This webcast features Dr. Rebecca Palacios and offers information on the following components of a pre-K ELL program: language instruction, curriculum, professional development, and family outreach.
This webcast is made possible by AFT Teachers, a division of the American Federation of Teachers, as part of a Colorín Colorado partnership between AFT and Reading Rockets.
Dr. Rebecca Palacios is an educator who taught preschool for more than 30 years in Corpus Christi, Texas. Dr. Palacios is also a teacher mentor, a founding member and former vice chair of the National Board For Professional Teaching Standards, and a member of the American Federation of Teacher’s ELL Educator Cadre.
Watch the webcast
- What are the main components of an effective preschool program for English language learners? How might these components be incorporated differently in different types of program models (e.g., dual language, immersion, English only)?
- Discuss some of the ways that an ELL’s native language might be used to support his/her learning in preschool. How important is it for ELLs to have teachers who speak their home language?
- Talk about the role of assessment in preschool. What types of assessment (both formal and informal) do you currently use in your program? Would you make any changes, based on the information presented in the webcast?
- According to the webcast, why is it important to establish good home-school partnerships? Did you learn any strategies that you might use to get your ELLs’ parents more involved?
- How can we best prepare teachers to work with English language learners in preschool? What kind of ongoing support do you think they need in order to be successful?
- What kind of mentoring and professional development, if any, have you had at your program? What kinds of training do you think would be most helpful? How can your team collaborate with program leaders to review the possibility of implementing those ideas?
- What are some new ideas you learned in the webcast that might help expand services and support for ELLs at your program?
Why is preschool so important for young English language learners? How do professional development and parent outreach fit in? Please join me for the Colorin Colorado Webcast, Preschool for English Language Learners.
[music] Hello, I’m Bethanne Patrick. Welcome to this Colorin Colorado Webcast, Preschool for English Language Learners. In this segment of our four part program, we’re going to discuss how young English language learners, or ELL’s, develop the language skills they need to succeed. Joining me is Doctor Rebecca Palacios, an educator who taught preschool for more than 30 years in Corpus Christi, Texas. Doctor Palacios is also a teacher mentor, a founding member and former Vice Chair of the National Board for Professionals Teachings Standards and a member of American Federation of Teachers, ELL Educator Cadre. Thank you for joining us, Becky.
Becky Palacios: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
Bethanne Patrick: It’s wonderful to have you here. So first let’s talk about the big picture, why is a quality early education so important for young ELL’s and their future?
Becky Palacios: Well research has shown us that ELL’s are very successful, actually all preschool children are very successful when they are involved or enrolled in a high quality preschool program and when those programs are very well rounded, cover the curriculum, cover the children’s support and their language development and their social, emotional and physical development, along with a good parent partnership, they’re going to sustain that growth and gains throughout their school career.
Bethanne Patrick: Which is a wonderful thing so what kinds of language skills are young children likely to develop in a good preschool program?
Becky Palacios: Well they’re going to develop the basics that they’re going to need to be successful as they continue to learn to listen, speak, read and write in early childhood programs that provide a rich environment. The teachers know how to support those children, how to speak to them, how to ask leading questions, how to get them to practice their language in context.
Bethanne Patrick: Wonderful, I’d love to know more about the students who were in your dual language program. What kinds of language skills did they tend to have when they arrived in your classroom?
Becky Palacios: Well when my students came into the dual language program, they had a variety of entry skills in multiple languages. Basically when they came in, in my program, some were total Spanish speakers, some were total English speakers and some had a mix of bilingualism of English and Spanish together so it was upon my group and my teaching group to be able to assess those skills, to find out where they were, what they were learning and how to best give that curriculum planning and instruction to those students coming into the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: Can you give us an example of the kind of thing that you would do to integrate those groups of children?
Becky Palacios: Well one of the things that we did, because it was a dual language program and they were coming to us with different types of language skills and different types of dominance in the languages, we would give them an informal assessment and we would see where their language proficiency was stronger. But we would also divide them up into their strengths so that they would also have, for example if those Spanish speakers were really dominante in Spanish, we would pair them up with English language learners and English speakers. That would give them an opportunity to learn from one another in peer kinds of models because when you have a dual language program you want to be able to have that 50/50 type of environment where you don’t have all Spanish speakers or all English speakers together so we try to support their learning that way.
Bethanne Patrick: How did the kids respond to learning in a bilingual environment?
Becky Palacios: Well it was very exciting, of course because the children were very responsive. If you have an environment that allows children to take risks in language, it’s different for adults, don’t want to look funny when we’re speaking and learning a new language. But children, if they know that they can come in and talk and play and learn language while they’re learning about their peers and their environment, it’s really so much easier for children to take those risks and to try to develop that second language learning, whether it’s the English or the Spanish.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent so let’s talk about some of your favorite, fun activities that help kids to build language skills.
Becky Palacios: Well first of all, of course, you have to have a wonderful environment. You have to have materials in that environment that support the children’s play and creativity. So if you walked into my classroom, for example, you would see different learning centers, music, art, science, social studies, literacy and books in all of those different centers are available. We would have a water play center, a sand center, computer center and all those activities that the children can also have choices in selecting, are very important as they start to practice their language, learn from books and as we have shared types of reading together and they can go and practice that vocabulary in those centers. And the teachers’re very responsible for it when they set up that learning environment.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s something from the child’s point of view so let’s look at the topic from that, when young ELL’s arrive at preschool for the first time, what are they feeling and thinking?
Becky Palacios: Well first of all they’re all crying. [laughter] They walk in, and this is normal for any child who has that separation anxiety. This is their first step into school, whether they’re three years old or their four year olds. I always wear tennis shoes the first day of school, tennis shoes to run after them cause sometimes they’re gonna run after mom or dad as they drop them off to school, grandma or grandpa. So we had to really sustain an environment early on, even through the preregistration process, through an orientation process, that allowed children to come and explore the classroom early, before they were actually enrolled, so they would be comfortable in that environment.
Bethanne Patrick: What are the other social and emotional needs the staff needs to watch out for in these cases?
Becky Palacios: Well, we always had to prepare ourselves to be able to support them, to be able to nurture them, to be very warm, very inviting. You want to have activities that first few weeks of school with the staff knowing what those are so that they can come back. You want them to come back so you want to have engaging activities in the native language, in the language that they’re learning as well. Your staff has to be aware, from the school principle to the secretary to the nurse to the cafeteria manager and the workers that are in there to the PE department, the library, now the teachers, the peer professional, all are invested in children’s good academic foundation. And part of it is, my philosophy is a quote that says, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Bethanne Patrick: Exactly.
Becky Palacios: And so when those kids come in you have to be ready. You have to be exciting. You have to enthusiastic. You have to have a very print rich, wealthy type of environment when it comes to wealth of knowledge and wealth of understanding from the teacher’s point of view, to accept the child but accept the family as well into that classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: And here’s a good point to follow up with, what if they’re new to the country?
