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April 2015 IDRA Newsletter: Early Learning

“Children need places that are safe, that are nurturing, that welcome their families, that welcome their culture and their language and have them really be able to learn and prepare themselves for life.” – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA President and CEO

Published 10 times a year, each edition explores issues facing U.S. education today and strategies to better serve every student. This newsletter is published in print and on the IDRA website, in addition to this eLetter format.

Recalibrating Readiness and Instruction Based on Strengths of English Learners – Implications for Early Childhood Education Research and Practice

by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D.

Much of the current research on early education of poor and minority children – although well intentioned – is biased and focused on family and children’s deficits and maladaptations as the causes for the lack of academic readiness and underperformance of a significant number of children in this country (Cabrera 2013; Robledo Montecel, et al., 1993).

Research is remiss in studying the effects of educational policies and practices that are detrimental to the performance of a large segment of the student population, primarily minority children, students from low-income families and English language learners. When schools use this research to inform interventions, they consequently fall short of creating an optimal learning environment for children and neglect to foster their intellectual and social well-being.

Cabrera explains that this deficit-oriented research overly emphasizes the “negative effects of inadequate economic and social resources and an elevated rate of behavior problems, decreased social competence, and lower rates of school success among these children” (2013).

The research needs a new asset-based approach to poor and minority children and their families. Schools should acknowledge these assets in their plans for a quality educational program and other interventions that lead to children’s optimal academic and social growth. In this article, we emphasize the need to redefine readiness to integrate the strengths bilingual children bring to the classroom, and detail the need to adjust instruction to enhance their academic engagement and performance. – Keep reading

Margarita’s Necklace – Beads, Patterns and Algebraic Thinking for English Learners

by Juanita C. García, Ph.D., and Rosana Rodríguez, Ph.D.

To make sure that bilingual/bicultural students have the skills they need to be college- and career-ready, success in algebra matters. All too often, however, teachers of young children do not have the resources they need to know how to integrate language learning and mathematical literacy.

Teachers can inspire interest and concrete skills in mathematics while simultaneously building language proficiency. The ability to identify, describe and foster algebraic reasoning in the early grades through language can help promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and foster skills in algebra specifically.

Algebra is not just computation with variables that begin with whole numbers, then fractions, then decimals. Students should be able to create equations that describe numerical relationships, reason abstractly, practice solving problems in more than one way, and justify and communicate their thinking.

Children as early as kindergarten benefit from practicing the skills and building comprehension and knowledge that lead to mastery in algebra. Because of their innate inquisitiveness, young children are natural-born scientists and mathematicians. Inherent in children are curiosity, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking-concepts that are at the heart of STEM (Chesloff, 2013). Highly effective teachers of English learners play a vital role in nurturing these natural behaviors for STEM learning that children bring.

El Collar de Margarita ~ Margarita’s Necklace is one of a number of stories that comprise IDRA’s comprehensive Semillitas de aprendizaje, bilingual supplemental early childhood materials based on the art of storytelling and story reading. This culturally-relevant story entices children to learn to create different patterns, similar to the protagonist in this charming story who comes from a family of artisans. In her home, the family members work the chaquira, the fine art of intricate beadwork used to create lovely necklaces, bracelets and rings. Margarita learns how to work with patterns and begins to craft a marvelous necklace. – Keep reading

Early Childhood Literacy Connections When Using Cognates

by Sulema Carreón-Sánchez, Ph.D.

English language learners comprise a fast-growing population that has a number of implications for classroom instruction. In the United States, 4.7 million students – 10 percent of the student population – are English language learners (ELLs). Teachers choose instructional strategies and tools based in part on the age and level of English language proficiency of their students. A recent encounter that I experienced in a classroom demonstrates the importance of cognates in the early elementary classroom setting.

One morning, I had the privilege of going to a bilingual classroom to read to students. Typically in a bilingual classroom, students’ proficiency levels will range from beginner to advanced high levels, as identified by the state. Unaware of the specific proficiency levels of students, I selected a bilingual book. As I began to read the story in Spanish, some students were responding to the questions in Spanish. But I noticed that some other students were not responding. So I began to read in English. I continued to ask questions in English, and some students responded in English. I decided to read each page, first in Spanish and then in English. Then we had a class discussion.

One student proudly told me that he was nervous because in a few weeks he was going to be in a spelling contest. As we talked, I learned that he could easily spell words in Spanish, but words in English would prove to be challenging for him. He said the English words seemed confusing, and he could not remember how to spell them.

I asked, “Do you think you know how to spell those words in Spanish?” Proudly, he answered, “Yes, those are easy.” So I suggested the following: First think of the word in Spanish, look at it visually, than try to spell it in English. The boy’s eyes lit up. “I think I found a way to remember the English words!” – Keep reading

Meet Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., IDRA Chief of Operations

This year, the IDRA Newsletter is highlighting our staff’s varied and diverse talents and backgrounds.

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is IDRA’s Chief of Operations. In addition to his impressive work in education spanning pre-K through higher education, Dr. Villarreal has always been drawn to public and community service, a family legacy left by his parents, who were restaurant business owners. They instilled a strong work ethic and sense of collaboration, community, cooperation and leadership, as they encouraged their children to become engaged in their family business and in civic engagement. These early experiences influenced Dr. Villarreal’s decision to pursue a double major in business and government for his bachelor’s degree. The importance of multi-sector civic engagement and leadership grew, as he was expected to take over and lead the family business. However, this expectation gave way to another career and lifelong vocation when he was offered a teaching position in his hometown. His passion for equity, access and excellence in education grew exponentially into lifelong  and  distinguished leadership in this arena that is nationally recognized. He has taught students from third grade to the university level and served as an elementary school principal and a district director of secondary curriculum. He has also overseen compliance with Lau regulations with the Office for Civil Rights. Dr. Villarreal is a national leader in school program management, curriculum development, and facilitating innovative models for school change. His deep understanding of family, community and multi-sector engagement further broadened his horizons into the jewelry business, and in owning stores in Seguin, San Marcos, and San Antonio, another interest which he shares with his wife, as he continues to build a business legacy. He continues passing his impressive skills to his children, all of whom own and are leaders in the business world. – See online

Semillitas de Aprendizaje Bilingual Classroom Materials

Semillitas de Aprendizaje is a bilingual (Spanish/English) supplemental early childhood curriculum, developed by IDRA, based on the art of storytelling. The materials are designed for literacy development with beautifully illustrated and culturally-relevant materials for 3- and 4-year-old children and include: A set of 10 Big Books, 10 corresponding unabridged storybooks, 15 Math Books focusing on numeracy and social-emotional development, 20 Cartitas – Letters Home (10 English, 10 Spanish) with family activities for teachers to send home for parents, a Teacher Guide (Manual de Maestro) with 10 units in 196 pages to lead your students through the Semillitas de aprendizaje stories (Each unit has a set of classroom activities that include a morning song, storytelling, literacy connection with STEM explorations, center activities, phonemic awareness, writing and alphabet knowledge, English transition, family connections and informal assessment), and – coming soon! – Storytelling-Storyreading Video DVD that brings the stories to life through engaging storytelling in Spanish and storyreading in English.

Keep Informed!

Encourage your friends to subscribe to IDRA’s email list and to the Classnotes Podcast.

Connect with Us Online

Classnotes Podcasts on Early Learning

Early Childhood Classrooms of Excellence – April 4, 2007

Good Schools for Children Learning English – June 20, 2007

Early Literacy Development for English Language Learners – April 17, 2008

Supporting Parents of Preschoolers – May 25, 2010

Bilingual Stories for Young Learners – November 16, 2010

Geometry in Early Childhood – May 7, 2014 

Featured Videos

Early Childhood Education is a Good Investment – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel talks how quality early childhood education is a good investment in children and the larger community. [00:48 min]

Bilingual Early Childhood Education – Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel talks the vital importance of quality bilingual early childhood education is a good investment in children and the larger community. [01:21]