Inside Gateways Newsletter—Winter 2012

Greeting from Gateways

Welcome to the New Year—2012—and the latest edition of Inside Gateways, the Gateways to Opportunity quarterly e-newsletter!

Recent news regarding the Illinois Race-to-the-Top (RTT) grant application was disappointing! Nine states were selected to receive funding, and Illinois was not chosen to receive an award. Nevertheless, the Illinois RTT application process was a catalyst for much cross-sector discussion and system building in our state. Identified key initiatives, opportunities to strengthen our early childhood system, will move forward regardless of RTT funding. With or without an Illinois RTT award, we can still positively impact outcomes for our children.

We hear so much in the news about our educational system and the challenges we currently face. Data from the recent census inform us that the number of children living in poverty has increased significantly in the past decade. Our educational system is faced with multiple challenges, including concerns about the dropout rate and lack of educational preparation for a highly skilled workforce. The demographics of our families have changed significantly throughout our country, and in Illinois, we need to meet the educational needs of a highly diverse population.

We also know that research supports the critical role that early childhood education plays in laying a strong foundation for children to be successful. Early childhood practitioners are often the first to help families navigate our educational system. Early childhood programs set the stage for mutual respect and inclusion of families with differing cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Early childhood practitioners play a key role in working with families and in the provision of high-quality early learning and development programs.   

As the entry point into our educational system, our early childhood workforce needs training and preparation in order to fully meet the needs of families with young children, especially those that include dual language learners. This issue of Inside Gateways provides insight into the challenges and opportunities that exist among our early childhood professionals working with this population. Lilian Katz shares ideas to help us assess professional preparation. And through interviews with staff at the Illinois State Board of Education, learn more about the role that Illinois has undertaken as the first state to require bilingual services and native language instruction.  

It’s a new year. There will be significant opportunities to positively impact outcomes for children during 2012. We know that the early childhood workforce is an integral part of shaping and supporting children’s education. We know that our workforce needs training and preparation to work with the broad range of diversity in our early learning and development programs. Yes, our current educational system faces challenges. But our early childhood workforce can gain necessary skills to meet the needs of all children. Enter 2012 with a desire to increase your professional preparation so that you can be part of the catalyst for change and a stronger educational system. Our children and families are counting on us more than ever before.  

Make this your best year ever.

We are here to assist you in your Professional Development journey.


Joni Scritchlow and
Your Gateways to Opportunity
Professional Development Team

Voices from the Field

 In July 2010, Illinois became the first state to require bilingual services and native language instruction in school-district-administered preschool programs. Under the new regulations, public school districts must uniformly identify children who are English Language Learners (ELLs) by administering a home language survey to all children new to the district and conducting an English language proficiency screening process for children who come from a language background other than English. A school district attendance center that enrolls 20 or more preschool ELLs who have the same language must offer a Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) program, which includes instruction in the home language and in English as well as English as a Second Language (ESL). An attendance center that enrolls 19 or fewer preschool ELLs who have the same home language must offer either a Transitional Program of Instruction (TPI) or a TBE program.

By July 1, 2014, preschool teachers who are providing native language or ESL instruction to ELLs must meet bilingual or ESL endorsement or approval requirements. In this issue of Inside Gateways, we offer several perspectives on the impact of the new legislation on classrooms, school districts, higher education, and others responsible for professional development in Illinois.

Josie Yanguas

I am hearing about more collaboration between bilingual/ESL faculty and early childhood education faculty at higher education institutions around  Illinois.

The Illinois Resource Center (IRC) assists teachers and administrators serving linguistically and culturally diverse students. IRC receives support from the Illinois State Board of Education to provide educational and professional development programs for educators throughout the state to help them develop effective learning environments for English Language Learners (ELLs), that is, students who do not speak English as a first language.

Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Josie Yanguas (JY), the director of the Illinois Resource Center, about the changes, challenges, and opportunities in meeting the professional development needs of those who teach ELLs in early learning and development (ELD) programs in Illinois.

josie_yanguasIG: Why are we concerned with preparing our teachers to work with children who are ELLs in Illinois?

JY: The ELL population in Illinois continues to grow. Today in Illinois, about one K–12 student in 10 is an ELL. Based on the 2010 school year report from the Illinois State Board of Education, we know there were over 183,000 ELLs in the K–12 population. The bulk of ELLs are concentrated in the early grades. Those numbers have nearly doubled in the past 15 years. Although the greatest concentration of ELLs is in the Chicago metro area, ELL students are showing up in many different areas of the state.