Becky Palacios: That’s really important to the teacher to know who those parents are, to be able to make a bridge and a connection. For example, if those parents were Chinese and they came to me and I couldn’t speak Chinese, I had to try and find a way to have someone else who knew the language, to come and interpret, to help me to understand, to have some kind of common knowledge of pictures or a very simple parent letter that allows us to bridge that communication piece with one another but to try to make that native language connection it’s very important at the beginning. And if it can’t be done, you have to find ways that you can do it through pictures, through short letters, that you can create that if you know that type of environment is going to be crucial for those parents, you need to have it prepared in advance.
Bethanne Patrick: I’ve heard of the silent period, what is that?
Becky Palacios: Well the silent period is when the children are enrolled in the classroom and as you’re teaching and as you’re providing examples and you’re working through curriculum and your instruction, those children are just there like sponges. They’re absorbing. And just because they’re not participating or answering those questions in the language, that doesn’t mean that they’re not learning. And so that silent period means they’re internalizing just the structures and the sounds of the new language.
Bethanne Patrick: Very interesting. In your program, what do the teachers, staff and administrators do to make students feel welcome?
Becky Palacios: Well we have quite a variety of activities. Of course one of the first things that we did after we realized that parents needed something other than just a meeting to remember so many details of the new program and maybe new schooling environment. Maybe some of these parents had never been in school before and never finished school, we created a very simple handbook. We took pictures of all the staff. We put them in the handbook. We talked about when do they eat? Basic things, about you know, basically Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know how do they go to the restroom and when do they go and how can they go and what is the support for the food program, the lunch program? What do we do in case we have a problem? Who is the counselor? Who is the principle? How does the school function? How does it work? Because an American school may be very different from what they were used to so we try to bridge that with a little handbook, with an orientation meeting.
We also had throughout the year, to sustain parent’s knowledge of the school and school setting and things that they could do at home, we had orientation meetings throughout the year on different school subjects, art, music, science, social studies, math, reading and we had the parents come in and participate. We had family nights. Parents that worked during the day couldn’t come in you know during that daytime period, we had them at night. We try to structure different types of meetings at different times of the year.
Bethanne Patrick: And if bilingual language support isn’t an option, what are some strategies that staff can use to communicate with the ELL’s?
Becky Palacios: Well it all depends on how the program is structured. There’s a variety of programs for English language learners. One, which to me was a very strong model, is the dual language model, where you teach, you know 50/50 in the two languages or 90/10 in other languages, we’ll talk about later. There’s also a 50/50 model which is half and half, which is what I work in. There’s also a bilingual transition model where if the students are bilingual they are taught in their native language as they transition into the English learning. But there’s also an English language learner program, many parts of the country call them ESL programs, and those can vary. They can be pull out, they can be pull in, they can be different types of settings and the teacher in the classroom needs to know who those children are, identify where they are in their English language learning, provide a lot of pictures, a lot of scaffolds, which means that you’re going to do some modeling, some repetition, some things that you can manipulate and the children manipulate it while they’re learning and hearing the language. So there’s a lot of strategies for English language learners, which is a tougher model for children coming in because they have no native language support.
Bethanne Patrick: And you mentioned visuals a bit but how about gestures as well? Let’s talk about those two things.
Becky Palacios: Exactly, you can see my hands moving so I’m just very in tune with that. A lot of manipulatives and gestures and touching your face and talking about eyes or body, the main things that children learn at the very beginning, even as babies, in a native language. You know your body parts. You want to teach them eyes, nose, mouth, so gesturing, using models, using pictures, using technology, all those are important types of strategies that the teacher can use to help bridge that language support.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent, what kind, let’s talk about assessments. What kinds of assessments will help the staff evaluate the young ELL’s language skills?
Becky Palacios: Well there’s different types of assessments. You can have formal assessments and you can have informal assessments. And many times those formal assessments come from either the state or the school district or even that local level that comes up with certain types of formal assessments and those can be in many forms. The others that we use in the classroom are more informal types of assessments, children’s drawings and their journal dictations and how they were maybe communicating at the beginning only if I’m teaching in Spanish, they were maybe only speaking in English because they were English monolingual speakers and I’m trying to teach them Spanish. So maybe at the very beginning of the year with this journal that lasts throughout the year, I can see them interspersing now, Spanish target language and Spanish uses I’m teaching them. So journals play an important role in children’s ability to draw and talk about what they draw and their language transitions.
Others are content assessments where you can look at your curriculum and your instruction and assess them directly what you taught them, cause we don’t want to pull any punches with kids and ask them questions about things they have not studied. So everything that I wrote, as far as assessments, came from the instruction that we had. You’ve heard about the backwards design where you teach with the end in mind so I knew that I would have to assess them on, let’s say, parts of a plant, or the colors, or how many letters they knew or whatever the skills are for that theme. Then the assessments came from what we were teaching and we could pull them one by one, we could do it in a group setting, they could do it by sorting or showing us and then they could start to verbalize.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s what I was going to ask you about, oral language assessments. How do you conduct those? What’s the best way?
Becky Palacios: And part of it is, is just pictures and the things that you’re working with already as the children, for example, are sorting colors into different sets, then we can talk about what those are. What color is this? Â¿QuÃ© color es? And you’re using the target vocabulary of that language that you’re working with so oral assessments have to have an authentic oral type of situation.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent, excellent, what are the benefits of assessing language skills in the native language when it’s possible?
Becky Palacios: Well definitely you want to know how they’re growing cognitively because we know that if a child is coming in, for example a Spanish speaker coming in and you’re asking them critical, deep thinking questions in English they’re not ready to handle yet, then you know that you’re setting them up for failure in that assessment. So what we try to do is ask them the questions in that native language, deeper, cognitive thinking skill, whether they’re English speakers or Spanish speakers or whatever the language is, so that we know that they’re growing cognitively while they’re starting to learn the English.
So especially for English language learner programs, where the children basically are coming in from multiple countries with a native language and you’re bridging them to that English, if you can have English language support in very pictorial forms where they can demonstrate that in an oral proficiency. We know that the children are going to listen to the language first and are able to point or separate or gesture, is one of the first steps. The expressive is a little harder and that’s a deeper skill.
Bethanne Patrick: Well how can the information that you learn from the language assessment, guide the instruction in the classroom?
Becky Palacios: Well, when we know where they are language wise and where they are content wise, then we can continue to bridge that over time. Because we know that language learning doesn’t occur in one year or even in a few months, it’s over time. And one of the things that we want to remember is that assessment needs to happen over time. So if at this critical milestone of whatever this assessment may be, if they don’t get it that first time, then you know you have to continue to reassess that throughout the year and into the subsequent school years.
Bethanne Patrick: Some of the assessment tools and strategies that you found most helpful in classrooms, what are those?
Becky Palacios: Well, there’s a lot of different strategies that we use. I thought to me, in this day in age, technology was very powerful. Using an interactive white board was one of the things that I needed to do at the very beginning because I knew children were learning in multiple ways. So wrote a grant and was able to get interactive white boards for our three and four year old classrooms. And using those strategies and using them in ongoing assessment and you can see whether that child can move this picture over, or hear whether or not they got it, whether or not they can classify or organize or sort on a T-chart, different things that go with one another. All those types of assessment things are very important and the best type of assessment is the one that you’re actually showing as you’re working toward it.
