of English language skills by kindergarten entry. What is less clear is how to maintain these early gains when more advanced linguistic skills are needed for challenging academic content, and what role the child’s L1 plays in the development of these more advanced conceptual and linguistic skills that are so necessary for later school success.
Evidence indicates, moreover, that supporting the child’s L1 while adding English can promote higher levels of achievement in English (August and Shanahan, 2006; Castro et al., 2011; Méndez et al., 2015; Winsler et al., 1999a). Thus, programs that intentionally use both languages can promote emergent bilingualism, a characteristic that carries linguistic and cognitive advantages that may be valuable in later development (Saiz and Zoido, 2005), as well as advanced conceptual development. At best, then, preschool instruction that systematically uses DLLs’ L1 while also introducing English contributes to growth in skills in both languages (Barnett et al., 2007; Burchinal et al., 2012; Durán et al., 2010; Winsler et al., 1999a). At worst, there is no difference in English language skills but an advantage in L1 growth when the L1 is part of the instructional model (Barnett et al., 2007; Bernhard et al., 2006; Durán et al., 2010; Farver et al., 2009; Winsler et al., 1999a).
An evaluation of the effects of state-funded preschool education in 11 states showed that DLL enrollees’ average reading and math scores were higher when they received greater amounts of instruction in Spanish (Burchinal et al., 2012; Vitiello et al., 2011). Likewise, a pilot study contrasting the effects of a bilingual versus English-only targeted literacy intervention on the development of DLLs’ emergent literacy skills found that the bilingual approach produced significantly higher vocabulary and print knowledge gains (Farver et al., 2009). In addition, a small, randomized trial in federally funded Head Start classrooms that differed only in teachers’ language of instruction showed that enrollees in the Spanish instruction classes had higher Spanish vocabulary and phonics scores (Durán et al., 2010). This finding is important because of related research demonstrating the potential for cross-linguistic transfer of such skills to
children’s emergent literacy in English (Anthony et al., 2009; Atwill et al., 2010; August and Shanahan, 2006; Dickinson et al., 2004; Farver et al., 2013; Goldenberg, 2013; see Chapter 4). In summary, research clearly indicates that when DLLs are given opportunities to develop high levels of proficiency in both of their languages, they realize linguistic, cognitive, and academic advantages that are significant and lasting (Conboy, 2013; Sandhofer and Uchikoshi, 2013).
Program approaches In reality, although recent research favors a balanced approach to bilingualism, dual language instruction with the goal of biliteracy and bilingualism is not possible in many contexts. All types of ECE programs throughout the country, such as Head Start, state prekindergarten, community-based child care, and home-based child care, are today reporting not only more DLLs but also representation of a greater number of different languages among the children and families they serve. At the same time, few ECE teachers are fluent in more than one language (Adair, 2015), and few teachers certified in ECE have received focused training in cultural and linguistic diversity (Espinosa, 2009; Zepeda, 2015). In contexts in which teachers are unable to instruct in the L1s of the children in their classrooms, curriculum developers have devised strategies that teachers can implement to support these children’s continued development of their L1 (Castro et al., 2006; Espinosa, 2010; Goldenberg et al., 2013; Magruder et al., 2013). For example, Goldenberg and colleagues (2013) recommend the following strategies:
- having someone (e.g., teachers, family members, volunteers who speak the child’s L1) read to DLLs in their home language;
- creating books that use the child’s L1 (see Box 5-4);
- teaching rhymes, letters, and numbers in DLLs’ L1 (with parental or community support as needed) while providing opportunities for child-adult interaction;
- teaching all children the greetings of each other’s L1s;
- highlighting cognates and connections between words in the L1 and English from storybooks and themes;
- informing parents of topics being discussed in the classroom so they can help build conceptual knowledge in the L1 at home before DLLs are exposed to them in the classroom; and
- making time and space for adults who speak the children’s L1 to interact with them in that language.
