Action Step and Orientation
E5. Ensure that evidence-based practices are used to respond to the diverse needs of all children.
In Part 1, you will learn about cultural diversity and its relation to language and literacy development in young children.
In Part 2, you will focus specifically on evidence-based practices to support language and literacy development for children whose home language is not English.
To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.
Part 1—Diversity in the Early Childhood Setting
Culture and language are influential factors in children’s learning. Creating a system for all children means that teachers purposefully consider the cultural, linguistic, and other factors (background knowledge, family beliefs and habits, and experiences) children bring from their homes and communities (Klingner, Sorrells, & Barrera, 2007; National Center on Response to Intervention, April 2010).
A key idea of culturally responsive instruction is taking an assets-based approach when working with children and their families. This means that the language and cultural knowledge that children bring are assets rather than deficits or obstacles to learning. It also includes a view of families as “capable advocates for their children and as valuable resources in school improvement efforts” (Ortiz, 2001, p. 1). High-quality evidence-based instruction requires staff to know children individually, to learn about the literacy practices of their homes and communities, to have a strong knowledge of children’s language backgrounds, and to understand the stages of second-language acquisition. Knowing the social, cultural, and linguistic differences among children allows staff to respond to these unique characteristics and provide language and literacy instruction that builds on prior language, knowledge, and experience.
“Today’s classrooms are characterized by diversity of student ability, achievement, social and emotional development, background experience, culture, language, and economic means. Because teachers are responsible for providing effective instruction to all students, they must design instruction that . . . incorporates various levels of support and flexible teaching methods, materials, and assessments” (Alber-Morgan, 2010, p. 1).
This diversity includes children who are developing at different rates within expected ranges, as well as those with developmental delays, as discussed in Lesson E4—Outside collaboration.
One of the most important ideas related to Action Step E5 is that teachers know the children in their care. Therefore, your site/campus-based leadership team needs to have an effective system in place for providing relevant data to staff and communicating the importance of knowing each child enrolled in the program. Your team should provide all staff with information regarding the diverse needs of children and ensure that teachers have relevant demographic and assessment data on each child they serve. This data will help teachers identify children’s different backgrounds and characteristics, such as those who speak a home language other than English, those who have not met developmental milestones and need extra support, or those who may have had limited pre-literacy experiences before enrolling in the center or school. This information will likely come from a variety of sources such as interviews or surveys with parents or other caregivers, medical professionals, informal observations and screening data (if available), and teachers’ thoughtful observation of children.
Your staff will benefit not simply from receiving this information, but also from discussing it, asking questions, and seeking clarification. Meetings and discussions of this sort provide an opportunity to assess the current level of staff’s knowledge and expertise in meeting the diverse needs of learners and to identify professional development needs. In particular, the leaders at your site or campus will need to ensure that staff understand how diverse characteristics impact literacy development and know how to provide language and literacy experiences to support children with diverse home languages, different levels of development in language, and different experiences with language outside of the early childhood site.
For example, in some cultures or in some families, parents may believe that “children should be seen and not heard” and will not be eager to embrace the idea of encouraging children to talk and share their ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Families with an authoritarian parenting style may not be inclined to give children choices, preferring to dictate what they should do and how to do it. Other families may place a high value on preschool readiness skills such as letter and number recognition but may not spend much time in conversation with their children or see the value in more open-ended play activities. Thus, early childhood staff need to recognize that (1) some children may be trying to cope with two very different sets of expectations for their behavior and use of language; and (2) some parents and families may need to be educated about why certain ways of engaging children in language and literacy activities are valuable and beneficial. Such conversations need to take place in ways that are respectful of families’ differing cultural styles or traditional beliefs. You will learn more about working with families in Lesson E6—Empowering parents and families, but the current Action Step asks you to consider how your staff can provide children who come from diverse cultures and family belief systems with language and literacy experiences that are both evidence-based and respectful of differences.
You and your team may seek to increase knowledge in this area through book study or training on culturally relevant practices for early childhood. You will find some useful books in the To Learn More section of Part 2. Another important way to learn more about your children’s cultures is to welcome parents and families to share this information with you, both formally and informally.
An example of a formal approach might be to include a questionnaire or individual parent meeting in your enrollment process for children entering your program. You might ask about cultural or family traditions and parents’ goals and expectations for their child, which can often provide useful information for further discussion. A more informal approach might be to talk with individual parents as occasions arise, for example asking a parent how to say a particular word in his or her home language, showing positive interest in the foods the child brings from home, or inviting parents to teach the children or staff a song from their home culture that they sing with their child at home.