Bethanne Patrick: You’ve been talking about this but let’s go through some other guidelines for assessing such young children.
Becky Palacios: Well it just depends on the program and the curriculum. We can assess them in their physical development. It’s not just the cognitive things but can they hop, can they jump, can they throw a ball, can they do those types of things. We have language assessments as well that we just talked about. We have content assessments that are important. We have social, emotional guidelines now that the country is very well aware of, is how children behave in social situations. So there’s a variety of assessments in different aspects of their children’s growth and development that we can look at.
Bethanne Patrick: Are there things that we shouldn’t be doing?
Becky Palacios: Well we know that at the three and four year old level, pencil paper tasks are not appropriate at that time. They’re not quite ready to bubble stuff in or look at things like that but they can do it in a really neat T-chart where you can put yarn out on the table and ask them to classify or sort and you break things up into groups and they can move things from one place to another. And all that is really good authentic assessment because it’s basically what’s going to be a pencil paper task later on, really there in a real, real situation for children.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent, now how did you differentiate instruction for children who had different language levels?
Becky Palacios: Well it just depended on where they were so once we had a language assessment and whether we found out if they were receptive, which means that they understood the language but couldn’t quite speak it, articulate words or they were expressive and they could really just chatter on in that language that they were learning, then we could look at those different language levels whether they were you know preproduction, whether they were already in a production stage where they could really develop that language and I was able to pull books and activities and games and things like that where we could play and use that play, for example let’s say we took a matching game and we were able to find two things that were the same.
Let’s say they were insects and so learning about insects in a second language is really good because those cognits are very important in science in math for children and they’re able to transfer those words. Those words are basically the same, like “science” and “ciencia”. So when we were able to have children turn and flip those cards and match them up and able to name what those were, that gave them a really good, not only visual but a tactile work that they were able to do and also a matching, which you know, classifying things in their mind, whether these two things go together or not.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s so fantastic. I’d like to wrap up by turning to the big picture and the question of language instruction. It can become very controversial and political, as you know. How could a preschool program decide what kind of language instruction works best for their students?
Becky Palacios: And of course when we look at that and we look at programmatic issues, we need to see who those children are, who the families are. So if there’s a great abundance of especially in my situation there were a lot of Hispanic families moving in with a lot of Spanish, then a dual language program is going to be very rich because then it benefits populations of children whose families want them to learn the Spanish and are losing their heritage language. And we have that situation in our school where the parents and the grandparents say, I can no longer speak to my child. He’s learned only English but I want them to continue their native language, Spanish speaking ability and let’s do this dual language program cause it’s going to help everyone.
Some situations don’t work that way. You need to look at those English language learners coming in from, let’s say 30 different countries. So when you have that type of situation, diversity in your classroom, then an English language learner program is best, ESL program. There’re also terms where they can come in and use ELL strategies to teach those children and a lot of teachers are learning about that and one of the best resources that I found has been the Colorin Colorado website because as I go out and I work with teachers who are immersed in these type of situations and they’re saying, I don’t know what to do, the website is one of the most perfect things that they can find for multiple amounts of information when it comes to research, implementation, curriculum and resources.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s fantastic and how about the parents? Do you survey the parents as well?
Becky Palacios: We did when we initially started the program. The parents of course need to know what is going to be used for their child. Some parents were really adamant about saying you know what, I really want my child to learn only English, and that’s been one of the difficulties in explaining parents that you need to start them in the native language to be able to bridge them into their strong English learning component because once you have that strong base and that foundation in the home, then it’s much easier to transfer that. Like to use myself as an example, I learned both languages simultaneously at the home with grandparents supporting both languages so sometimes we’ll have that where you know the child is learning both languages and we have those opportunities at home. Whatever language the parents are using to support that is very important.
Bethanne Patrick: Thank you, Becky.
Becky Palacios: You’re welcome.
Bethanne Patrick: Thanks so much. That marks the end of this segment but not our discussion. Please join us for part two of this webcast when we’ll discuss curriculum and academics in ELL preschool programs. You can learn more about early literacy for English language learners and watch the other segments of this webcast, at www.colorincolorado.org.
[background music] Funding for this Colorin Colorado webcast is provided by the American Federation of Teachers with additional support from the National Council of La Raza.
How can preschool programs prepare ELL’s for academic success? Please join me for Part Two of this ColorÃn Colorado webcast, Preschool for English Language Learners.
Bethanne Patrick: [Music] Hello. I’m Bethanne Patrick. In the previous segment of this webcast, we discussed English language instruction for young English Language Learners, or ELL’s. In this segment, we’ll discuss curriculum and the academic side of the equation. Welcome, Dr. Becky Palacios.
Becky Palacios Thank you.
Bethanne Patrick: Glad you’re here. You’ve talked about preschool being much more than naps and babysitting. What are the components of a good preschool program?
Becky Palacios Well, a great preschool program will have the ability to teach children in a multiple amount of subjects, to cover them all from science to reading to social studies, art, music, health, physical education. All of those components are very important, and as well as looking at their social and emotional well-being and their physical well-being.
Bethanne Patrick: So what should a well-rounded curriculum for young ELL’s include?
Becky Palacios Well, one of the things that we do in our school is develop all those different subject areas into themes, and so when we look at themes and look at learning over time, one of the best ways that we have found is that if things are organized around a central theme, second language learners, English Language Learners, are more likely to understand and comprehend the instruction if it’s very well organized.
Bethanne Patrick: Well what skills do we want those young ELL’s to take with them to kindergarten?
Becky Palacios Well, we definitely want to develop really good pre-reading and reading skills with young children. That’s one of the basic premises of a well rounded curriculum is that everything that you do in your environment, in your teaching, your strategies, is going to include a literacy middle part, a hub, around everything else that you teach.
So, for example, if I’m working with a theme that may be a science, and we’re looking at maybe ocean animals, ocean families, then we’re going to make sure that those book we select, those books that we read, are really going to relay a lot of the fiction and non-fiction parts of learning about animals in their native environment and using a lot of that language because things that are very real to children can then be included. You can take them to an aquarium and they can look at fish in a small school or classroom aquarium. They can look at animals in their context, and the more that they’re immersed in something that’s real, the better they’re going to acquire that language.
Bethanne Patrick: How do we help them, these young ELL’s to develop good social and communication skills?
Becky Palacios Well, we need to have them practice. You need to pair them up in really good peer learning situations. You have an English Language Learner, you pair him off with a strong English language speaker where they can communicate together, and we definitely use all that type of language development that we know is important as, again, they go into kindergarten, we know that we want them to have a lot of phonologic awareness, a lot of understanding of the language, and the teacher’s not the only model. For them to develop a good academic background, they need to practice a language in context.
They need to have good social situations, not just in the classroom, but speakers coming in from the community to help them understand why that language is important out in the real world. Also parents coming in as language models because they’re very important in the classroom to see, “Oh, there’s my mom or my dad or my grandma coming in and sharing experience in their native language. So we want to use language in a multitude of ways, in a multitude of environments with many resources and speakers coming in.
