Preschool classrooms are growing more multilingual. Many young children in early education settings can be found speaking English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, and other languages. Some are born in the United States. Many others come to the country from Mexico and Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America.
From 1990 to 2008, the number of young children with immigrant parents doubled, according to a report from the Urban Institute.
As they grow, dual language learners face academic risks. They can have lower scores on cognitive and language assessments. And they can fall behind in their academic work before the end of elementary school, according to a report from the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition.
Individual children’s outcomes are commonly assessed, but there are fewer assessments of educational settings – even though children’s progress is “inextricably linked” with their daily learning environments, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Nonie Lesaux writes in “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” a Strategies for Children report
What’s also needed, Lesaux notes, is “a better understanding of the quality of the learning environments and relationships we provide for our children, and the impact on their outcomes.”
How can providers meet all these children’s needs? How can they create high-quality learning environments that are engaging, fun and educational?
One way is to measure the impact of early learning environments using proven assessment tools.
Research suggests that one such tool is CLASS: the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, according to a white paper written by researcher Virginia E. Vitello.
CLASS is a high-quality measure of teacher/child interactions in pre-K to 12 settings. It can successfully predict learning outcomes for both monolingual students and, according to this latest finding, dual language learners as well.
As the white paper says, “Buysse, Castro, and Peisner-Feinberg (2010) note that high-quality instruction, including effective teacher-student interactions, is critical for all children, especially those learning English as a second language.”
Created by researchers at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, CLASS looks at three domains of teacher/child interactions:
– Emotional support: the warmth and supportiveness of interactions
– Classroom organization: how time and material are used to promote learning and minimize bad behavior; and
– Instructional support: how well teachers encourage higher-order thinking and language development, and how teachers provide feedback
While CLASS predicted outcomes for both dual language and monolingual learners, there is one caveat to bear in mind: CLASS does not measure cultural competence, cultural sensitivity or dual language teaching strategies.
Assessing early learning environments is one more way to help young dual language learners get the best social, emotional and academic benefits that high quality preschool programs can provide.