We want to be sure that teachers have more targeted training on the specific needs of this student population. The new legislation that mandates that preschool ELLs have access to preschool programs in their native language acknowledges the parent-child relationship and the importance of communication in that relationship. It is important that a child’s first language be maintained, particularly in those home environments where parents are predominantly Spanish speakers or speakers of other languages, including Polish, Arabic, and Urdu.

IG: What teacher education and professional development opportunities exist for teachers in Illinois to work with ELLs in early learning and development (ELD) programs?

JY: There is forward movement among the institutions of higher education in recognizing that this population is growing. Many universities are making more explicit attempts to address issues of ELLs in their certification programs. DePaul University and National Louis University in the Chicago area have tailored their early childhood education certification programs to enable students to either get their ESL or bilingual approval. These opportunities will better prepare teachers to work with young ELLs. In general, I am hearing about more collaboration between bilingual/ESL faculty and early childhood education faculty at higher education institutions around Illinois. ·

Our office, the IRC, has traditionally provided professional development for K–12 teachers who work with linguistically and culturally diverse populations. The Early Childhood Professional Development Center, our sister office, sponsors many professional development opportunities for teachers working with the Child Care Block Grant/Preschool for All programs statewide. They often call upon our staff to do presentations on best practice and strategies for ELLs in the PreK years.

Some of this movement is a result of the changes mandated by the new legislation that takes effect in July of 2014. Some of the professional development programs were already in place even before the new legislation.

IG: What kinds of professional development are most effective in reaching the largest number of teachers and increasing the skill set of teachers who work with young ELLs?

JY: Teachers who are enrolled in courses on meeting the needs of ELLs get more out of professional development than those who attend a half-day or whole-day presentation on those issues, which is not to diminish the importance of those more short-term opportunities, especially if they eventually lead to more staff development in the future. The Early Childhood Professional Development Center offers an online overview course on young ELLs. Online professional development works well for some topics such as foundations of language minority students. With more complex topics, such as teaching methods or assessment of young ELLs, a face-to-face format is more effective because it offers a richer environment with more opportunities for give and take among the participating teachers.

IG: What are our greatest challenges in meeting the professional development needs of teachers of ELLs in ELD?

JY: One challenge is the small number of Type 04 certified teachers with a bilingual or ESL endorsement to meet the needs of the growing ELL PreK population in Illinois. This is challenging in the population-dense region of Chicago. In the Chicago area, at least there are opportunities for professional development and coursework, as I indicated earlier. Preparing teachers to serve ELL children in more isolated communities around the state is even more difficult because community colleges or universities often aren’t easily accessible. Another route to take to increase the supply of teachers for our young ELLs is to help bilingual instructional aides working in our schools get their regular Type 04 certification. This option permits schools to provide good native language models for young ELL students. A challenge for all teachers throughout the state is finding the time and money to take continuing education in the form of graduate-level classes to get a bilingual or ESL endorsement.

Despite the challenges in preparing our teachers to meet the needs of ELLs, the new bilingual early education mandate in Illinois will benefit children, families, and schools serving young ELLs. The law defines how ELL students are to be screened and identified, avoiding the mislabeling of young students as English proficient, which was fairly commonplace. Capitalizing on a child’s native language to develop social and academic skills in the preschool years will provide a solid educational foundation and smoother transition to K–12. We know from research that it takes from five to seven years for ELL students to be on par, educationally speaking, with their English-speaking peers. Providing appropriate instructional services to ELLs in the PreK years will allow ELL students to be able to make a smoother transition into general education classes later on in their elementary years.

Luisiana Melendez

One key element [of teacher education] is to make sure that teachers have a deep understanding about how children develop and that context and culture frame that development. This is true for every child, not only those considered as culturally or linguistically diverse.

luisiana_melendezErikson Institute, a graduate school focused exclusively on early childhood, offers bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate programs as well as an infant specialist and infant mental health certificate program. It is one of the few institutions of higher education that offers an English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate with a birth–8 content.

Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Luisiana Melendez (LM), the director of the Bilingual/ESL Certificate Program at Erikson Institute in Chicago, about teacher education and professional preparation for early childhood teachers working with English Language Learners (ELLs).

IG: Why are we concerned with preparing our teachers to work with children who are ELLs in Illinois?

LM: The role that language development plays in early childhood has been well researched. Early language development is very important for early literacy and later school achievement. Therefore, how to prepare teachers to effectively serve children who are developing more than one language in their early years is a very important consideration for teacher preparation programs. The demographics in Illinois and the United States have been changing for over a decade. We’ve seen a significant growth in the number of young children exposed to more than one language during the early years. Best practice in teacher preparation dictates that teachers be well versed in the knowledge and skills necessary to work with children who speak more than one language.