Bethanne Patrick: So what are the pre-reaing skills that we definitely want to have young ELL’s exposed to in preschool?
Becky Palacios Well, definitely phonological awareness, the understanding of how sounds and letters break up into pieces. We need to have children understand what it means to have syllables in words and how they can be segmented and clapped out, for lack of a better type of example, where children can understand that sounds make words and then words make sentences and sentences make paragraphs and then stories. So having them understand how the functions of language work, what those letters are, later on talking about, you know, their sounds and how they correspond to one another, and then leading them to really good print rich environments just to see what’s out in their homes, in their communities and labeling things and using language just in a really rich context.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, speaking of their homes and communities, where does native language fit into reading instruction for a young ELL?
Becky Palacios Well those children that we’ve found out and worked with in our classrooms, those that come in with very strong native language abilities really transfer quickly into that second language learning ability, and the reason I say that is because, for example, we had a child what was just a strong Spanish speaker and was able to pick up on the English language learning because he had to learn basically the words that go with the corresponding concepts that he had already developed. So when you have this conceptual understanding and conceptual awareness of what things are in the world, and you transfer those labels into that second language learning, those children just grow so quickly and develop that for us the English language learning at a much richer level and a much quicker level than children who haven’t been read to or talked to or sung to when they were very young.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, what are some effective ways to assess the ELL’s reading progress throughout the year?
Becky Palacios Well, we look at the different types of ongoing assessments that… can they clap these things? Can they rhyme? Can they find words in context? Can they circle letters? Can they see these things? So as you use interactive white boards, as you use words and pictures labeled together, I play the game where they would cut them up and they have to put them back together. We would use scissors, and we would cut up the word and they would have to, for example, if they have the word “cat,” put it back together in the right order after you’ve cut it up and put it back together. And then you have to label the picture that you labeling or the actual puppet that was there. Using language in context, assessing them in a multitude of ways, and it’s hard for me to give examples because there’s so many of them throughout the year that they progress through.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, I’m going to give you a chance to give a couple more, so I want to know about some of your favorite reading activities and the strategies in the classroom.
Becky Palacios Well there’s many. I think just at the very beginning when I would get a book, I would just read it for fun, just read it for the joy of reading because one of the main things that we have to instill in children is the motivation to read. What is my purpose to read this book? It’s got to be engaging. It’s got to be meaningful to him or her. They have to want to read it, so it wasn’t just about me selecting books, it was about me having the ability to have a showcase of books and let them choose. “I want to read this book. I want to have this book.” And then we would read it for the joy, the fun of reading it, and once we did that, we could come back and then take it apart.
Bethanne Patrick: You have many habits of books in your classroom. Would you tell me about them?
Becky Palacios Well, over the years I have found that I’m just a bookaholic. I love books because it really bridge children and their learning. Whenever there were difficult concepts or concepts that children wanted to learn, there’s always a book that helps to bridge that. And once you use books, you have a common experience. So what I started doing was I started collecting books, and people knew how much I loved books, so I got many gifts as books. Retired teachers would give them to me. Friends would say, “You know what? I just cleaned my kid’s closet out, and I have all these books. Do you want them?” “Yeah. I’ll be right there!” So I had six [inaudible] cabinets full of books. I categorized them by theme because my whole thing was when a child was really motivated to read and they wanted to read a book and they said, “Can we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”, I wanted to go put my hands on it right away.
Bethanne Patrick: And do you have those books in both Spanish and English?
Becky Palacios Yes. Yes. And that was a really the beauty of it was that because I was one of the first dual language teachers in our district, a lot of the people that had those books or found those books or however way they would gift them to me, and so, parents in the community who have those types of books who can gift them to teachers, that’s a wonderful resource. Any other teachers that have them that aren’t using them, you know, give them to the person that is really going to use them is really important.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s wonderful. In terms of other content areas, what kinds of concepts should young ELL’s be exposed to in preschool?
Becky Palacios Well, everything. The themes that we were able to write in our school district centered around social studies or science concepts. For example, everything was built around the word “families.” There were ocean families, there were foods families eat, all those themes around the word “families” gave us the ability to teach over time. So using those types of themes to connect learning, to connect literacy, to connect science and social studies, and math to those things that we were doing, then you can sing about them. You can draw about them. You can write about those themes. You have rich content around which to talk about.
Bethanne Patrick: And what about developing those very early math skills?
Becky Palacios Oh, that’s another important piece, of course. Math is very important to the development of children’s learning. National standards, they’ll say that reading and math are the top two things that children need to be successful in, in a good quality preschool program to be able to carry that through into their school career.
Bethanne Patrick: Would you share a favorite math activity?
Becky Palacios Yeah. There were some that we did that were really important when it came to…I’m trying to think of some that were science and math together. For example, we would look at animals and try to classify what those animals were by their coverings, and so that was a very important science concept. But then I have the little manipulatives where we would say, “Ok, here’s a set of animals, and they have different types of coverings. Some are mammals, some are reptiles, some are amphibians, some are birds, some are fish. Let’s look at what these are. Let’s divide them up into sets, and once we were able to divide them up into sets, we could graph in math how many there were per set.
And so, not only were we using a science concept to look at the idea of what those animals have to be able to survive in their environment, after that discussion, we were able to graph it, you know, in a big graph on the interactive white board on how many animals they had counted per set.
Bethanne Patrick: Tell us about your biome activity.
Becky Palacios Well, the biome activities were really great. We studied plants and animals in their natural habitat in the spring, and basically what we did, we looked at animals around the world, and the teachers chose different biomes to study. So some of them were the desert, some of them were the tundra, the rainforest, the arctic and so in the tundra and arctic piece we were able to walk in and you would see white in that classroom. You would see those things that live in the arctic and what that looked like in that area. If you walked into my classroom, I had the savannah, so they were able to identify some of the savannahs that were similar around the world. For example, the ones in Africa or the ones in the plains in the United States, so we wanted to give them a global perspective of language, of it’s not just here that we’re studying this. This is around the world. These things exist in patterns around the world. So when you have things that extend themselves in the classroom where they can relate and study them in a variety of ways, it really helps sustain children’s language learning, especially when they’re second language learners.
Bethanne Patrick: How did you assess what your ELL’s were learning in other core content areas?
Becky Palacios Well, all our assessments that were content assessment pieces were totally integrated in whether or not they could draw these things, whether or not they could classify, which is science and math skills, whether or not they could create words in context, whether it was in their native language or their English language learning. So we were doing that language piece there, whether or not they could count and graph or chart…those were all part of the ongoing assessments that we had for every theme.
Bethanne Patrick: What were some of the strategies that you used to tell the difference between language difficulty and academic difficulty?
