A solid foundation of early
academic literacy for
English Learner success
A Preschool -Third grade approach
for Spanish-Speaking English Learners
Laurie Olsen, Ph.D.
The Context
• Increasing Hispanic and immigrant
population in the state and nation
• Lack of English and lack of strong literacy
continues to be a barrier to participation,
employment, education
• An enduring and increasing achievement gap
in K-12 for Latinos and English Learners
Children who start behind, stay
• Skills in kindergarten predict academic
achievement in later years
• Initial gaps in “readiness skills” between
EL and English proficient children do
not narrow by 3rd grade - and often
• Initial readiness gaps between ethnic
groups widen by 3rd grade
National & county data
• High quality early childhood education
reduces disparities in outcomes
• Experience in preschool leads to entering
kindergarten more “school ready”
• Strengths in social expression and academic
skills are strong predictors of academic
success through 5th grade
• Self-regulation (rated high by Kinder
teachers) is not linked to later achievement
Defining generic “high quality
ECE” is not sufficient
• High quality ECE reduces disparities in
educational outcomes overall.
• BUT access is a challenge for low-income
families who are not English fluent
• A quality program for English Learners
requires something beyond standard
indicators of “quality” (safety, developmental,
low ratios, partnership with parents)
• High quality preK contributes to meaningfully
higher levels of school achievement among
low SES children, including low SES Hispanics
-- However, there is limited impact in the area
of language development!
• Substantial short-term positive outcomes. But
a Fade out effect of PreK and Full day Kinder
(60-80% of cognitive gains dissipate by Spring
of first grade - by 3rd grade mostly gone)
• For English Learners, the gap narrows but
does not close as a result of preschool
• Lack of preschool models addressing the
specific needs of English Learners and their
• Confusion about what the needs of English
Learners are in early years
• Preparing FOR Kindergarten is not enough the two systems need better alignment and
This workshop:
• Overview of research on language
development for English Learners in
early years
• Share the SEAL model and approach
now being demonstrated/piloted
• Describe the implementation in two
school districts
• Discuss implications for the field
From the research:
– Learning to speak and use language is a
major task of the early years - development of
language is wired into the human brain
– There is a developmental continuum of
language/literacy development in young
children (birth to 8)
– This window of language development is a
unique opportunity for development of
– Young children engaged in two language
worlds have unique needs
Early language development
• Experiences in infancy establish habits of
seeking, noticing and incorporating
experience, as well as schemas for
categorizing and thinking about experience
• Within the first few years, nearly all typically
developing children develop mastery of the
basis for language
• By age 3: children have acquired the basic
rules of grammar, understand much spoken
language, understand as many as a
thousand words and produce several
• By age 4: The system of language is fairly
well established; children ask questions to
develop meaning about the world, which is
encoded in language; vocabulary grows
• A child’s home language is a crucial
foundation for social interactions, cognitive
development, learning about her world, and
emerging literacy
• Language of the home is vehicle for making
and establishing meaningful communicative
relationships, to construct knowledge and test
• Language is a socio-emotional and cultural
phenomenon - key to identity formation
Bilingual development
• Bilingual development is a common and
normal childhood experience.
• Infants distinguish languages and interpret
contextual cues to learn which language is
appropriate within given contexts
• Children with two languages show greater
tissue density in areas associated with
language, memory, focus - and more neural
activity in parts of the brain associated with
language processing.
Myths and
• Learning two languages will confuse children
and lead to delays or disorders
• With less exposure to each language, neither
will become developed fully - and they will
not attain proficiency equal to monolingual
children in either language
I. Importance of rich oral
language development in young
• Verbal interaction is essential in the
construction of knowledge
• Producing language encourages learners to
process language more deeply than when
just listening or receptive.