IG: What teacher education and professional development opportunities exist for teachers in Illinois to work with ELLs in early learning and development (ELD) programs?

LM: The needs of young Dual Language Learners (DLLs) or ELLs are becoming more and more visible in teacher education programs throughout the state. However, it is fair to say that our teacher education and professional development programs are not fully responsive to this issue yet. They are still works in progress. The passage of new education rules that establish preschool-age children who speak a language other than English as eligible for language support services sends a message about how important this issue is. I am hopeful that in the near future teacher education programs, community programs, and other organizations working with professional development will include more of the knowledge and skills that teachers need to work effectively with children who are DLLs or ELLs. It comes down to an issue of resources, human and financial; and funding is always a challenge.

Erikson offers a bilingual/ESL certificate program. We were the first program geared for early childhood teachers working in PreK–3rd grade settings. Erikson also partners with community organizations serving DLLs and their families to offer more individual professional development programs for service providers, mostly around Chicago. In January 2012, Erikson will offer its bilingual certificate program online so that those who are not in the Chicago area can access our program. DePaul University in Chicago also offers its early childhood teacher candidates the opportunity to concurrently pursue their Type 04 certification and bilingual or ESL endorsement geared to early childhood education.

IG: Let’s shift gears to focus on how we help teachers create “Multicultural and Linguistically Responsive Early Childhood Classrooms”—the title of a recent publication of yours.

LM: One key element is to make sure that teachers have a deep understanding about how children develop and that context and culture frame that development. This is true for every child, not only those considered as culturally or linguistically diverse. However, children who are part of the mainstream culture and speak the mainstream language are more likely to find that the developmental tasks and goals valued at home are very similar to those they will encounter in other settings, such as early care and education programs and schools.

Let me provide an example of what I mean by the role that culture plays in children’s development. Helping children become independent learners, to make choices, and to be agents in constructing their own knowledge is a common goal in most early childhood programs. In some communities, that is the goal for children at home as well. In other communities, other goals might be preferred, such as helping children develop strong connections with other members of the family and learning to rely on one another. A child coming from the latter community may need support to become comfortable taking initiative and making choices in the classroom. Teachers need to act as mediators for children who come from non-mainstream backgrounds.

Ideally, we want our schools and programs to be respectful of different developmental pathways and to integrate children’s experiences and ways of knowing into the classroom setting. The way that we expect children to learn and behave in early childhood programs is the result of larger society values and the evolution of the field in our particular context of the United States. Teachers working with young children and families need to understand that there might be a difference between what parents consider an important developmental goal and what teachers expect of children in the classroom—and that one set of goals is not necessarily better than the other. Children and families can learn to navigate these different contexts, but they can do this most successfully when teachers and programs are both respectful of and responsive to these differences.

IG: What are our greatest challenges in meeting the professional development needs of teachers of ELLs in ELD today?

LM: One challenge is preparing faculty and professional development workers who are knowledgeable about early childhood education and the needs of dual language learners. There is an initiative, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and supported by the joint efforts of the Illinois State Board of Education, Division of Early Childhood; the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development; and the Illinois Resource Center: Early Childhood, that has been offering higher education faculty institutes to address blending these two areas. There have been several, very successful, higher education faculty institutes, and there is another planned for early next year. A second challenge is getting the necessary funds and financial support so that teachers have access to professional development that has coherence, is long term, and is embedded in practice. That kind of professional development is an expensive endeavor, but we know from the literature that it is the most effective kind of professional development, leading to lasting changes in what teachers know and can do.

Washington Early Childhood Program, Urbana School District 116
Cris Vowels, Teresa Mendez Bray, and Lily Jimenez

We encourage parents to speak in their native language at home with their children. Some families are surprised to hear this because of what they may have heard elsewhere or because they recall their own struggles learning English.

cris_vowels teresa_bray lily_jimenez Washington Early Childhood (WEC) School offers a Preschool for All (PFA) early childhood program within Urbana School District 116. This two-year, part-day program for 3- and 4-year-olds is administered by the Illinois State Board of Education with Child Care Development Block Grant funds. Enrollment priority is given to children who are considered at risk of school failure.