Becky Palacios Well, and that’s where in my group, my dual language team was very important because in the assessments that I was able to do that we did at the end of every theme, if the children were doing very, very well, I could see that because it was all basically quantified by a rubric on how the children were doing, so if they and an excellent score, a good score, or a weak score, I was able to pinpoint that weak score over time whether or not it was a language issue or whether or not it was a cognitive learning issue by checking with my English teaching partner because if that child over there in the English was doing very, very well, then it was just the language piece. It was the cognitive piece. So, that teamwork, that planning, if there were issues we would talk to the counselors, so you can always tell as a teacher in that classroom on a day to day basis using your assessments how those children are faring when it comes to learning.
Bethanne Patrick: Well that’s very interesting, and how did you use technology to support instruction?
Becky Palacios Well, technology was awesome because I knew that children were learning in a variety of ways, and, as I alluded to previously, interactive white boards, computers, using those types of things are very important as well as the concrete manipulatives you use every day to make things real and part of your hands-on learning, but using technology is something that these kids are going to be so used to. Now everybody’s little, you know, phones and computer-generated games are all in their hands, and those kids are already used to that. So we want to be able to, as schools, stay up what that type of technology. It’s difficult when you don’t have a lot of funding. So for me, writing grants, looking for donors in the community, bringing those donors in and saying, “Look what you’ve created. Look what you’ve helped sustain in their classroom was very important, too, but using the technology to teach and to take them to the Internet and to be able to teach them the beginning parts of research was very important as I worked with my four year olds.
Bethanne Patrick: I don’t want to overlook play and creativity with young children. Why are these such an important part of the curriculum for ELL’s?
Becky Palacios Well, play is so huge because it gives children the ability to be creative and to be problem solvers and to be able to come up with their own solutions to a variety of things. So, setting up the centers very much with the children was huge. Some of the things I left up all year long, like blocks. Blocks are so important to children to be able to play with, to structure. They can learn about balancing. They can learn about gravity. Pile them up too high, and guess what happens, and, yes, it’s going to come down. And those questions, “Why do you think that happened, why do you think you wouldn’t do that again, or how would you recreate this block structure, how would you make it go higher?” So questions that you ask about the children’s play is a very important part. You just don’t say, “Ok, kids, it’s time to go play, and I’ll see you in 20 minutes.” You know, it’s not part of what it takes to become an effective teacher especially when you’re developing language for English Language Learners. You have to be out there questioning. What else do you need? What else can I help you with? What have you done? Can you explain it to the class? Can you draw what you’ve just created and can you share it with the class? Can we take a picture, write a story and share it with you family? A lot of things that can happen in that play.
Bethanne Patrick: How about music and puppets?
Becky Palacios Oh, I love them! [Laughter] Of course that’s a great way to learn a language because you’re learning it authentically, and so lots of CD’s, a lot of music, a lot of dance, a lot of movement was very important to me and using that with children, and they would request, “Can we sing that again?” “Can we sing that one we sang the other day?” “Can we sing this that we sang, you know, way back when?” And, so, using music every day in a variety of ways is a great way to learn repetition, to learn how to model songs and movement, to be able to find words and pick them out in a story. That’s a whole new basis for literacy.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent. Let’s take a step back. You’ve worked very hard to promote national preschool standards and universal preschool during your career. What’s inspired your passion in those areas?
Becky Palacios I think just knowing that as a young child, I was very in tune to wanting to go to school. I wanted to go to school, and one of the fallacies back then was that if you knew enough English you didn’t have to go to school. You didn’t have to go and pre-learn your language ability, and they gave me a step, you know, ahead in one to see what a school was. I think they just gave me an incentive. But once I saw what school was, I was just one of those schoolgirls, and I know what we can do when you have positive teachers, positive experiences, but especially for young children because we have a window of time in that learning when everything is so exploratory. Everything’s “Why, but why does that happen?” And everything’s a wonder in those early years when you see those eyes sparkle and they’re magic like: “Why did you do that? Look what happened when you did that!” Important examples of fun activities where children are learning are so crucial.
Let me give you one example. One of them was, we were doing a banana experiment where we knew that there was water in the banana, and one of the creations that my coworker and I did was we rolled that in dry Jell-O, and if you look at the banana after a few seconds, it starts to really get colorful, and it shows you that that mixture of that water that’s in the banana is making that change. And the wonder in kids’ eyes when they see…we call it “rainbow banana”…when they see that rainbow banana come to life was magical. And so that was an impetus for teaching about the rain, the water, the water cycle, and so things like that, that universal preschool programs can do that just give them such a fascination with learning is very important.
Bethanne Patrick: That sounds wonderful. Thank you Becky.
Becky Palacios You’re welcome.
Bethanne Patrick: That wraps up this segment, but there’s still more discussion to come. Please join us for Part Three of this webcast. We’ll discuss professional development and mentoring in ELL preschool programs. You could learn more about early literacy for English Language Learners and watch the other segments of this webcast at www.colorincolorado.org.
Funding for this ColorÃn Colorado webcast is provided by the American Federation of Teachers. Additional support from the National Council of la Raza.
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Bethanne Patrick: It takes a lot of work to teach young English Language Learners well. Learn more about effective training and professional development in this segment of the Colorin Colorado webcast, preschool for English Language Learners.
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Bethanne Patrick: Hello. I’m Bethanne Patrick. In the previous segments of this webcast, we discussed language and academic instruction for young English Language Learners or ELLs. In this segment, we’ll talk about what it takes to make that good instruction happen. Welcome, Dr. Becky Palacios.
Becky Palacios: Thank you.
Bethanne Patrick: Thanks for being here. You taught young children for more than 30 years. What skills and qualities does a preschool teacher of ELL’s need to succeed?
Becky Palacios: Well, you need a quality professional development. Many people start out and they become really good strong early childhood teachers that they really don’t have the training to become teachers of English Language Learners, so an important component is professional development if they’re already in the classroom. Many seek to go back and get a certification, but many can’t. So what we need to do, as schools and school systems, is support the teachers in the classrooms already that are using increasing numbers of professional development seminars to develop ideas on how to teach those children to use strategies and instruction that are appropriate for that population of children.
Bethanne Patrick: What are some of the challenges that preschool ELL teachers face on a daily basis?
Becky Palacios: Well, a lot of the challenges are; one, not being able to communicate with the families or communicate with the children, and that’s one of the most difficult pieces because, then you can’t communicate with a child in another language. You don’t know exactly where they are, cognitively or language-wise, so those are some of the challenges that are huge at the very beginning. Where do I begin? How do I start? What can I do? And part of that is reaching it with families using people in – that are in your community or in your school that can remain part of your team that you can trust, your counselor, your school nurse, your assistant principal or principal that can help provide some of that training the teacher needs to be able to sustain that learning and growth in the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: How does a preschool program recruit and retain the educators that can best meet the needs of the ELLs?
