Kristina M. Howlett, University of Arkansas, USA
Heather D. Young, University of Arkansas, USA
Handbook of Research on Engaging Immigrant Families and Promoting Academic Success for English Language Learners の chapter2


The purpose of this chapter is to examine the current empirical studies of the socio-emotional development of young English language learners (ELLs), effective educational strategies for preservice teachers, and practices of immigrant family engagement in order to inform educator preparation providers (EPPs).


“English Language Learners (ELLs), students whose primary language is other than English, are the fastest growing student population in the U.S” (Kreck, 2014, p.1). With the continued growth of young ELLs in U.S. schools, it is critical to prepare high quality teachers who are competent in understanding the needs of today’s diverse classrooms. Even with the growing population of young ELLs and more attention given to preparing teachers, there is still a need for core knowledge and practical strategies for teacher educators who are responsible for training the teachers of young ELLs and engaging with immigrant families. As of 2012, children under age 8 from immigrant families comprised more than 25% of the total U.S. population and live in households where a language other than English is spoken (Foruny, Hernandez, & Chaudry, 2010). Many theorists (Piaget, 1936; Vygotsky, 1978; Erikson, 1993) state that early childhood experiences shape the development of children, so it is crucial for teacher candidates to be prepared to work with young ELLs in high quality EPPs (Educator Preparation Providers).

Across EPPs, there is no consistency regarding which courses related to teaching ELLs are mandatory for teacher candidates, therefore, teacher quality varies considerably from program to program resulting in a lack of clarity about the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions for preservice teachers (Turkan, de Oliveira, Lee, & Phelps, 2014). Additionally, there are no standard or exemplary models of required coursework for how preservice teachers can engage immigrant families in helping to strengthen their children’s emotional, social, and educational development. This lack of quality ESOL integration into EPPs is troubling because the recent increase in immigration accounts for rapid and substantial demographic changes in the United States’ school-aged population. This rapid growth in the ELL population has not matched the growth models for required ELL curriculum for teacher candidates. Gaining the necessary knowledge, skills, and experiences to teach diverse populations must begin during robust teacher/educator preparation provider (Lucas, 2010; Wessels, Trainin, Reeves, Catalano, & Deng, 2017).

According to Harper and Pelletier (2010), ELLs perform between 40 and 60 points below native English speakers on achievement tests, and it is typical that low achieving students are unable to perform academically due to basic literacy skills. To acquire social English, ELLs require 1 to 2 years, but academic proficiency requires 5 to 10 years (Collier & Auerbach, 2011). Even though the achievement gap exists and ELLs are behind in comparison to native English language speakers, immigrant parents of young ELLs have high levels of commitment to educational opportunities for their children, which may act as a protective factor in their children’s early learning and future success in school (Crosby & Dunbar, 2012).

Studies indicate that most general education teachers have at least one ELL in their classrooms, but few of those teachers have opportunities for professional development focused on working with this subpopulation (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & Levy, 2008; Franco-Fuenmayor, Padrón, & Waxman, 2015). Research indicates that to reach young ELLs and their families academically, teachers must first understand their unique socio-emotional development. Because all teachers are responsible for teaching in a diverse society, it is critical that our EPPs provide the highest quality instructional approaches to meet the needs of our increasingly diverse early childhood population (Espinosa, 2007; Han, 2010; Niehaus & Adelson, 2014; Winsler, Kim, & Richard, 2014). This chapter will address what research states about the socio-emotional development of young ELLs, the key principles to educate these children, and the strategies for engagement with immigrant families. The authors will make recommendations on how to address this growing need through high-quality teacher education.


For the purposes of this chapter, we define social and emotional development as the developing ability of young children to “form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially and culturally appropriate ways; and explore the environment and learn — all in the context of family, community, and culture” (Yates et al., 2008, p. 2). There are many foundational social and emotional skills necessary to successfully navigate childhood, however researchers consistently include the management and expression of emotion, ability to apply perspective, empathetic thought and behavior, inhibitory control, self-confidence, and the ability to cultivate and nurture relationships in their work (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016; Denham, 2006; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2007; Yoder, 2014).

Opportunities for social and emotional experiences with parents and/or guardians as well as interactions with other children and adults during early childhood heavily influence both personal and academic trajectories, and influence other areas of development (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016; Denham & Brown, 2010). Children with well-developed social and emotional skills often gain the confidence and ability to problem-solve, build healthy relationships, and cope with emotional situations (Blair & Diamond, 2008; Halle, Hair, Burchinal, Anderson, & Zaslow, 2012). Research indicates that social skills and attention to learning observed during the first year of schooling are the best predictors of later social and emotional development and competency, such as maturing and maintaining relationships, navigating difficult situations with peers, and exhibiting self-control (Blair & Diamond, 2008; Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016). Social and emotional development may also predict academic achievement (Denham, 2006). Children with high levels of self-control are more likely to exhibit healthier lifestyles as adults, maintain financial stability, and make more ethical decisions than those with weaker self-regulatory skills (Moffitt et al., 2011).