WEC serves approximately 360 students 3–5 years of age, virtually all of whom are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Approximately 40% of the early childhood students are eligible for special education services. Most receive speech services. Eighteen percent of the early childhood students at WEC are English Language Learners (ELLs), a percentage that increases each year, mostly among the Spanish-speaking population in the Urbana School District. In November of this year, WEC again received accreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a designation the school has held since March 2006.

Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Washington Early Childhood staff Cris Vowels (CV), principal; Teresa Mendez Bray (TMB), multicultural program coordinator; and Lily Jimenez (LJ), a Spanish bilingual teacher, about meeting the needs of ELLs in their program.

IG: When did Washington Early Childhood (WEC) begin to address the needs of ELLs in an intentional, structured way?

CV/TMB/LJ: There has been an awareness of the need for native language/cultural support and the need for ESL contextualized instruction for the ELLs in our school and district for a long time. In 1995, the first multicultural program coordinator was hired, who was responsible for guiding teachers in working with ELL children and their families. In the fall of 1998, we hired our first bilingual early childhood teacher. In the fall of 2001, we had one self-contained session of Spanish-speaking children in our early childhood program. As the population grew, we added a second self-contained classroom at Washington.

This year, our early childhood program offers a Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) program since we have more than 19 children who speak Spanish as their only or second native language. At the preschool level, this consists of native language instruction in Spanish. The children in our program are instructed by a certified bilingual education teacher, who provides Spanish instruction as well as ESL instruction. We also offer a Transitional Program of Instruction (TPI/ESL), which consists of English as a Second Language Instruction for those children from language backgrounds other than Spanish. At the early childhood level, the importance of native language development for all ELLs is emphasized to parents and teachers. We continue to be challenged by how to adequately provide native language opportunities for children of non-Spanish languages.

IG: What approaches have you found to be effective in meeting the needs of ELL children and their families at WEC?

CV/TMB/LJ: In working with families, we first work to ensure that we provide them access to participating in the education of their children by providing them with interpreters for two-way communication between home and school. We encourage parents to speak in their native language at home with their children. Some families are surprised to hear this because of what they may have heard elsewhere or because they recall their own struggles learning English. Every teacher and staff person in our program conveys the message to families that their child’s native language is the foundation for learning English. We also work to help families understand the programs we offer for ELLs. This year that involves explaining in an accessible manner what the TBE and the TPI/ESL programs offer instructionally and the importance of these educationally for their children.

Instructionally, native language instruction is provided in Spanish, yet for children who speak other languages (Vietnamese, Arabic, etc.), we encourage teachers to integrate native language materials, opportunities, and culture in the classroom. When providing ESL instruction, we modify the instruction in English to accommodate the different levels of English proficiency first so that children can demonstrate their understandings of what they are learning in different ways. Some children at beginning levels of English proficiency may need to show their understandings of what is being learned until they have more oral language proficiency in English. A combination of techniques, such as modified language, visuals, gestures, and manipulatives are used—to help children understand the spoken English, concepts, and vocabulary. There may be assumptions that for ELLs one must lower the level of instruction; however, with ELLs that is not the case. The idea is to make the second language comprehensible and accessible so that instruction is provided at the level the child is functioning.

IG: Differentiating instruction in the way you describe requires a wide range of skills: fluency with the child’s native language, knowledge of English as a Second Language (ESL) techniques, as well as an understanding of how young children learn. What kinds of professional development and support best prepare teachers—new and experienced—to work with ELLs?

CV/TMB/LJ: We are fortunate to have one teacher in our program who has certification in Spanish and ESL, as well as two other teachers who will become certified in Bilingual and/or ESL this year. We have two additional teachers who are pursuing their certifications and will be certified by 2014. The coursework for teacher certification in Illinois is quite broad. It does not adequately address early childhood education, nor does it focus on teaching non-native English speakers. The strategies learned in university-level courses about helping native English-speaking children learn to read, for example, needs to be adapted for use with non-native English speakers. The Illinois Resource Center offers classes and other professional development on working with ELLs in early childhood classrooms, which have been helpful. Much learning happens on the job for our staff. We continue to explore the best way to provide professional development for our certified and noncertified staff in our district. The multicultural program coordinator is available as a resource to teachers, and the current bilingual certified teacher also works to collaborate with the other teachers.

Our district and others in the state face a huge challenge trying to meet the demand for early childhood teachers in blended classrooms who must have a Type 04 teacher certification as well as special education and bilingual/ESL certification. We hope that the supply of bilingual early childhood teachers will meet the demand as we approach July 1, 2014, the date when the new state law goes into effect.