Becky Palacios: Well, again, it all begins with appropriate types of training. You just can’t put any teacher in to work with English Language Learners. You have to have someone that’s highly-trained and highly-skilled and using appropriate strategies and knowledge of child learning and development when it comes to language acquisition in that classroom. So to be able to recruit them, you need to either home grow them, use them in your school, or you need to recruit them from programs that are graduating those types of students. For example, one of the things that we did in our school is that, as students’ teachers came to me in my classroom, I was able to mentor them and work with them in the classroom, but then one of the things that the university did well was to go ahead and leave them there for their student teaching year. They were able to either continue in that same year or then the following year, learn from me or from the teachers that were there with in the second year, learn about that school community. And we could do on-the-job kinds of training, so when they graduated, they were able to be hired back into our school and use that second language learning knowledge of how children grow and develop in that school community they were already familiar with.
Bethanne Patrick: Very, very smart. Let’s imagine a preschool program with a growing ELL population and limited ELL experience. As more of the ELLs enroll, how does the program address this transition effectively?
Becky Palacios: Well, it all begins, I think with the administrator because, if there are children coming in with special populiticous [Phonetic], special needs, then the school and the administrator needs to be fully versed in what to do and what resources to go seek. So I’ve worked with those types of school systems before and what they have done is they have gone to either the state agency, or they’ve gone to a university and said, look, this is what I’m facing. How do I get training from my teachers? What can I do? What are some of the resources available? And people like me have gone out as teachers leading other teachers in the classroom and working with them on a professional development component that is sustainable over time, because you can’t just go in and do, here’s the training, okay, we’re done. It’s something that needs to occur for that professional over time as well, to be able to make sure that they’re using appropriate strategies as situations change, how to work with families, how to work with programs, how to work with students.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent. What are the roles of different members of the school community while making this kind of transition?
Becky Palacios: Well, all the school community use to be fully aware of who your population is. So you need to know the culture. You need to know who are those parents they facing, whether or not those parents have had any schooling, no schooling, are fearful of the American school system. Who is your population? So you begin with that type of maybe formal or informal survey of the people that you’re going to be working with because, I think one of the hardest things is to make everything generic. You don’t want to do that. I think that’s the easy fix, rather. You could just say, okay, these are English Language Learners all the same but, in reality, everybody has a different type of experiential background. Every single person is coming to you with certain fears, certain needs, certain wants, certain expressions of expectations for that school, so everyone in that school community needs to be very supportive, whether it’s a nurse because the children have some medical issues, or the librarian, or the counselor. ? professionals who play a huge role in that classroom. Sometimes, those ? professionals are the only person in that classroom who speak the native language. So they are an important bridge to the parent community. And they need to be highly-trained as well, to be able to sustain those types of communication links and to make them positive and welcoming and warm and nurturing.
Bethanne Patrick: You’ve been addressing this, but let’s talk a little bit about how program leaders can build staff confidence while working with young ELLs.
Becky Palacios: Well, I know one of the things that we’ve done before is begin with team building because, if you don’t support the program and you don’t support the changes that it’s making, it’s going to be really hard to be part of that program, and that’s one of the things that I see. Change is very hard for people. Very hard. We’re used to teaching the same way, do the same things over and over but, we forget we are changing. Technology has changed. I mean, five years ago, my cell phone was very different and things are changing exponentially for children when it comes to science and technology. So, if we can remember; that we can’t always teach the same way we’ve always taught; that the populations that are coming to us may not always be the same population that we’ve had in our school; that we need to research and find out what needs they have, how we can better meet those needs. After all, they’re our clients. They are our customer. So we are accountable to the needs of the children, and the needs of the families in that community. And we can only do that by team building, and be accepting.
Bethanne Patrick: What can the staff do to create and maintain high expectations for the young learners themselves?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think it all begins with the discourse between the teacher and the parent. And it’s just not a top-down kind of thing but in a two-way street kind of discussion. So maintaining high expectations and explaining to them the goals of the program, what you want them to do when it comes to the support at the home, and what they expect me to do when it comes to the support in the school because, everything to me, is not about me. It’s about who the child is and what that child needs and what the family needs. So we have to stop and think about that in ways that we can communicate with the families and say, you know, what strengths do you have at home? What can you help in, in the school? And what are ways that we can find ways that you can learn about the school system? But yet we’re helping you, you know, come in and help us to teach the children in the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: What kind of ongoing professional development is needed for the staff while they’re dealing with this transition?
Becky Palacios: There’s so many types of professional development when you’re working with English Language Learners. One of the main things that I find teachers say is I really need to know what to do. What do I do? I have these materials already. Do I need more? What do I do? So first step in professional development is just learning about a different program model. You may not always be teaching to just English-speaking children. You’re going to be working with English Language Learners, which is the same content but a different skill set. So how do I deliver this instruction, make that input comprehensible? What do I need to do to slow down my speaking notes? Speak real fast? Then the classroom, very slow, very deliberate in how I present and how I use visuals and how I use gestures and how I point and show things or use puppets, and so learning those types of strategies is what I do teach for teachers and telling them these are the things you have to do to make your program successful now. You just have to use different strategies. It’s the same content. It’s just delivered a little bit differently.
Bethanne Patrick: In general, what kinds of professional development do preschool ELL educators need?
Becky Palacios: Well, they need to know, basically, about the population, about the children, about the culture, about the diversity. How to bring in resources and books that display – especially books – children in a variety of situations because, the children that are coming in need to know about themselves, how they fit in, in the school environment, and how they see themselves portrayed in literature. So using those types of resources, their professional development for them, needs to know; how do I use these strategies? Where can I find them? Where can I go and look for them? And, of course, again, colorincolorado.org is one of the best ways to find what those are and what the pieces are that are missing if they want to do personal types of professional development. But sitting with the administrator making long-range goals and plans of this is year one, year two, year three of this transition program of how we develop these types of activities and strategies over time because again, those teachers will need practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. It needs some really well-thought out sustained plan of implementation.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, what about their development in language and content areas?
Becky Palacios: Well, and that’s an important piece depending on the program that we spoke again about before, whether or not it’s a dual language, a bilingual, or an ELL program. The teacher needs to know which is going to be best. Which is the one that I’m implementing. How am I going to deliver this best? What do I need to do to create lessons that are comprehensible for children? How do I write my lesson plans out differently? How do I create activities and materials that are going to help the children, not just in the classroom, but at home, because that home environment is going to be very important to sustain native language growth so that they can foster their growth in English.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, why is it so important for preservice and new ELL teachers to have a good mentor?
Becky Palacios: Well, when you’re talking about all those different strategies and skills that I think doesn’t happen overnight, if you have a teacher in a preservice teacher in the classroom, which I’ve had before, it really opens their eyes that first year. There’s no way they’re going to implement all that right away because there’s so much coming at them. There’s so many things to know and do. So leading them, helping them in the classroom, using examples, being the mentors, saying, now watch what I’m going to do and pick out three strategies that I used. And so as I delivered the lesson, we would debrief and say, okay, explain to me what I did? Why do you think I’ve chose those? What was the population of children? Why did I tailor it that way? Why didn’t I choose this instead? So having a preservice teacher go through that the first year is crucial, then when they’re student teachers, they can really start to themselves, implement those and it kind of turns out the other way, then it’s my turn. Well, why did you choose that? Why did you choose this strategy? Why was that important to that population of students?