Integrating the discussion of culturally relevant practice into professional development sessions is also useful. For example, if you are planning training on ways to increase print awareness among preschoolers, you might ask the trainer to include a discussion or allow time for your staff to explore how to make those activities culturally relevant to the children they work with. This might include finding and discussing examples of environmental print that children see in their neighborhoods, that are meaningful to their home experiences and languages, and that reflect how printed language is used by adults in their communities.
For examples of specific practices to support child development, such as increasing print awareness in preschoolers, see the interactive version of the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines and use the tabs to click on the desired age range and skills (e.g., “Language Development”).
In addition to providing teacher training, leaders should encourage collaboration among staff with different expertise. This could mean that co-teaching or peer coaching relationships are formed among early childhood caregivers and staff who are from different cultural and language backgrounds. It may also be beneficial to request consultation and/or training from special educators, such as Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD) staff and Early Childhood Intervention therapists so that staff can effectively adapt lessons and strategies to children with a range of needs. Within this kind of collaborative framework, staff can build on one another’s strengths, increase their own specialized knowledge, and provide the best care and instruction for all children.
Furthermore, as Action Step E4 states, your team needs to establish communication systems that facilitate collaboration and the coordination of services among all stakeholders, including those that serve children who have been identified with delays or disabilities and require special services. Facilitating collaboration supports the message that everyone is responsible for the care and development of all children. It takes time to plan meetings and thoughtful agendas to support the goal of improved collaboration and communication, but these are essential steps in effectively serving all your children.
TO LEARN MORE: Click on the links below to learn more about meeting the diverse learning needs of young children.
- Services for Texas Students with Disabilities Ages 3–5 on the TEA’s website contains information about services and state-related resources for children ages 3–5 who have disabilities.
- The U.S. Department of Education IDEA website contains the basics of early intervention for children 0–2.
- The National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) Engaging Diverse Families contains information focused on supporting collaboration between culturally and linguistically diverse families and the centers that serve their children.
- The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, is a resource library of useful information that can help stakeholders learn about and advance EL education. It includes resources and research on young English learners.
- The Resources section of The National Association for Gifted and Talented website contains information about planning and delivering quality programming and instruction.
- The Department of Assistance and Rehabilitative Services, Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) offers information about evaluations and eligibility for special services, as well as assistance in planning appropriate services.
- The National Center for Learning Disabilities contains comprehensive resources for empowering parents and advocating for equal rights and opportunities for students identified with learning disabilities.
Part 2—English Learners in Early Childhood Settings
As mentioned in Part 1, an assets approach to education sees a child’s home language as an asset, something valuable to preserve, develop, and build on.
We know from extensive research that children benefit in multiple ways by fully developing oral language and literacy skills in their first language and that these skills transfer to literacy development in a second language. Therefore, you and your team will need to communicate the importance of first-language literacy development to staff and equip them with the knowledge and skills to support that development, whenever possible.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) encourages early childhood sites to provide “a welcoming environment that respects diversity, supports children’s ties to their families and community, and promotes both second language acquisition and preservation of children’s home languages and cultural identities.” In addition, the organization presents the following recommendations:
- Ensure that children remain cognitively, linguistically, and emotionally connected to their home language and culture.
- Encourage home language and literacy development, knowing that this contributes to children’s ability to acquire English language proficiency.
- Help develop essential concepts in the children’s first language and within cultural contexts that they understand.
- Support and preserve home language usage.
- Develop and provide alternative, creative strategies to promote all children’s participation and learning.
- Provide children with many ways of showing what they know and can do. (NAEYC, 2009, pp. 1–2)
The full text of these recommendations and more detailed information are provided in the position statements on linguistic and cultural diversity on the NAEYC website.
“Of course, given the cultural diversity of Texas, some providers will not have the resources to ensure that all children in their care are spoken to in their home language, but when possible, providers should use the child’s home language” (Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, p. 16).
In working with children who are learning English as a second language (whether through bilingual instruction or instruction only in English), it is useful for teachers to understand the stages that children go through when they are learning a second language. It is normal for children (and learners of all ages) to go through an initial “silent” period in which they are focused primarily on listening comprehension and are not yet able to produce the new language. This stage can last from weeks to months, and the most important support for learners in the beginning stages is to receive rich comprehensible input in English. Once children begin to express themselves in the new language, they will most likely speak in one- or two-word utterances, may use longer utterances that include words from both languages, and are likely to try to communicate with gestures (e.g., pointing, pantomiming actions). Just remember that even though children are not producing a lot of language in English, language acquisition is taking place and will continue to take place with the right support.