While these specific strategies have not been evaluated, there is some evidence that this approach of using mainly English for instructional purposes but systematically and intentionally bringing the DLL’s home language into
the classroom can capitalize on the child’s existing linguistic knowledge while applying those skills in the L1 to the task of learning English, and also build conceptual knowledge.
Specific Instructional Practices
Recent studies have documented the value of specific instructional practices for DLLs. For example, explaining the meaning of vocabulary words and using them in different contexts (Collins, 2010) can improve DLLs’ reading comprehension as well as strengthen their oral language skills (Lesaux, 2009). Moreover, instructional strategies that promote narrative skills, listening comprehension, and the understanding of complex grammatical structures will improve DLL preschoolers’ early English literacy skills (University of Chicago, 2010). Such strategies include the use of
sensitive and responsive teachers (Burchinal et al., 2012); opportunities for individual and small-group interactions; an intentional focus on oral language development, such as listening and speaking combined with explicit vocabulary instruction (Brydon, 2010; Collins, 2010; Davison et al., 2011); skilled, interactive methods of storybook reading in both languages (Leung et al., 2011); emphasis on the development of academic English; frequent assessment of progress in both languages (Espinosa and Gutiérrez-Clellan, 2013); and strategies that promote English comprehension while leveraging knowledge of L1 as a bridge to English (Lugo-Neris et al., 2010).
As noted earlier, strategies that utilize DLLs’ home language, such as reading stories in both English and the L1, have been linked to improved literacy outcomes. Using specific core words in the child’s home language to activate knowledge in that language and then explicitly connecting that knowledge to English can facilitate dual language learning (Castro et al., 2010; Gillanders and Castro, 2011). Evidence also suggests that systematically incorporating elements of children’s home culture can increase their engagement and interest in preschool and the primary grades (Goldenberg et al., 2008).
The underlying principle for DLLs is that they need additional supports to comprehend the meaning of lessons because they are simultaneously learning the new language and the cognitive and conceptual content. These supports may include explicit bridging between the two languages; pictorial, visual, and multimedia cues that convey meaning; interactive and physical actions linked to meanings; direct instruction on important features of English, including vocabulary and phonics; use of culturally familiar themes and materials; and working closely with families to promote the continued development of the home language. Based on a careful synthesis of these and similar research findings, Espinosa and Magruder (2015) recommend a set of instructional strategies that monolingual English-speaking teachers can use to support the goals of L1 maintenance and English language development (see Box 5-5). It is important for all ECE staff to be proficient in English and use varied vocabulary and correct grammar when implementing these specific strategies in English. Although these specific evidence-based practices need further research, the weight of the evidence points to the need for all preschool teachers to integrate and extend DLLs’ knowledge in their L1 and apply it to the challenge of learning English while they are also learning new age-appropriate content.
An emerging line of research addresses the implementation of the above practices (Downer and Yazejian, 2013; Durlak, 2010; Meyers et al., 2012). Such research is needed to better understand how these evidence-based practices can be adapted to different real-world contexts and diverse populations of children, families, and teachers. Successful implementation will require clear definition of the program model and specific strategies,
sufficient professional development, coaching and/or mentoring for educators, and means of collecting data on the fidelity of implementation and indicators with which to gauge impacts on targeted outcomes. The goal of achieving educational parity and reducing the achievement gap for DLLs can help motivate the increased investments necessary to take these steps toward meeting the needs of DLLs. (For a discussion of teacher qualifications and competencies needed to utilize these instructional practices effectively, see Chapter 8.)