So then they become the ones that are doing the actual teaching and you’re questioning them and helping them. You modeled for them and work with them, and so having that type of second and third-year scaffold for them is important, and then when they become first-year teachers, having an actual mentor who can ask you questions, well, how’s it going? How are you doing? We lose those teachers the first three years of teaching because they don’t have mentors, and they don’t have support, they don’t have someone to call and talk to, and that’s huge. You need to have that link with the veteran teacher.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, so walk us through some steps, if you would, of how a mentor guides a new teacher.
Becky Palacios: Well, one of the things that they do is they talk about what is this plan? What is the curriculum? Who were the children? And so in mentoring and guiding teachers first of all, it’s incumbent upon me to model. I model what is good practice. We look at the research. We look at the standards that are available in the disciplinary areas. We look at the curriculum. And we ask a lot of, I ask a lot of questions and say, why is this important? So I’m modeling. And then mentoring is also about them demonstrating what they’ve learned in practice, using that and questioning them and having them reflect and keep a journal every day of what they’re doing, what they’re writing and what the difficulties are, and so in the mentoring capacity, to me, it’s again, over time. You don’t want to lose them. I still have contact with student teachers that are five-year experienced teachers that still call me and say, what do I do? This is what happened, you know, so when you have this type of experienced teachers sustaining new teachers, we find that we don’t lose them as quickly.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, who were your mentors?
Becky Palacios: Well, I actually had some really good mentors when I first started teaching back in the seventies. There was a program that was called “Follow-through”, was the other component of “Head-Start”. And we had teacher mentors that would come in and teach and model for us different types of lessons. Then we’d come back and watch us afterwards. So I had really good strong models at the very beginning from teacher mentors that were paid to come in and model for us appropriate bilingual teaching strategies and skills.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, is there a teacher you mentored who stands out in your memory?
Becky Palacios: Well, I have quite a few because they have been very successful. But I have one that I had about three years ago, and her name is Denise Calera and she was also featured in another series that we did, but she was in one of my preservice teachers. She was a student teacher, and she was also the parent of one of my students. She was one of our community parents. And she was just so gung-ho about working with second language learners, English Language Learners. And she has made a great impact on the first year of her kindergarten year that she taught her first school teaching year. She was actually featured in our city newspaper as the beginning teacher, and they followed her throughout the year to see how she was surviving, and how she was doing. It was a wonderful program. And they gave other teachers the impetus to say, I can do it. And then she started her own dual language program just this past year at a new school in a pre-K program. So, basically, the seeds that we planted have now grown in a different place. So I’m very excited for her and the hard work that she’s doing with her co-teaching partner.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s wonderful. Thanks so much, Becky.
Becky Palacios: You’re welcome.
Beth: We’ve come to the end of this segment but there’s still more of this discussion to come. Please join us for Part 4 of this webcast when we’ll discuss parent outreach and engagement. You can learn more about English Language Learners and watch other segments of this web cast at www.colorincolorado.org.
[Background Music] Funding for this Colorin Colorado webcast is provided by The American Federation of Teachers. Additional support from The National Council of La Raza.
How can preschool programs create a welcoming environment? What’s needed to build strong partnerships with their families? Please join me for Part Four of this Colorin Colorado webcast, Preschool for English Language Learners.
[Music] Hello. I’m Bethanne Patrick. Welcome to this Colorin Colorado webcast, Preschool for English Language Learners. In the first three sections, we discussed instruction of young English Language Learners, or ELL’s, and professional development. Now we’ll look at the role families can play in their children’s preschool education. Thank you, Dr. Becky Palacios.
Becky Palacios: Thank you.
Bethanne Patrick: Becky, let’s start a conversation about access to early childhood education programs. We know that preschool program slots are limited nationally. In your community, what kinds of access do families of young ELL’s have to preschool?
Becky Palacios: Well, it all depends on the community, and in ours, it looked at children that were… had basic needs and they could be homeless, they could be English Language Learners, or they could have qualified on the basis of need, of financial need. So, depends around the country different types of programs, but ours, we really looked at those with special types of needs.
Bethanne Patrick What was the level of interest in these preschool programs for your families?
Becky Palacios: We had a waiting list. It was wonderful. I mean, people know the richness of an early childhood program. They know how important it is to the children’s development, and we had luckily a program with three and four year olds that helped bridge up to kindergarten, so our program was very rich in providing two extra years of schooling for English Language Learners. Those children came to us with the ability to come…with needs, but we really capitalized on their strengths and not their weaknesses, and really developed a lot of language learning ability with the partnership of the families.
Bethanne Patrick: What are some of the effective ways for preschool programs to reach emigrant and ELL families?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think that one of the things that’s very important is the personal touch. If you don’t have that personal connection and the personal welcome and warmth, it’s going to be lacking, and most of us look for that wherever we go whether we go to a store, we go to a church, wherever we seek social situations, where people are going to be accepting, and that was one of the very first things that we knew in our program we needed to have is a person that’s going to say, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here, you know, let’s see what we can do. This is how our program works. We like to see how you can help fit some of those pieces that we need in our program, and let me tell you what is part of the program, what are the actual components of it.” So we provide orientation for the families ahead of time. We brought in the children ahead of time so they could see the classrooms, and those are very important, not just in preschool programs, but throughout English Language Learners teaching careers because you’re going to have different teachers throughout those years, and you need to meet who those people are, and those teachers need to be very warm and accepting.
Bethanne Patrick: So, how can the staff support newcomer parents who have recently arrived?
Becky Palacios: Well, there’s a lot of different ways. Meetings are one of them. You can bring parents in by themselves. You can provide, you know, sitters if that’s something your schools can sustain. We did parent meetings where we included the children. We used them as, you know, models for, if you’re holding a baby, you could say this is how you walk, this is how you sing, these are some examples, and so forth. So, parent meetings where you can do a survey ahead of time and ask them, “What are the needs you want?” You use them in their native language types of surveys. If you have somebody that can translate it, say what are some of those needs that you have? So, not just what I think is important for them, but what do they need from me. Is it nutrition? Is it rearing children? Is it they, themselves, learning a second language?
You can have a parent facilitator that helps and is part of your team. We have a wonderful person that in our group, and still have, who is our family facilitator who works for the families. I would be comfortable going to her and saying, “I have six parents that really, really want to learn to read English. What can you do?” And she would set it in motion. So it’s not uncommon for me to also be teaching the parents even though it was part of my role but she would sustain that growth over time for them.
Bethanne Patrick: Which program materials should preschools make available in the native languages of the parents?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think that anything that goes out for children to learn. One of the things that I did as a teacher was create a little just a one page simple pictorial vocabulary word list. Now a lot of children have spelling list, well, I have vocabulary lists. So we were studying about insect families, and I was going to have the English and the Spanish word on the picture for grasshopper or for ant or for whatever we were studying there so the parents could take it home and were also learning. So materials that are used in the classroom, materials that go home to the parents from the nurse, from the counselor, from the school, all those are very important, and especially at my school I help translate a lot of those documents so that they would go home to the parents and they could read them.