Teachers can support children who are in the beginning stages of second-language acquisition by providing a language-rich environment that maximizes children’s exposure to new vocabulary and offers multiple opportunities for children to use and practice new language. Some important classroom strategies for children in the second-language acquisition process are as follows:
- Provide English learners with rich input in English by explicitly teaching new vocabulary and using non-linguistic representations (e.g., pictures, objects, gestures, etc.) to teach words.
- Have predictable classroom routines and use repetitive and rich language around these routines.
- During activities, pair English learners with children who possess strong English skills so the English learners can practice and have a real purpose for communication.
- Consistently provide prompts or sentence stems (e.g., “Can I ____?” or “I need to ____”) to scaffold children’s communication in English.
Your staff may recognize that these practices also support language development for native speakers of English. An understanding of the stages of language development, and where each child is on that journey, is key to providing the different levels of language support that are needed. You can learn more about specific instructional strategies that support English learners at different stages of language development in the To Learn More section.
Finally, language and literacy development at home supports literacy development at school. This is equally true for children who speak a language other than English at home. Support in the home language will help children develop pre-literacy skills in English. In Lesson E6—Empowering parents and families, you will learn more about helping families provide language- and literacy-rich environments for their children.
TO LEARN MORE: The links below provide additional information about addressing the needs of very young English learners.
- “Language Acquisition: An Overview” by Kristina Robertson and Karen Ford from the ¡Colorín! Colorado website provides information about the stages of second-language acquisition and different strategies teachers can use for students at each stage. This resource is geared toward learners of all ages, but it includes information and strategies that are appropriate for young children.
- “Culturally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Settings,” pp. 16–17 of the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines, explains how culture and language relate to the implementation of the guidelines.
- Also, see the following articles by Karen Ford for more information about appropriate services and instruction for very young English learners:
NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress in implementing evidence-based practices to respond to children’s diverse needs, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:
- Look over the resources listed in To Learn More for Parts 1 and 2.
- Share demographic and other available data for each child with the staff who serves him or her.
- Set up time to discuss the data and involve teachers in assessing their needs for professional development in using this information to tailor learning experiences for the early childhood populations at your site or campus.
- Review your currently used practices and materials to identify ways to increase the cultural relevance for children you serve.
- Brainstorm how to support the collaboration and coordination of services among all leadership, staff, families, and community specialists.
E5. Ensure that evidence-based practices are used to respond to the diverse needs of all children.
With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E5 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.
In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:
- Refer to Part 1 for information about culturally responsive practices for early childhood settings.
- Refer to Part 2 for information about supporting language development for children who speak a language other than English at home.
Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.
To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.
Alber-Morgan, S., & Alber, S. R. (2010). Using RTI to teach literacy to diverse learners, k-8: Strategies for the inclusive classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Ford, K. (2010). 8 strategies for preschool ELLs’ language and literacy development. Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/36679/
Ford, K. (2011). Early literacy instruction in dual language preschools (Spanish/English). Retrieved from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/40679/
Genesee, F. (2008). Early dual language learning. ZERO TO THREE, 29(1), 17–23. Retrieved from http://main.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/ZTT29-1_sep_08.pdf?docID=7242
Hirschler, J. A. (2005). How teachers support English Learners in the classroom. Head Start Bulletin, #78. Retrieved from http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/culturallinguistic/Dual%20Language%20Learners/ecd/planning_and_literacy/edudev_art_00020_062105.html
Klinger, J. K., McCray Sorrells, A., & Barrera, M. T. (2007). Considerations when implementing response to intervention with culturally and linguistically diverse students. In D. Haager, J. Klingner, & S. Vaughn (Eds.), Evidence-based reading practices for response to intervention (pp. 223–244). Baltimore, MD: Brookes.
Magruder, M. S., Hayslip, W. W., Espinosa, L. M., & Matera, C. (2013). Many languages, one teacher: Supporting language and literacy development for preschool dual language learners. Young Children 68(1), 8–12.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). (2009). Where we stand on responding to linguistic and cultural diversity. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/linguistic
National Center on Response to Intervention. (April 2010). Essential components of RTI – A closer look at response to intervention. Retrieved from http://www.rti4success.org/resource/essential-components-rti-closer-look-response-intervention
Office of Head Start. (2008). Dual language learning: What does it take? Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/cultural-linguistic/Dual%20Language%20Learners/DLL_%20Resources/OHSDefinitionof.htm
Ortiz, A. A. (2001). English language learners with special needs: Effective instructional strategies. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED469207
Texas Early Learning Council. (2013). Texas infant, toddler, and three-year-old early learning guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.littletexans.org