This blog is part of a series—reported in partnership with New America—that explores California’s innovative investments in professional development for teachers working with the state’s growing population of dual language learners (DLLs). Click here to read the previous post in the series.
As California adopts policies that value bilingualism, early childhood teachers need training and support if they are to ensure the children in their care are ready for kindergarten. An early learning classroom in Los Angeles can be juggling a dozen different languages, including native dialects. In the Imperial Valley, immigrant or refugee children may stay only a short time. Teachers must learn to meet those children’s needs even if they themselves don’t speak the child’s language.
Although nearly 60 percent of young children birth to age five in the state are dual language learners (DLLs), their teachers and caregivers struggle to get the needed training to support them.
Many providers work long hours, have no staff to cover them, or lack transportation, said Melinda Brookshire, senior program associate at WestEd, which is helping to coordinate California’s Preschool Instructional Network (CPIN).
Realizing this, CPIN used new available funding to offer online professional development through the California Department of Education that trains early educators to better serve DLLs. CPIN was one of six organizations to receive grants under the state’s $5 million investment to better support DLLs.
“It’s a lot easier if they can hop online for an hour or two, get some new strategies and try things out,” Brookshire said.
The course content covers the latest research in language development and acquisition, math, and early literacy for young DLLs. It also contains content on social and emotional development and offers examples of research-based practices and strategies for working in a diverse early childhood classroom. Learning pathways are available for family child care, early childhood educators (center-focused) and administrators, and coaches and can also be used by family, friend, and neighbor (FFN) caregivers.
Each module encourages teachers to try out what they are learning in their classroom and discuss the results online. “We encourage them to experiment with how it might look in their own settings,” Brookshire said.
For one group of family child care providers in Ventura County, the opportunities for asynchronous learning were really beneficial.
“It helped to try things a little bit at a time and figure it out,” Brookshire said. “And then come back together and talk about it.”
For example, one module encourages providers to enhance comprehension of information in English by using realia during circle time or to use visuals like pictures and charts. Providers were encouraged to use a felt board to help tell a story and then leave the felt board out so children can play with it and retell the stories themselves.
This practice component of the modules often led to robust conversations afterwards among providers.
“They want to know ‘What do I do? How do I do this?’ There are just not enough resources out there,” Brookshire said. Therefore pulling out a very small group of practices and strategies for them to try is very powerful.
To widen the impact, CPIN will also train leaders and administrators in each region on the new course content with the idea that they will then share the new content with additional educators.
Also extending impact, the Faculty Initiative Project received new funding to develop more DLL-specific content in the California community college and the state university systems.
Working with experts Linda Espinosa and Marlene Zepeda, the project identified additional competencies and areas of development for educators working with DLLs. For example, educators should understand programmatic approaches for working with DLLs and know strategies for supporting DLLs’ home language while also intentionally exposing DLLs to English. This information was shared widely with early childhood faculty across the state, so it could be incorporated into higher education coursework.
Caroline Pietrangelo Owens, the project director, said they wanted to ensure California early childhood faculty have the skills they need to support prospective teachers so they are ready and able to teach in linguistically diverse classrooms.
And in the wake of COVID- 19, with families needing more support than ever before, this kind of preparation is going to be crucial, said Patricia Lozano, the executive director of Early Edge California. Lozano said advocates in the state are working together to help make sure the early childhood workforce has the resources they need to support DLLs. “Now more than ever in this time of uncertainty, we need flexibility and multiple options for providers so they can support children and families.”