• Oral language is the bridge to academic
language associated with school and the
development of literacy --
“Early Catastrophe”
The 30 million word gap
• Vocabulary a child uses at 3 is predictive of
language skills at age 9, and directly
predictive of reading comprehension
• Trends in amount of talk, vocabulary growth,
systems of interaction using language is wellestablished by age 3
• Words heard by 3 year olds:
professional families 215,000
working class families 125,000
families on welfare
Hart and Risley, 2003
National Literacy Panel on
Language Minority Children and
Youth (2008)
• Oral language development is critical to
literacy… and is often and increasingly
overlooked in early literacy instruction
and curriculum
Implications for early
• Amount, degree and TYPE of oral
interaction is a big factor in early years
• Important to stimulate the talk that
allows language learners to explore
and clarify concepts, name their world,
wonder and describe
Language develops in
• Young children develop language through
play, social interaction, listening,
experimenting with producing language - in
the context of going about their lives • Much of the early literacy curriculum is
decontextualized “language arts” - phonics,
Development of the home
language is crucial
• Home language development is vulnerable
• Children in English immersion ECE tend to lose
ability to communicate in L1, prefer English,
frequently develop communication problems
with extended families and experience
depressed academic achievement in English
• Myth: there is no research base, it’s just a
matter of politics and opinion
• Myth: Time spent in home language is
wasted time for developing English
• Myth: More and earlier immersion in
English is the best way to acquire English
• Children have more extended and complex
vocabulary and language skills if their home
language is developed
• Bilingual children perform better than
monolinguals on select cognitive tasks
• English Learners make more academic progress
when they have the opportunity to learn in both
their home language and English
Counterproductive common
preschool practices
Get them into English before Kinder as a
primary goal of preschool….
Ending use of home language (it is
actually detrimental and disruptive to
language development, family
relationships and identity development)
Informal, random use of two languages
The SEAL Model
Sobrato Early Academic Literacy
The Sobrato Family
• Mission: “to help create and sustain a
vibrant and healthy community where
all Silicon Valley residents have equal
opportunity to live, work and be
Six foundational components
• Academic language and literacy in English and
• Rich oral language development
• Text-rich environment and curriculum
• Language developed through enriched
• Affirming learning environment
Teachers and Parents working
Preschool through third grade!
Academic Language and
Literacy in English and Spanish
Use and development of the child’s
home language will benefit the child in
acquiring English (CDE “Principles for
Promoting Language, Literacy and
Learning in Preschool English
Learners” - 2007)
……. but How?
Defining the language model:
• PreK and Kinder: Minimum of 50% in home
language - minimum of 20% of English
throughout the schoolyear
• Home language for rich initial concept
• English builds upon the home language
• Intentional focus on the relationship between
the two languages - and on “transfer”
• Languages separated
Requires information about the
development of BOTH
• SEAL Preschool teachers use PreLAS
assessment in BOTH languages
• Developed typologies/profiles describing
degrees of bilingualism: Spanish only;
Spanish/dominant and English receptive;
Balanced bilingual; English dominant,
Spanish receptive; English only.
#2 Rich oral language
• Four domains of language: oral language is
• CDE Preschool Foundations
• Engage children in using language
• Enrich the language they hear
• Work with parents on oral language
development strategies with their children
• Chants, rhymes, songs
#3: Text-rich environment and
• Active engagement with books and writing
(children and parents)
• Meaningful interactions with print media
• Talking about books contributes to
comprehension, vocabulary AND to oral
• Seeing “self” in books is crucial to literacy
• Purchased books for variety of genre, linked
to themes, bilingual
Language developed
through enriched curriculum
• Language as a vehicle for learning and
• Emphasis on ACADEMIC language
• To close achievement gap requires access to
full curriculum
• Equity issue
• Science and the arts are powerful subjects
and opportunities for language development
• Thematic units
Affirming Learning
• Affective filter and language learning
• The HIGHEST expectations
• A culture and climate of respect and
inclusion - culturally responsive
• Relationship between healthy socioemotional development and sense of
• Strong home-school partnerships
• Linguistic and cultural congruity
• Care with messages about relative
worth of family languages and cultures
• Literacy practices of parents are
correlated with later success in English
for children who are LOTE - so
strengthening language practices in
families is an important part of early
education (encourage use and
development of home language)
Teachers and Parents
work together
• Education for ELs is enhanced when schools
and families partner around children’s
• Parents can facilitate literacy development by
using the language they know best and by
using it in varied and extensive ways
• School need to address barriers to
• Relationship between school and home is a
crucial factor in healthy
development of
identity, and sense of
Attention to PreK - K school
“transition” and beyond
• Two different systems - little connection
• Preparation for academic success - kindergarten
“readiness” is too low for academic success
• The transition itself is a vulnerable time - need
strategies and policies to support transition
• Period from ages 3 to eight is critical for
language development
The PreK-3 movement
• Public schools nationwide are increasingly
serving more 4 year olds and even 3 year olds
• Instead of how to prepare children in ECE for Kview it as an articulated and connected
schooling experience
• Systems based integrated approach
• Move away from separate notions of ECE and
K-12 - focus on alignment (horizontal, vertical,
• North Carolina/ Foundation for Child
Structure of SEAL pilot
• 8 preschools (community based and statefunded preschools) on 4 elementary
school sites in Redwood City School
District and San Jose Unified School
• Cohort begins in preschool and will be
followed through third grade
Working with the sites
• Components are the foundation
• No “one size fits all”, exact replication
model or process
• SEAL Lead teams reflect on their
practices, build on their strengths, identify
and plan to address gaps
The SEAL process
• Worked closely with district to align work and
• Set up an infrastructure of support
• Reflective practice - continuing throughout
the life of the pilot
• Deep immersion in research, access to top
research and researchers in the field,
focused on data
Professional Development
• Silvia Duque Reyes, “Side by Side”
• Kathy Escamilla, “Literacy Squared” - GLAD
and PreK GLAD
• California Reading and Literacy Project Transfer and Houghton-Mifflin
• Strategies for oral language development
through text-engagement
• Grade-level and cross-grade collaboration
time - BY PROGRAM and integrated across
Basic educational principles apply
across early education settings….
