Young English Language Learners: Current Research and Emerging Directions for Practice and Policy
reviewed by Lynn Zimmerman - September 22, 2010
Title: Young English Language Learners: Current Research and Emerging Directions for Practice and Policy
Author(s): Eugene E. Garcia and Ellen A. Frede (eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751111, Pages: 214, Year: 2010
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Young learners of English present different challenges to educators than older learners do. Depending on their age and their circumstances, they may not have developed full fluency in their home language, and may not be literate in their first language. Additionally, cognitive and language development delays and other issues may not be apparent in such young learners. Some challenges are also related to a childs family background. For example, level of education and economic status of the parents affect a childs first language and English language acquisition. Parental perceptions of the cultural norms for education can come into play as can beliefs about their responsibility for involvement in their childs education and language acquisition.
The essays in this volume look at these and other issues in educational practice and policy that impact the education of young English language learners (ELL). They examine the growing body of research in this area and make suggestions for further research on specific areas that have implications for this population of children. One of the strengths of this volume is that each article looks at the traditional perspectives of language minority children and suggests other ways of viewing these issues. They advocate moving away from the traditional deficit model of viewing this population to examining what these children bring with them that can be built upon to improve their opportunities for success in school.
The ten essays focus on preschool and/or kindergarten age learners. The Overview and Introduction by the editors, and the first chapter, A Demographic Portrait of Young English Language Learners by Hernandez provide specific information about who these young learners are. They examine data on characteristics such as whether English is spoken at home; economic status of the family; educational attainment of the parents; familial cultural values; and whether the children attend preschool. These data show that many of these students have one and, sometimes, two parents who speak English at home as well as a second language, often Spanish. These data also provide information that the poverty rate among immigrant families is around 15% overall. Hernandez states that his data show that fewer immigrant children are enrolled in preschool programs than non-immigrant children. Since preschool attendance is a good indicator of success later in schooling, he supports the need for early childhood education for ELLs no matter their economic or language status.
The next chapter focuses on ELLs achievement patterns and the importance of early education for later learning. In her study, Galindo used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K) to create a descriptive analysis of patterns of achievement. She focused on two broad language minority groups: Hispanic and Asian, and she compared kindergarten and 5th grade performance on reading and math achievement tests. Galindo found that the demographics of these groups vary significantly. She also found that the higher the SES, the lower the achievement gap in math and in reading. She found that Asians tend to be in a higher socioeconomic group, and that a larger percentage of Asian students are first generation. Each of these differences has significance for her study. Asian students tend to have more English oral proficiency upon entering kindergarten than Hispanic students. The comparison of these two groups provides an important look at two major non-English speaking immigrant groups.
In her conclusion, she emphasizes that she is not advocating English-only instruction for preschoolers who are ELL. She is advocating that, given the apparent importance of oral English skills for later achievement, specific strategies and policies for the preschool ELL population need to be developed and implemented.
Genesee, a noted researcher in the ESL field, focuses on research about simultaneous and successive dual language acquisition by preschool children. In his examination of the research on simultaneous dual language learning, he focuses on patterns and rates of bilingual first language acquisition, bilingual code mixing, and communicative competence. He also looks at research on learners with language impairments. His conclusion is that, despite differences based on the childrens linguistic and family backgrounds, simultaneous and successive acquisition does not impair a childs ability to learn their L1 or English, and may actually help. Nanez then looks at research that focuses on the bilingualism-cognition relationship. He finds a significant correlation between cognitive control and ability and bilingualism. These examinations of cognitive and acquisition issues provide important foundational information for developing strategies for working with young children.
Because of the importance of the home environment for young children, Rodriguez-Brown focuses on research on family involvement in learning. She first looks at traditional research, which tends to compare home learning environments in minority homes to that of nonminority, White, middle-class populations (p. 105). She then looks at research that has been conducted from a socio-cultural perspective. This research demonstrates that barriers between school and home are often created by a lack of understanding on the part of mainstream schooling as well as the parents cultural expectations. She advocates a different line of research specifically targeting language minority groups, which account for cultural differences in ways of learning and different discourses used at home (p. 113).
Assessment presents special challenges for ELLs, and these challenges are compounded because the children come from diverse linguistic backgrounds. The challenges are further compounded when the children are less than 6 years old. Espinosa, an expert in Early Childhood Education, examines the implications of developing and administering accurate language assessment for this population. She asserts that some of the issues can be avoided if not ameliorated if assessment administrators are aware of certain limitations of the assessments they are using and of how they can accommodate for those limitations. She also refers to research that demonstrates the importance of parental involvement in the decision-making process about the childs language background, both in their L1 and in English.
In her second essay in this volume, Espinosa looks at instructional practices for young ELLs. Beyond the implications for the students themselves, there are implications for education at large because of the continuing growth in this population. She writes, the educational success of ELL children is critical to the overall effectiveness of our educational system (p. 143). She then examines the slowly growing body of research which studies issues of early childhood language and literacy, and instructional and classroom practices for this population. Espinosa concludes by pointing out that most of the research done with ELLs is done with Spanish speakers. She suggests that more complex longitudinal studies are necessary to determine appropriate and effective instructional strategies and curricula for young ELLs.
In the final essay, Freedson points out that research needs to be expanded on how to adequately prepare early childhood teachers to work effectively with young English language learners (p. 178). She reminds the reader that not only do teachers need better preparation, but also that research on policies at all levels is needed to support improved teacher qualifications.
The issues identified in this volume pertaining to the growing ELL population and the persisting achievement gap are significant. The research that is examined and the further research that is suggested offer important insights into policy and practice.