Research on the literacy and language development of Spanish-speaking English language learners
VIAS Subproject 2
Early Intervention Study:
Improving the Language and Literacy Skills of Spanish-English Bilingual Kindergarteners
Subproject 2 is a longitudinal intervention study that compares the oral language proficiency and literacy development of kindergarteners from Spanish-speaking backgrounds participating in either an English classroom intervention, a Spanish home intervention linked to English classroom intervention, or no intervention. The goals of the study are to design and implement an intervention program that improves the vocabulary and extended discourse skills of bilingual Spanish–English kindergarten students and to assess the impact of the intervention on their early literacy development. This study differs from previous work of its kind in that it matches English language development in classrooms with Spanish language development in the home. Preliminary findings indicate that, on average, students could identify more vocabulary words instructed as part of the intervention at post-assessment compared with performance at pre-assessment. In addition, parents participating in the intervention responded very positively to the program and increased their language and literacy activities at home.
The Early Childhood Intervention Study of the Vocabulary Instruction and Assessment for Spanish Speakers (VIAS) project consists of an intervention designed to improve the language and literacy skills of Spanish-English bilingual kindergarten students as well as 2 years of longitudinal research, during which the kindergarten students involved in the intervention are followed through first and second grade. The first 2 years of work were focused on designing, developing, and piloting the intervention program, which consists of two components: 1) a classroom intervention to develop the vocabulary and extended discourse skills of young Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs), and 2) a home component designed to develop these skills in students’ home languages. During the third year, a full-scale study was implemented. The design of the intervention is quasi-experimental with assignment at the classroom level.
Activities and Results
The project was awarded funding in September 2007 and was initiated in January 2008. Since this time, the Principal Investigator and the research team have designed, developed, and piloted an intervention program that is currently being tested in kindergarten classrooms in the Boston Public Schools. The classroom intervention consists of five thematic units organized around a 4-week structure. Weekly lessons are based on interactive shared reading, pre-teaching activities for academic vocabulary, structured vocabulary activities for basic words, visual and kinesthetic review of words and story content. The home intervention consists of five sessions (one per month) parallel to the classroom intervention units. In each 2-hour session, researchers work with parents to teach them how to develop children’s language and early literacy skills through interactive shared reading in students’ first language, Spanish.
During the first project year, the Principal Investigator constituted the research team and a pilot study was completed in the Boston Public Schools during which teachers and parents tried out one unit of the intervention materials. The classroom intervention was conducted over a period of 4 weeks in 3 classrooms with approximately 55 students participating in the lessons. Teachers were observed during every intervention lesson (12 lessons per teacher). Seven parents participated in the parent intervention sessions. Assessments of students’ knowledge of targeted vocabulary and fidelity measures to assess implementation of the interventions were also created and piloted at this time. In the second year of the project, the full intervention program (consisting of five units) was piloted in two schools with high numbers of Spanish-speaking kindergarten children. In total, eight classrooms participated in the study: four intervention classrooms and four control classrooms. Intervention materials and assessments were developed and refined. Project staff obtained feedback from teachers and parents, which was used to improve the intervention materials. Implementation using the within-school control design allowed us to test for any effects of the intervention program on children’s language and literacy skills. Preliminary findings indicate that, on average, students were able to identify more intervention-instructed vocabulary words at post-assessment than at pre-assessment. In addition, parents participating in the intervention responded very positively to the program and increased their language and literacy activities at home.
During the third project year, the research team was supported by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) supplement to further the work of the project. With the summer supplement, the project staff refined and further developed the intervention materials, entered and analyzed data, and produced the revised intervention materials used in the full study in Year 3.
In Year 3, the study was expanded to include a larger sample of Spanish-speaking kindergarten children participating in three conditions: 1) classroom intervention in English, 2) home intervention in Spanish linked to classroom intervention in English, and 3) a control intervention. Four Boston Public School sites are participating in the study for a total of 12 classrooms: eight intervention classrooms and eight control classrooms. Due to changes in the school district context and in order to maximize parent participation in the intervention program, the implementation of the intervention in Year 3 is being conducted using a school-level design. Control schools have been matched to intervention schools using district information regarding the schools' profile and demographic characteristics. In addition, control schools are provided with the same books used in the intervention program. Classroom observations were conducted and students were assessed prior to implementing the intervention program. This pre-intervention data has been collected for 140 kindergarten children: 40 in the classroom intervention, 40 in the classroom-plus-home intervention, and 60 in control classrooms. Data collection activities that are currently underway include collecting fidelity of implementation observations, administering teacher and parent questionnaires, collecting posttest data in English and Spanish.
The Principal Investigator and the Project Coordinators have started to disseminate findings from the research study, including a presentation of results from the Year 2 research activities at the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading 2009 meeting in Massachusetts. The presentation resulted in an invitation to write a chapter for the Handbook of Early Literacy Research (Neuman & Dickinson, Editors). Additional findings from this project will be presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in May 2010.
This study adds to the body of research on effective vocabulary instruction for young bilingual children, an area with a dearth of intervention research focused on this demographic group.
In Years 4 and 5, kindergarten students will be followed through first and second grade. Data will be collected during the spring of each year. Data collection will include student assessments, teacher and parent interviews, and classroom observations. Measures will include the battery of assessments used in previous years that examine language and literacy development. Data analyses will allow us to determine how children’s language and literacy skills change over time and to examine the long-term effects of the intervention.
- Páez, M., Paratore Bock, K., Pizzo, L. (2011). Supporting the language and early literacy skills of English language learners: Effective practices and future directions. In S.B. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of Early Literacy Research: Vol. 3 (pp. 136-152). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
- Paratore, J. R., Krol-Sinclair, B., Páez, M., & Paratore-Bock, K. (2010). Supporting literacy learning in families for whom English is an additional language. In G. Li & P. Edwards (Eds.), Best practices in ELL instruction (pp.299-327). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
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