Reports Highlight Mother-Language Use and ‘Superdiverse’ Classrooms

    Two reports released by the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy point to promising approaches being undertaken to work effectively in multilingual, multicultural classrooms—an increasing reality with nearly one-third of the U.S. child population age eight and under growing up with one or more parents speaking a language other than English at home. The reports were commissioned as part of a larger research project sponsored by the center that is focused on understanding the needs of early-childhood education and care (ECEC) programs that operate in “superdiverse” contexts.

    More U.S. communities are experiencing superdiversity in early education and care settings as young dual-language learners (DLLs) arrive with greater variation in origin, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language spoken at home. This superdiversity challenges ECEC providers to develop instructional strategies and program designs that will better ensure the healthy development and future academic success of DLLs, rather than relying on approaches used in more homogeneous or bilingual settings.

    In The Language of the Classroom: Dual Language Learners in Head Start, Public Pre-K, and Private Preschool Programs, researchers Megina Baker and Mariela Páez examine teachers’ use of language across different contexts to highlight effective practices and provide examples of exemplary teaching in diverse classrooms. The report focuses on patterns of home language use across different ECEC program types, drawing upon insights from educators, caregivers, and parents and classroom observations in six preschool classrooms in Boston to identify exemplary practices. The second report examines the potential of a well-regarded pre-K–3 professional development model developed in California in recent years to improve instruction and outcomes for DLLs in superdiverse settings through intensive focus on young children’s academic language and literacy development, both in school and at home.

    In Supporting Dual Language Learner Success in Superdiverse Pre-K–3 Classrooms: The Sobrato Early Academic Language Model, authors Anya Hurwitz and Laurie Olsen focus on the pre-K–3 SEAL model being used in more than 100 programs and schools in California. Piloted in 2008 in bilingual/dual-language and English-instructed settings, the SEAL model is designed to provide young English learners with language-intensive support integrated throughout the curriculum, in and through academic content.

    “With so many children in the U.S. now being taught in superdiverse settings, it is critical that teachers—particularly those in pre-K–3 programs—are supported in understanding and using strategies that assist young children in developing the academic language skills they need to read on grade level and be positioned for future school success,” said Margie McHugh, the center’s director. “Though the reports we release today provide important insights and practices, research, policy, and practice are generally lagging in this critical area, while the number of early-childhood programs and elementary schools operating in superdiverse contexts continues to grow.”

    The report argues that the teaching models that prevail in education today are inadequate to deal with superdiverse classrooms. “In a field that has largely focused on either bilingual/dual-language program settings or English-taught settings without distinguishing the superdiverse context or its implications, teachers of linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms have been left without the explicit tools and support to leverage children’s home languages and create classrooms that embrace the cultural realities of student lives beyond the classroom,’’ the authors write. “To focus solely on English misses an important leverage point in language/literacy development for the DLL child.”

    The two reports conclude a three-part series on superdiversity. The first report draws from MPI analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data to provide a demographic profile of DLLs.
    To download the SEAL model report, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/research/supporting-dual-language-learner-success-superdiverse-prek-3-classrooms-sobrato. To download the Language of the Classroom report, visit www.migrationpolicy.org/research/language-classroom-dual-language-learners-head-start-public-pre-k-and-private-preschool.

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