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REL West and REL Northeast and Islands Host Webinar on Promoting Kindergarten Readiness for Dual Language Learners

November 2019

Nationally, dual language learners (DLLs)—young children learning two or more languages at the same time—comprise 32 percent of the population of children ages 0–8. They are a growing share of children in most states, and three of the four states in the West region—Arizona (41%), California (60%) and Nevada (44%)—have an even higher proportion of DLLs then the national average.[1]

These young learners stand to benefit immensely from high-quality early preschool experiences that can promote their kindergarten readiness and later academic success. Consequently, REL West and REL Northeast and Islands co-sponsored a webinar on DLLs earlier this year entitled Promoting Kindergarten Readiness for Dual Language Learners: Evidence-Based Language Models and Transition Strategies, which attracted over 1,000 registrants.

During the webinar, presenters Linda Espinosa and Whit Hayslip engaged participants through examples of evidence-based strategies for developing or refining language models for DLLs in preschool and for aligning language models between preschool and K–3 settings. This blog post focuses on two key themes from the webinar: supporting English proficiency and enhancing vocabulary development.

“Systematic exposure to English and ongoing support of a child’s home language is critical.”—Linda Espinosa

Supporting proficiency in English

Linda Espinosa, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, began by describing the process of second language acquisition during early childhood and the implications for teacher practice. A key takeaway: Proficiency in a child’s home language (L1) upon entering kindergarten helps with becoming proficient in English (L2). In some elementary schools the focus is often more on English than on supporting both home language and English development. Espinosa emphasized the importance of aligning language program models that support both L1 and L2 from preschool through grade 3.

Supporting vocabulary development

Whit Hayslip, Early Childhood Education Consultant and Former Assistant Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, spoke about language learning and teaching on the preschool through K–3 continuum, including instructional supports for vocabulary development.

Hayslip explained that learning new words can be challenging, but there are effective ways to help children make meaning. Teaching concepts and new words is never a one-time experience. Rather, it requires a connected and layered approach. Creating an intentional message enhances vocabulary development. For example, writing out a sentence and underlining the key vocabulary words—such as, “Today, we are going to observe and build a structure”—embeds the content vocabulary in context and sets the purpose for each lesson.

Hayslip went on to demonstrate how songs and chants can be used to support vocabulary development, weaving academic and content vocabulary into familiar melodies to encourage repetition. To bring his point to life, he burst into song, including singing a reworked version of the popular children’s song If You’re Happy and You Know It:

If you think you can build it
then you can!
What a structure!
If you think you can build it
then you can!
What a structure!
You can stack the blocks up high
it will almost touch the sky.
If you think you can build it
then you can!
What a structure!

Watch a recording of the entire webinar, including Hayslip's enthusiastic musical performance.

The audience was so engaged throughout the webinar that the presenters ran out of time to answer all of the participants’ questions. So, REL West developed three Ask-A-REL memos, which were sent to all registrants and posted on our website:

Our co-sponsor, REL Northeast and Islands, developed three more Ask-A-REL memos:

For more information on REL West’s work to support English Learners, visit our English Learner Students topic page.

[1] Park, M., O’Toole, A. & Katsiafikas, C. (2017). Dual language learners: A national demographic and policy profile. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute.