Creating the Perfect Setting: Prescribed Environments to Maximize DLLs' Inclusion and Learning

Blog Post
Aug. 8, 2016

Certain environments produce certain outcomes. Take, for example, a freezer, a refrigerator, and the kitchen counter. These different environments would drastically change the outcome of an ice cube.

The same concept can be applied to children: different structured environments produce different outcomes for children. And it goes without saying that educators should do their best to create the ideal environment for student growth and learning.

In June, the Administration of Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC) released a toolkit for administrators, educators, and families of Dual language learners (DLLs) in which it emphasizes the need for a planned language approach.   This type of approach includes research-based early literacy and language strategies and intentional and consistent family engagement. It is an approach that serves all children — DLLs and monolinguals.

ECLKC further differentiates the planned language approach and introduces the idea of Classroom Language Models (CLMs) — a set of four different pre-set classroom environments that might be suited for an early childhood setting depending on the demographics of the students.

Research presented in the toolkit and previously done by ECLKC has found that “there was not one way to succeed. Classrooms should have different approaches based on program goals, the needs and skills of the children, and the skills of the teaching staff.” Due to the inherent variety that exists in early childhood DLL classrooms — students of varying ages and levels of English proficiency speaking a variety of home languages — these models provide a prescribed, yet flexible, setting.

The four classroom settings are English with Home Language Support, Dual Language, Home Language as a Foundation for English Development, and English only.

English with Home Language Support — this is an acceptable model for classrooms that serve students who speak a range of languages. Ideally, at least part of the teaching team would be bilingual and development of home languages — regardless of teacher comprehension — would be embraced, not discouraged. The Center advocates that, whenever possible, teachers should explore literature or stories with children in their home language and make every effort to educate parents on the importance of continual home language growth. ECLKC stated that the model’s primary goal is that “all children will learn to respect and admire other languages so they will thrive in an increasingly multicultural and multilingual society.”

Dual Language — This model is intended to help students make significant progress towards developing proficiency in two languages. The classroom should contain a majority of students who speak one non-English home language, students who speak English as their home language, and staff able to enrich students in both languages. With this 50/50 model, classrooms have flexibility in how they choose to allocate time spent in each language — alternating days, weeks, or times within the day. It is important, however, that “each language is spoken during designated, equal, and predictable periods.” The Center suggests that this approach will “enhance each child’s identity and positive self-concept.”

DLL Sample Schedule resizeSource: Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center

Note: The visual demonstrates a 50/50 split between instructional languages. Different early childhood programs in the U.S. employ different allocations such as 90/10, 80/20, etc.

Home Language as a Foundation for English Development — This model is advised for classrooms where all the students speak the same non-English home language and are under  3 years old. Literacy materials, classroom instruction, and all communication should be conducted in the children’s home language. English is introduced gradually throughout the year but the emphasis is to highlight “their home language as an important asset that they should be proud to use and continue to develop.”

English Only — The most straightforward of all the approaches, this model is intended for classrooms where all the students and teachers speak English as their home language. The goal for this model is that “children will develop age-level language skills in English.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the Department of Education recently released a policy statement on supporting DLLs in which they highlight these CLMs. The departments said, “research indicates that early childhood is the ideal developmental time period for learning a second language and developing proficiency in more than one language. Given the literature that describes the short- and long-term benefits of bilingualism, support for both home language and English language development is recommended.”

As important as it is, deciding on a CLM is only step one towards crafting the ideal environment. Steps two, three, and four include ensuring that teaching staff have sufficient materials and support to initially implement the chosen CLM effectively, notifying families about the chosen model, and supervising the quality of the chosen model.

Some models lend themselves to easier implementation. The Dual Language model requires far more thought and preparation before implementation than an English-only model. For instance, it may take additional funds (and time!) to meet the Dual Language model’s requirement that all materials be available in both languages. Additional time will also be needed to hire qualified bilingual teachers in the midst of a teacher shortage. If, however, Dual Language is the best model for the classroom, the initial investment can be justified by the influence and benefit that it will have on DLL students and families.

Additionally, one can fall into the trap of wanting to implement multiple CLMs into one center or school. After all, each model has its own advantages — why not try to catch them all? The ECLKC warns against this approach: “while several CLMs may fit the children and staff in each center, a limited number should be selected when you start — no more than two is preferable at first. It may be tempting to want to start with all the models, but it is more important for a program to develop capacity and skills over time.”

Another important thing to note is that effective implementation of any of the CLMs requires unified effort from teachers, administrators, family support staff, and parents. Professional development, hiring decisions, and material purchases all have to be consistent in order to strengthen the CLMs an early education center is implementing. The hope is that students will benefit from intentional, high-quality instruction that has a focus on language development and early literacy learning. Research has shown that strong language development is one of the most reliable factors in predicting later academic success.

Of course — unlike those aforementioned ice cubes — kids behave in a variety of ways. While early education centers need to be flexible enough to address their diverse needs, this can be easier to do within a consistent model. CLMs provide precisely that: a stable approach that guides early educators’ efforts and acts as a foundation for creative, differentiated instruction to support all DLLs.


This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, click here, enter your contact information, and select “DLL National Work Group Newsletter.”