Joe Wiemelt

We strive to be responsive to families culturally and linguistically… Our goal is to provide school environments where parents feel as welcome and comfortable in the setting as if it were in their own home culture and country.

joe_wiemeltUrbana School District 116 serves approximately 4,100 students (PreK–12th grade) in east central Illinois. About 10% of the district’s students are ELLs, with over 46 different languages spoken. The percentage of ELLs in the Urbana School District has doubled in the past eight years, mostly among the Spanish-speaking population, which represents half of the ELLs in the district today.

Inside Gateways (IG) talked to Joe Wiemelt (JW), the director of Bilingual and Multicultural Programs in Urbana School District 116, about the district’s approach to meeting the needs of ELLs. 

IG: When did the Urbana School District become intentional in its approach to meeting the needs of ELLs in the district? 

JW: Our school district has had a multicultural program of instruction since the early 1970s. Our district has historically served children from a wide range of countries whose parents are scholars and graduate students at the University of Illinois, which is located in our community. Our district programs were initially started as small group, ESL-based instruction. Our approach has evolved over time to include more bilingual programs, including native language instruction in many languages (Arabic, Korean, French, Mandarin, Turkish, Indonesian, Russian, Vietnamese, and Lao). Our largest bilingual programs are particularly for our Spanish-speaking population, which has grown most dramatically in recent years. In 1999, 2.2% of our district student population was Spanish speaking. In 2011, 10.5% of our district population is Spanish speaking. The overarching intent of our approach today is to develop bilingual (or multilingual) students who are proficient in English and proficient in their native language.

IG: What approaches in the district are particularly effective with ELL students and their families?

JW: One approach we use throughout the district is to help students learn English as they develop content knowledge in their native language. Our teachers focus on cooperative and flexible groupings to allow our ELL students to work with other students with varying English proficiency. As students move up grade levels, the amount of English instruction increases through content-based ESL instruction and sheltered instruction. We see great achievement (as measured by standardized tests, GPA, graduation rates, etc.) by our ELL students at higher levels of schooling (middle and high school levels) because of the early native language programs and support. At our recent round of parent conferences, 64 different conferences were translated in three of our schools in the district. Family involvement extends beyond parent conference participation. We try to encourage family involvement in policy development and advisory roles at our schools as well. Our goal is to provide school environments where parents feel as welcome and comfortable in the setting as if it were in their own home culture and country. There is room for improvement in our outreach to families, and we will continue to focus on our responsiveness to our students and families.

IG: What kinds of professional development and support best prepare teachers to work with ELLs?

JW: The best preparation is to become ELL, bilingual, and/or ESL certified. Those certifications involve rigorous coursework at the higher education level, which means a significant investment of time and money—commodities that are limited for many of our teachers and staff. In my capacity as director of Bilingual and Multicultural Programs, I attend many workshops and conferences on working with ELLs and coordinate professional development in our district for our certified and noncertified staff. ·

Our long history serving ELLs in Urbana School District 116 puts us in better shape than many districts of similar size in the state that are just learning how to effectively identify and provide instructional environments for ELLs. Research about best practice working with ELLs has evolved since our early years of offering “multicultural instruction.” Also, our district profile has changed rather dramatically in recent years. We are now a “minority, majority” school district. That was not the case six or seven years ago. Today, 41.7% of our students are White, 35.1% are Black, 10.5% are Hispanic, 5.4% are Asian, and 6.6% are Multiracial. The number of ELLs in our schools will continue to grow. I am confident that our district goals related to working with ELLs and their families are the right ones. Our challenge is to provide the support and professional development our current teachers need and to recruit new teachers with the requisite skills for the ELLs in our PreK–12th grade classrooms.

Marta Moya-Leang

[The Reggio Emilia model] works for bilingual early childhood education because it has the rights of the children at its foundation… It is about listening and supporting the child, valuing their culture and their language.

marta_moya-leangMarta Moya-Leang is the head teacher at Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center, a Preschool for All program within Belmont-Cragin Elementary School, which enrolls approximately 635 students PreK–8th grade, 97% of whom are Hispanic. Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center incorporates the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning and is NAEYC accredited.

Inside Gateways (IG) spoke to Marta Moya-Leang (MML) about meeting the needs of English Language Learners (ELLs) in her early learning and development (ELD) program. 

IG: Can you provide some background about Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center? When did it open, and what is the makeup of the student body?

MML: Our Preschool for All program opened in 2004. We are attached organizationally, but not physically, to Belmont-Cragin Elementary School, which is located a full mile from our center. We serve 380 preschoolers. Our enrollment is larger than other PFA programs because we offer three part-day sessions daily: one morning, one early afternoon, and one later afternoon from 3:00pm–5:25pm. About 90% of our population is Latino. We also have sizeable Polish- and Arabic-speaking populations.