Language development should occur in context
Developmental/play based preschool
Emphasis on rich and “academic” oral language
L1 developed to extent can be done - and always
Resources for enriched environment and books/text
Parent/home/school connection
More TIME - full day programs, multi-year summer
bridge programs
Small ratios
Home visits (Parents as Teachers)
Use and work with local
• Schmahl Science Workshops
• Bilingual Authors
• Families United for Literacy and
• Early Childhood Language
Development Institute (SMCOE) for
preschool providers and parents
Build connections across the
PreK and K-3 systems
• Articulation meetings and visits PreK-K
• Support families and children in transitioning
between and across the systems
• Summer Bridge programs engage both gradelevels working together in the NEW setting
• Seek professional development, assessments
and strategies that can build similar learning
conditions across the grades
• Through data, research & dialogue, build a
The Evaluation/Research
• Dr. Kathryn Lindholm-Leary
• Longitudinal design following cohorts of
students from entering preschool
through third grade
• Data points/analysis - PreK entry, K
entry, First grade entry, end of third
Student Measures: Pre K
• Desired Results DRDP Revise
• Pre LAS (Spanish/English)
• Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
• Kindergarten School Readiness
Student Measures: K 
Social Rating Scale
Self-Description Questionaire
Lindholm-Leary Student Attitude Scale
Aprenda - Reading
Classroom measures
• Preschool - ECERS-R and ECERS-E
• Classroom Assessment Scoring
System (CLASS) - measures emotional
and instructional climate
• Language Use in Classroom
• Staff quality and training
Family Context
• Adaptation from ECLS Longitudinal
Student and Lindholm-Leary Parent
Scales - focus on language and literacy
• Family involvement in school and
child’s education
Between now and 2014….
Videos of classroom practices
Reflection tools/observation tools
Research updates as data on cohort
becomes available
• Information on replication forums
• Visits to the sites
Implications for the field
Importance of EL specific
models and approaches
• Professional development is essential
• Build capacity across the system and
partners to understand and respond to
EL early education needs
Don’t accept unforgivably low
standards for kindergarten
• Ability to decode in a second language does not
= foundation of language needed to comprehend
more difficult texts in that second language
• Ability to express basic needs and carry on a
simple conversation is not a sufficient base for
academic competency - language proficiency
takes years!
• Children need a sustained, consistent language
development approach - focus on “academic”
vocabulary, rich rich language in L1
Beyond “readiness”, beyond
transition…. build connections
between Preschools and K-3
• Collaboration time, facilitated dialogues,
• Shared professional development
• Similar, articulated assessments and
• Attend to disjunctures in district planning and
• Longitudinal data
State and local policy needs to
be flexible……
• No one program model fits all populations,
contexts, capacities (multiple languages,
homogeneous, English plus one other
language, etc.)
• Linguistically isolated, heavily impacted
Hispanic/ Spanish-speaking communities can
mount effective bilingual approaches
Thank you!
For more information, contact:
Laurie Olsen, Director
Sobrato Early Academic Literacy

Sobrato Early Academic Literacy Project