Otherwise, the parents would come to me and say, “What does this say?” But that was part of my access to be able to say, “Sure, let me tell you. This is what we’re going to need for tomorrow. Your child needs this next week or this is asking about a survey.” So parents are going to ask anyway. They felt very comfortable with me coming and asking me if they got a document only in English or only in a language they couldn’t understand.
Bethanne Patrick: You’ve talked a lot about home-schooled partnerships as a two-way street. So, can you explain what you mean by that and why you think a two-way street is so important?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think it’s valuing who people are because I think a lot of times schools don’t realize that we do a lot of top-down, a lot of, you know, I’m telling you what to do. This is what I need you to do, and even though that’s ok, it’s got to be a two-way street where I’m learning from them. There are some things they do at home, things that they can share that they can bring in that really enriches the school environment, and if they have that comfort level of coming into the school and being part of it and the children see them active in the school and playing an important role in the school and in the classroom, then those children are likely going to experience more success in their school career when their families are involved.
Becky Palacios: Well, I always told the parents, you continue your native speaking ability. That’s your culture, your connection, your emotional attachment to your family. That’s what holds your family together, and as you’re learning the second language together and you’re learning all these other things, why not? That’s what learning is about…learning about science, learning about music, learning about other languages. It’s all about learning. It’s education. So you sustain what you already know, and you grow in other ways that you’d want to grow in.
Bethanne Patrick: If children are struggling with reading and language difficulties, what can parents do to help?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think that we need to recognize that in ourselves first if that’s something that is developmental or it’s something the parent doesn’t need to worry about at that point, but when the parent makes me aware of let’s just say a speech problem or something that’s going on in the home when it comes to maybe an emotional crisis or something, then the family needs to let us know and be aware, and we need to support them with bilingual types of conversations where they’re also confidential with the nurse, using the counselor, or whoever is involved in that situation, but also being the bridge to that communication, that collaboration, with that team and not having a parent feel intimidated about bringing others into that type of situation.
Bethanne Patrick: Regardless of language level and ability, what can parents with limited schooling get from the staff in terms of building their confidence and getting their input encouraged?
Becky Palacios: Well, there’s a lot of things that we can do. One of the things that I started in my school was a lending library, “Lending and Learning Library” is what we called it, and we had books, I wrote a small grant. I can’t believe how much it really yielded us over time. This may be like $1,000 grant, and I bought as many books with cassettes, back then, as I could. They didn’t come on CD’s when I wrote this grant, but we bought cassette players also with this $1,000. It took us a long way, and the parents checked those out. A lot of them already had cassettes, but those that didn’t were able to take them home. They didn’t have to learn to read, but they could just sit with their child for ten or fifteen minutes, you know, listen to the story, discuss the story in whatever language they felt comfortable in, because it’s all about developing concepts, developing oral vocabulary in the home, and I can work with whatever they work on because I can bridge that when they come to the classroom.
Bethanne Patrick: Well what are some other ways that staffs can encourage literacy at home?
Becky Palacios: Well, they can, the school can create little books as the children are working. I told you before that sometimes I have my students draw, or we take pictures of what they’re working in, little books they can send home, little booklets of activities as we’re learning to read. They can also go to the public library and check out some books that are very important. Those are free. They can come to the school library in many different instances where they can check them out and bring them back, and it just depends on the school situation, but the public library is one of the greatest resources that they can get a hold of that they can go in and just spend some time there. There’s activities that the parents can do at home with those books that are checked out, and we can bridge those types of ideas on the Colorin Colorado website, there’s a lot of strategies and activities.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, and from the website as well, and also in the library, there are songs and nursery rhymes, so could you tell us a little bit about ways that families use this to bridge the gap between school and home?
Becky Palacios: Sure. A lot of the times we’ll have songs and traditions that are carried on from generation to generation that are very important, and that like, for example, grandma sang to me, and, you know, I’m singing to my grandchildren now, and when we do those types of oral language pieces, the children realize that we value language, and they’re able to create that language learning environment in the home, but it doesn’t have to be things that they can go and check out and buy. They can go to the grocery store and walk children through the store and say, “This is an apple. This is this, and guess where it was grown. Let’s look at the sticker. Oh my gosh, it was grown in Guatemala,” you know, and you’re talking about geography, and you’re talking about countries. You’re opening children’s eyes to the world. The grocery store is one of the best places I think we can take kids on a “geographical walk”.
Bethanne Patrick: That’s wonderful. Let’s take a final look at the big picture. Why is it so important for a preschool program to connect with its greater community?
Becky Palacios: Well, because we want to make sure that when these children understand that connection with who they are and who they want to be and how they fit into society, when they see all the greater community coming in and playing a part in their growth and their environment, it’s a comment upon the teacher to bring that community in. We want to show them what is there. I think one of the greatest things that I remember doing was bringing in community members to come and speak about their jobs and their work, and it wasn’t just during the week of community type of learning. It was throughout the year because these folks are really vested in early childhood. You’d be surprised how many people out there admire and support early childhood growth and especially early childhood dual language programs, bilingual programs.
We do have huge proponents of second language acquisition, and as I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve been to various countries around the world, all of them support language learning as a way to develop the brain to become creative thinkers and problem solvers, and so when we’re giving children the gift of language, you’re giving it to them at a formative age when it really makes that impact on your brain development because we’re teaching second language programs in high school and college, we really don’t have the ability to practice in this context that will never happen again.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, and that’s a good point because the community comes in, as you said and has a great interest, but how can the preschool help to build and maintain that connection?
Becky Palacios: Well, I think part of it is, I guess, twofold. One is bringing the world in to the children, but bringing that program out to the world, and keeping it visible in a PR kind of situation, talking about its positive impact on the children, its merits, its research, what the school is doing, you know, using it in a website, showcasing it in the school’s website-things that can be done that will really support second language learning for children.
Bethanne Patrick: What about non-profit social services and their role?
Becky Palacios: Well there’s quite a few that do support the school, the school district, and it just depends on how the teacher is supported in that school environment. For example, I was able to acquire those interactive white boards through that greater school community writing grants to people that I knew supported early childhood learning and second language learning. So when preschool programs and teachers in those programs are aware of their resources in the community and who are the proponents of your program, they’re likely going to be your best donors and funders.
Bethanne Patrick: Well, thank you for all of this wonderful information, Becky. Any final thoughts?
Becky Palacios: I’m thinking that one of the best things that we’ve ever done when it comes to the American Federation of Teachers is to support the ColorinColorado.org website because this has been a huge asset in my community and the people that I’ve outreached around the world, as I’ve traveled around the world and I’ve shown them the ability to go to the website and to learn more about it, the ability to have it available for families is also huge, and so I would encourage anyone that is working with English Language Learners to please go to the website and to learn more about it.
Bethanne Patrick: Excellent. Thank you so much, Dr. Rebecca Palacios.
Becky Palacios: Thank you.
Bethanne Patrick: You can learn more about English Language Learners and watch the other segments of this webcast at www.ColorinColorado.org. Funding for this Colorin Colorado webcast is provided by the American Federation of Teachers with additional support from the National Council of La Raza.
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