Dual Language Learning Contributes to Early Literacy Development

Author: Helios Education Foundation

September 17, 2019

Nearly five years ago, Helios embarked on a project to help some of our youngest students increase their language and literacy skills through a robust two-way immersion (English-Spanish/Spanish-English), dual-language program.   Research shows that students gain cognitive and academic benefits from exposure to dual-language learning and that individuals who speak more than one language have higher level executive function skills including problem-solving and abstract thinking.  

In addition to implementing both Spanish and English classroom instruction, the dual-language learning project also had a robust research component in which Arizona State University explored effective methodologies and practices for creating pathways to early-grade success and dual language learning professional development for teachers.  Most of the research in this area has been done with older children so the goal was for this research to explore how dual language opportunities can support early literacy and language development in young children.  Ultimately, we wanted to see how dual language learning can assist children in developing those early literacy skills which will lead to kindergarten readiness and ultimately reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

The research work recently culminated with the production of a recently published brief, titled, “Helios Education Foundation’s Dual Language Learner Project: Early Impacts of Emergent Literacy and Language Acquisition Skills for Educators and Pre-K Students.”  The brief provides an overview of the implementation of the program as well as its impact on classroom instruction and children’s acquisition of language and literacy.  

“We learned a variety of valuable information through the dual language research we did with Arizona State University,” said Paul Perrault, Vice President and Director of Research and Evaluation at Helios Education Foundation.  “We have both quantitative and qualitative indications that the two-way immersion model helped to increase language and literacy skills in young children and the professional development we implemented increased teacher’s confidence and effectiveness in the classroom.”

More specifically, the data revealed that:

• Children made gains in development and learning – as measured by the widely used Pre-K assessment – Teaching Strategies Gold.

• Teachers improved on CLASS (Classroom Assessment Scoring System) scores in English and Spanish.

• Children increased in their ability to listen and understand increasingly complex language.

• Children increased in their ability to use language to express thoughts and needs.

• Children increased in their ability to use appropriate conversational communication.

In addition, the research found that there was a shift in how Spanish-speaking students felt about their own language and culture, as well as a shift in how English-speaking students felt about Spanish.  The two-way immersion model provided the opportunity for Spanish-speaking children to be more confident  and more comfortable in the classroom setting.  In addition, it offered the opportunity for non-Spanish speaking children to embrace a new language and be enthusiastic about learning Spanish.

There were also lessons learned along the way that are important to note.  For example, dual-language implementation was not always easy for teachers.  There were challenges with balancing district assessment priorities as well as managing the division of labor in the classroom.  The research brief provides more detail on the challenges teachers faced.

Click here to access the brief in its entirety.  We are hopeful that this brief helps facilitate conversations about how to effectively use dual-language learning strategies to ensure more children are prepared for success in kindergarten  and ultimately read at grade level by the end of third grade.  

Click here to learn more about the Dual Language Learning projects in both Arizona and Florida.


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