IG: Your program incorporates the Reggio Emilio (RE) philosophy. Explain how that model is effective with ELLs and their families.

MML: We started the RE approach about six years ago. This model works for bilingual early childhood education because it has the rights of the children at its foundation. With the RE approach, we develop curriculum based on children’s interests. We document children’s growth using photography and video. Our previous thematic approach—All about Me, All about My Family—felt very segmented, all chopped up.

IG: What do the parents in your program think about the RE approach?

MML: When we have our monthly meetings with parents, we share points of the RE philosophy. Parents are often amazed at the documentation we share with them, to hear the thoughts of their child reflected in their work. Some parents ask what will happen when their child transitions to “regular school” without the RE approach. I respond by asking parents to visualize their child when he or she is eight years old, in high school, and as a young adult. I ask parents to describe what they wish for their child in those later years. Parents typically respond that they want their child to feel good about who they are as individuals and as someone of Hispanic descent who can contribute to society in meaningful ways. Parents’ aspirations for their children arise from the negative images of Hispanics and Mexicans we often see in the media. I explain to parents that the RE approach helps children develop healthy self-esteem and to have confidence in expressing themselves. Parent involvement is central to our program’s mission. Our application and registration materials explain to parents that their participation is expected. We help parents understand that their responsibility in educating their child is essential since the two and a half hours that our program operates is not enough for their child to be successful. The families indicate their support for our program by returning to enroll younger siblings. Parents trust us and believe what we say.

IG: How did your teachers and support staff respond when you introduced the RE approach?

MML: I believe it is important to have staff come to understand the RE philosophy and approach at their own pace. Initially, some teachers were believers in the RE approach, some were not. Those who were inspired by the RE approach took the initiative to implement it. They found out that working the RE way required an extra effort to develop a curriculum based on child observations and ideas plus the time to document children’s work. Slowly, the rest of the staff was motivated to implement the RE approach. It is about listening to and supporting the children, valuing their culture and their language. Six years later, we could not go back to the traditional curriculum.  

Our whole school works as a team. Even our office clerk and custodian appreciate our school philosophy and approach to learning. Our facility is old and not in the best shape, but we take care of it. One of the things we learned in the RE approach is that children have the right to a beautiful environment. We have taken many years to transform our classroom to allow for more natural light and incorporate more textures and nature into the classroom spaces. The custodian has played a key role in helping us to modify our environment. In fact, the custodian and the office clerk will often provide tours to families, explaining the RE approach, if teaching staff members are unavailable to do so.

IG: What kinds of professional development and support best prepare teachers to work in your program?

MML: The Office of Early Childhood within the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) encouraged us to use the RE approach. We receive some of our professional development and support through CPS. We also provide professional development ourselves. The notion of teachers as learners is a central component of our program. We meet on a regular basis as a team to solve issues and plan strategies. We honor the individuality of each teacher and classroom team. NAEYC accreditation was a goal of ours. We postponed the accreditation process a few years ago to focus on incorporating the RE approach. Last school year, we finally received our NAEYC accreditation. It, too, is a process of reflective education. We see this as a beginning of a new era for the children, families, and staff at Belmont-Cragin Early Childhood Center.

Lilian Katz: Reflections

lilian_katz_cropEvaluating One’s Own Training—Retrospectively

This issue of Inside Gateways focuses on the preparation and professional development needs of those who educate and care for our young English Language Learners. This Reflections includes some ideas and some research questions that might help all teachers evaluate their own teaching and professional preparation.

In the case of raising and teaching our children, we sometimes have to say to them something like, “I know this doesn’t seem to be useful right now. But, trust me! There will be a time when you will be glad you learned it.”

To a large extent, all of us, as parents and as teachers—in this case in particular, as teachers of teachers—have to deal with the “feed-forward” issue; namely:

  • Much that is taught seems irrelevant to students while they are actually studying it, but it will become relevant and useful later on in ways they have not anticipated.
  • Vice versa—some of what students learn during training seems useful, practical, and helpful, but later—during actual practice—seems irrelevant to the issues they encounter.

Based on this concept of the “feed-forward” problem faced by all teachers, and certainly by teachers of teachers, I would hope we could see some research on what I would call “the retrospective evaluation of one’s own training.”

