As part of our Teacher Spotlight series, we recently asked the CLASS Community to nominate a teacher whose high-quality classroom interactions are making a difference for their dual language learners. Our winner, Kim Schoell, has been teaching for 20 years and is currently a Pre-K teacher in Frederick County, VA. 67% of her students are Hispanic and many of the children are dual language learners.
Her coach, Angie White, wrote that Kim “consistently uses self- and parallel talk to model the English language. Each study in our curriculum has pictures to teach the vocabulary needed for the content.” Kim has built a warm classroom community as well. According to Angie, “Mrs. Schoell uses physical proximity, warm greetings, and eye contact to build a positive climate in her classroom. This is even more needed during the pandemic occurring right now. She has developed a caring school family where the children take care of each other. Her EL families love her and feel so comfortable reaching out to her.”
Kim had a number of ideas she shared that could be helpful to all early childhood teachers.
Building relationships with each child
First, Kim encourages starting every day with greeting children one-on-one, such as with an elbow bump, toe touch, air high five, wink, or smile. Make a personal connection with each child by taking notice of their clothing, for example - “Oh, we’re both wearing an animal print!” This sets the tone for the day and makes everyone comfortable.
When using verbal greetings or singing songs, she includes both English and the language of her dual language learner students. If you don’t know how to say these greetings, just ask! Tell the children, “I’m going to learn from you.” “I don’t know the word for this, can you help me?” Children are often proud to help each other and their teachers out.
Supporting Language Development
Kim has put several innovative ideas into practice in her classroom. For one, she and her students come up with a list of “commitments” - not rules - together, and promise to uphold these commitments to keep everyone safe and comfortable. In addition, she has what she calls a “treasure box,” where each child places a representation of themselves in a box every in order to promise for the day to follow the commitments. This provides a visual representation of the idea that Kim and her students are a team and a family, and shows Kim’s love and respect for her students.
Kim’s classroom focuses a lot on visuals in general, keeping pictures of students following the commitments on the walls as well as their work. This proves helpful to students’ language development, as seeing their own work inspires them to work harder.
Keeping Families Engaged
Kim also emphasizes the importance of connecting with families of dual language learner students. She uses an interpreter to help with the language barrier, and makes sure to make eye contact and smile during home visits. She also provides materials in the family’s home language when needed. Lastly, she utilizes an app called Seesaw to aid in translation when communicating school updates with families.
Kim and her creative methods have been instrumental in creating a classroom environment where everyone feels welcome.
We thank her for taking the time to speak with us and for the immense care she shows to her dual language learner students and their families.
As you jump in to help your teacher, working side by side as a collaborator, everything seems clear at the beginning. There are some obvious areas to address and both you and your teacher have tons of energy, ready to change the world. After a few visits, however, an unsettling feeling begins to creep up on you.
Do you have fond childhood memories of sitting with a special adult and listening to them read one of your favorite stories? I vividly remember my dad reading The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling to me and how we laughed together at the funny voices he used. As an educator, you know how important those moments are for building warm connections, enjoying time together, and learning about many things. So, even if you missed out on those moments as a child, you want to create those moments for the children in your classroom. With careful planning, you can be confident that your read-alouds will be exciting, effective learning opportunities.
The majority of early childhood classrooms have at least one child who is a dual language learner (DLL) and this population is growing. One in three children from birth to age six speak a language besides English at home. Consequently, the majority of teachers need strategies on how to best support this group of students. We reached out to Veronica Fernandez, Developmental Psychologist and Research Scientist at the University of Miami for strategies she’s found most successful.
We were really happy to receive an article examining the use of CLASS in American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Programs. And we were equally happy when lead author, Jessica Barnes-Najor, a researcher at Michigan State University, agreed to speak with us. In conjunction with her work at MSU, Jessica is a co-investigator for The Tribal Early Childhood Research Center (TRC). Read below to learn more about this important research.