Family Engagement Practices
A robust research literature emphasizes the importance of school-family partnerships to improving outcomes for children of all families (Arias and Morillo-Campbell, 2008; Halgunseth et al., 2013). Although research has identified lower levels of such engagement with families of DLLs, specific practices can enable programs to reduce the “language, cultural, and social networking barriers that keep DLL families from participating in their children’s schools” (Halgunseth et al., 2013, p. 135). These practices include hiring bilingual staff, demonstrating respect for the families’ beliefs and customs, being flexible about the scheduling of school events, translating information into the languages of DLL families (Halgunseth et al., 2009; Ramirez, 2003), and helping families recognize that their language and culture are strengths that should be shared at home and in the program. Some members of families with DLLs may believe that the family should stop speaking their home language and shift to English. In these cases, ECE professionals can make clear that the home language is a linguistic strength and can be used in rich language interactions throughout the day and across all contexts with no fear of doing harm. Families are critical partners in the goal of maintaining and supporting home language development, and “the entire program benefits when educators incorporate diverse cultures, languages, and talents of DLL families into the program’s learning environment and curriculum” (Halgunseth, 2013, p. 144). Many researchers have recommended that programs hire bilingual and bicultural family liaisons to enhance communication and help build positive relationships between DLL families and ECE programs. Specific family engagement practices proven to be effective for DLL families include the following:
- addressing the bilingual/bicultural needs of DLL families,
- developing warm and mutually respectful relationships with DLL families,
- engaging in regular two-way communication,
- using a strengths-based approach when working with DLL families,
- engaging families in supporting their children’s development at home, and
- utilizing community resources to support family engagement (Aria and Morillo-Campbell, 2008; Halgunseth et al., 2013).
Conclusion 5-1: Similar to all young children, dual language learners (DLLs) require comprehensive care and education that includes warm, nurturing, and responsive relationships, as well as sustained,
rich, diverse, and responsive language interactions. In addition, specific instructional strategies and language scaffolds that improve English language comprehension have been shown to be important for DLLs to reduce the achievement gap with their monolingual peers at kindergarten entry.
Conclusion 5-2: Dual language learners (DLLs) need both systematic exposure to English and ongoing support for L1 maintenance and development for two major reasons: (1) DLLs exposed to both languages show as much growth in English language and literacy skills as those instructed only in English; and (2) children immersed in English at an early age often show declines in their L1 skills, and strong language skills in a child’s first language have been shown to facilitate English language development.
Conclusion 5-3: The quality of language learning opportunities in both infant/toddler programs and informal early care and education (ECE) settings where many dual language learners (DLLs) are enrolled has been shown to be lower than that of preschool programs and more formal, center-based ECE programs. However, shared linguistic and cultural backgrounds between DLL families and staff in ECE programs are more likely for children ages birth to 3 and in informal ECE settings than in center-based ECE programs, allowing for more L1 support for these DLLs.
Conclusion 5-4: It is important for early care and education and home visiting providers to know specific information about individual dual language learners’ backgrounds, including their early language learning opportunities, family cultural values, and prior knowledge, so they can individualize instruction and services.
Conclusion 5-5: Dual language learners benefit from consistent exposure to both their L1 and English in early care and education settings. Research is limited on how much and what type of support for each language is most effective in supporting bilingual development.
Conclusion 5-6: All early care and education teachers of dual language learners can learn and implement strategies that systematically introduce English during the infant, toddler, and preschool years while simultaneously promoting maintenance of the home language—an important principle. Not all teachers can teach in all languages, but all teachers can learn specific strategies that support the maintenance of all languages.
Conclusion 5-7: There are critical gaps in research on the federal home visiting program serving dual language learners and their families. Research is limited, specifically, regarding model effectiveness with respect to child and family outcomes such as child health and development, including language and school readiness; linkages and referrals to social and health services; maternal health; and supportive parenting practices.
Conclusion 5-8: Dual language learners (DLLs) families are currently underserved by the federal home visiting program. Although research supports the capacity of all children, including those with disabilities, to become bilingual, home visiting programs are not using the extant evidence on early language development to guide families in supporting their child’s first language and understanding its importance for learning the second language and for healthy psychosocial development. Guidelines for home visitors need to include talking with parents of DLLs about the benefits of a strong L1, including as the basis for developing English language competence. In addition, DLL families are numerically underrepresented and therefore underserved by the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Visiting program.
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