Some research on the retrospective evaluation of training was obtained from graduates of a master’s program in business education (Neel, 1978). Especially interesting were the differences in the retrospective evaluation of their business training and education. Individuals with less than five years of experience wished that they had had more practicum or “on-site” training—actual experience in the field. Individuals with five to ten years of experience would have liked more training related to how to get along with co-workers, etc., but those with 12 to 15 years of work experience indicated that they would have liked additional courses in philosophy, religious studies, and literature. It was quite obvious that the more experienced business professionals were more interested than the younger ones in reassessing who they were as individuals and at what place they had arrived in their lives as well as in their careers.

I suggest that this is a potentially useful way for us to think about how teachers of young children would evaluate their training retrospectively, depending on the amount of experience they have had. Furthermore, in our field, the variety of settings in which teachers work means that we would need extensive participation in a wide variety of samples to get a reliable picture of how teachers and child care professionals evaluate their training. I am conducting an informal survey with another colleague at the University of Illinois of the retrospective evaluation of one’s professional development. I invite readers to participate in this survey by sending me responses to the six questions below. We will share the results of this informal survey through a blog I maintain on the Illinois Projects in Practice Web site. If you would like to take part, please email your responses to the questions below to my colleague Jean Mendoza at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

  1. As you look back on the training you had before you began teaching, what elements of it do you now see as helping you in your work today? Please give some examples.
  2. What elements seemed boring or useless when you were a student but that now as a practitioner you are glad to have had them? Please give some examples.
  3. What elements seemed engaging or interesting at the time but have been of little use to your actual practice?
  4. Now that you have had some teaching experiences, what kinds of topics and/or experiences would you strongly recommend for a training program? Can you tell us your reasons for these recommendations?
  5. What kind of early care or education setting do you work in now (for example, Head Start, PreK, child care, kindergarten, etc.)?
  6. What position do you now hold (for example, teacher, teaching assistant, early intervention specialist, etc.)?
  7. How long have you been working in early childhood education?

I encourage teacher educators and others who provide professional development to periodically ask students to retrospectively evaluate their own training.

The Big Picture in Illinois

 Robin Lisboa and Reyna Hernandez

robin_lisboareyna_hernandezIllinois is recognized nationally as being proactive and innovative in making high-quality preschool available to 3- and 4-year-olds and in being the first state to include preschool in its bilingual education continuum.

Inside Gateways
(IG) talked to two administrators for English Language Learner (ELL) programs within the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)—Robin M. Lisboa (RML), division administrator for the Division of English Language Learning, and Reyna Hernandez (RH), assistant superintendent for the Center on Language and Early Child Development—about the changes, challenges, and opportunities in meeting the professional development needs of those who teach ELLs in early learning and development (ELD) programs in Illinois.

IG: What changes have occurred in our approach to early learning and development for English Language Learners (ELLs) in Illinois?

RML/RH: Demographic shifts occurring within our state in general, and within our youngest student population in particular, have focused our attention on the needs of ELLs in early childhood.  Our kindergarten classrooms have large ELL populations. According to ISBE’s 2010 statistical report, there were 29,000 ELLs in kindergarten in Illinois in 2010. The expectation is that these same demographics are reflected in our preschool population.

We have been working to create a seamless system of instruction and service delivery within our K–12 grades in Illinois. Because of our state’s demographic changes and the unique needs of the ELL population, it is important that we extend that alignment to the PreK population as well, to close any gap in the continuum of education services. The Division of English Language Learning within ISBE now includes bilingual services and native language instruction in school-district-administered preschool programs. Those services were occurring in some programs before we changed the law, but not in any consistent manner. The new explicit inclusion of preschool in our bilingual program will allow us to serve our ELL preschool population more broadly and more consistently.  

The new regulations include a process of identifying ELL preschool students. The English language proficiency screening to determine English proficiency is separate from the developmental screening that was already in place at the PreK level. The outcome of the English proficiency screening will be used to determine a child’s eligibility for Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) PreK services. If a center identifies 20 or more eligible children of the same native language—Spanish or Polish for example—then the PreK program will provide those children with  instruction in Spanish or Polish, the child’s native language, in addition to English as a Second Language instruction. If fewer than 20 identified children speak the same language, then the PreK program will provide those children with English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction.  

As part of our application for the Race-to-the-Top (RTT) Early Learning Challenge federal funds, we proposed modifications to our state’s early learning standards that apply to native or home language. Those proposed standards will be expanded beyond the ISBE-administered PreK programs to be used by child care programs licensed by the Illinois Department of Family Services (IDCFS) as well. Additionally, the early learning needs of children from diverse backgrounds are addressed in our RTT application through revision of the Quality Counts Quality Rating System. The Gateways to Opportunity credentialing system will also undergo review to address linguistic and cultural competency as part of the Professional Development Advisory Council’s own strategic plan.

IG: What challenges do we face in providing optimal ELD environments for young ELLs and their families in Illinois?

RML/RH: The number one challenge is with professional development—building up an early childhood workforce with the knowledge and skills to work with ELLs and their families. Professional development needs to reflect the language development of ELLs who are developing language in four domains (speaking, listening, reading, and writing), including vocabulary and phonemic awareness in multiple languages. Social-emotional development is also impacted by the first and second language development of ELLs. This is particularly true if the family is not English speaking. We need to insure that we have sufficient professional development offerings for early childhood teacher education. We have been working collaboratively with early childhood and bilingual teacher education to build up that dual competency in our teacher preparation.

IG: What opportunities do we have in Illinois as we move ahead in meeting the needs of ELLs in ELD programs? 

RML/RH: To address the professional development challenge mentioned earlier, statewide higher education faculty forums are occurring to provide opportunities for early childhood and bilingual teacher education faculty to work on professional development. This is becoming a strong network, which we hope will continue. Additionally, a the Gateways to Opportunity Scholarship program using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds helps to pay for tuition for bilingual or ESL approval/endorsement. The ARRA funds as well as the more recent RTT federal funding opportunity encouraged states to rethink delivery systems to insure that the needs of ELLs are being addressed.

Even before the ARRA funds and our RTT application, Illinois was addressing the linguistic and cultural diversity needs of children and families through the structure of our Illinois Early Learning Council (ELC), with its Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Committee. Our current PreK policy to serve the needs of ELLs is a result of a lot of back and forth between the ELC and ISBE.

Illinois is recognized nationally as being proactive and innovative in making high-quality preschool available to 3- and 4-year-olds and in being the first state to include preschool in its bilingual education continuum.

Another area of innovation for Illinois is in developing Spanish Academic Language Standards and Assessments (SALSA), which will be a first in Illinois and in the nation. These new Spanish academic language development standards (SALDS) for K–12 and K–2 assessments are possible through a federal Enhanced Assessment Grant awarded to Illinois in 2010. We expect to have a final draft of the standards ready next summer (2012). While these new academic language development standards are for Spanish (80% of ELLs in Illinois are native speakers of Spanish), they will inform professional development and instruction of all of our ELLs at the PreK and K levels, complementing our school readiness work, including mainstream students in dual language programs. They will also serve as a model to develop such standards for other languages such as Polish. This is very exciting work. This is yet another example where other states are looking at Illinois to see how we approach education and support for our youngest learners.

Supporting English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Learning and Development Programs:
Selected Resources, Scholarship Programs, Organizations, Reports, and Web Sites

Challenging Common Myths about Young English Language Learners

¡Colorín Colorado! (a bilingual site—Spanish-English—for families and educators)

Crosswalks Care Packages (resources related to cultural, linguistic, and/or ability diversity)

Dual Language Learners in Early Care and Education Settings

Dual Language Learners in the Early Years: Getting Ready to Succeed in School

Dual Language on Demand Newsletter

Gateways to Opportunity Scholarship Program
Note: This scholarship program can be used to pay for the cost of tuition that leads to a Bilingual/ESL Approval/Endorsement or a Type 04 Early Childhood Certificate.

Illinois Early Childhood Asset Map: Demographics on Languages in Illinois

Key Demographics and Practice Recommendations for Young English Learners

Latino Policy Forum Early Childhood Education Page

NAEYC Position Statements on Linguistic and Cultural Diversity

National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness

Research Topics: English Language Learners

Resources for Supporting Preschool English Language Learners

Teaching Young Children: Dual Language Learners

Welcoming Hispanic Children and Families to Preschool Programs

Ask An Expert with Cristina Sanchez-Lopez

What Does the Research Say about Dual Language Learners? FAQ

New Gateways Resources

The following resource links have been added to the Web site since the last issue of Inside Gateways. For other resources, go to

Advocacy Links

The After-School Corporation (TASC)

Research Centers

Child Care and Early Education Research Connections

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

Education Commission of the States

New America Foundation’s Early Ed Forum

The After-School Corporation (TASC)

Research Reports

Meeting the Early Learning Challenge: A Checklist for a High Quality QRIS

Meeting the Early Learning Challenge: Supporting English Language Learners

OSEP Spanish Glossary of Education Terms

Transforming Public Education: Pathway to a Pre-K–12 Future