Attachment Theory

Attachment plays a key role in the social-emotional development of young ELLs. Children noted as following a healthy development trajectory often have high levels of attachment with caregivers such as parents and teachers (Cadima, Doumen, Verschueren, & Buyse, 2015). Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1958) explains the role of healthy and secure attachment between child and parent; however, this can extend into the classroom and describe the importance of a healthy and secure bond between teacher and student (Zionts, 2005). For young ELLs, this teacher-student attachment bond can stimulate further social and emotional development as well as language development since this may be the primary adult speaking the second language the child is working to acquire (Howlett & Kindall, 2017; Wubbels et al., 2014). For children who are vulnerable, stronger attachment bonds are necessary to foster healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development (Gillanders, Iruka, Ritchie, & Cobb, 2012).

When reviewing research on other factors, beyond attachment, that may influence the social and emotional development of young ELLs, it was found that the role of family demographics (specifically income and education) seemed to play a larger role in explaining developmental milestones than the factor of growing up learning two languages (Winsler et al., 2014). Halle et al. (2014) discovered that socioeconomic status explained more of the variance in some of the childhood developmental outcomes than dual language status in young children. These findings suggest that ELLs are more at risk due to growing up in poverty rather than in a bilingual environment (Halle et al., 2014; Winsler et al., 2014).

Executive Function

Executive function (EF) is a set of “higher order cognitive skills that help monitor and control thoughts and behavior” (White & Greenfield, 2017, p. 2). High levels of EF allow students to multitask well; they can more easily shift their mindset from one task or response to another while holding on to several pieces of information. Children with high levels of EF can often function well in classrooms because the skills they possess allow them to organize information into their existing schema in a more efficient manner. Research often discusses that students with high levels of EF are more persistent academically and socially (Schmitt, McClelland, Tominey, & Acock, 2015; Weiland & Yoshikawa, 2013). These findings have continued to move EF to the forefront of the developmental literature over the past decade. There is additional research discussing the link between high levels of EF and a variety of specific positive outcomes for children, such as the ability to manage their feelings in a healthy manner, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, exercise self-control, and express their needs and wants effectively (Blair & Razza, 2007; Carlson & Wang, 2007; Jones, Zaslow, Darling-Churchill, & Halle, 2016).

Language Development

The development of language begins at birth but rarely developed formally until a child enrolls in either preschool or a traditional school setting. Recent statistics indicate that 32% of preschool children are ELLs (Snyder & Dillow, 2012). While there are positive benefits to developing bilingual capabilities, children often begin to push away from the home language once they reach school age and are regularly exposed to English used by their peers (Sawyer, Manz, & Martin, 2016). However, it may actually be to the students’ benefits to strengthen the home language early as a means of facilitating English proficiency (Howes et al., 2011). Oral language development is the foundation of literacy and without a firm foundation in this component of child development a student may face insurmountable challenges when they begin acquiring formal literacy skills.


Bilingualism has a relationship to certain aspects of a young ELL’s socio-emotional development. In many studies, ELLs have shown higher levels of self-control and positive attachment, as well as lower levels of behavior problems when compared to their monolingual peers (Halle et al., 2014; Han, 2010; Han & Huang, 2010; Luchtel, Hughes, Luze, Bruna, & Peterson, 2010). Findings across several studies indicate that bilingualism has no acquired negative consequences for ELL’s development. Children raised in bilingual homes may exhibit benefits cognitively, linguistically, and socially (Castro, 2014). Barac, Bialystok, Castro, and Sanchez (2014) suggest that children having experience with multiple languages early in life could have a different cognitive system than their monolingual peers. This difference, advantage even, can be detected as early as age one, specifically when studying executive function. Very young ELLs exhibit greater non-verbal control in the areas of cognitive flexibility and working memory, as compared to monolingual children. Young children have the ability to learn more than one language without hindering their language development. Bilingual children tend to exhibit advanced language processing, phonological development, and greater vocabulary. These advancements are proportional to the amount of exposure children have with each of the learned languages (Hammer, Hoff, Uchikoshi, Gillanders, & Castro, 2014). Winsler et al. (2014) found that a strong use of a child’s primary language paired with a bilingual home could act as a protective factor cognitively and emotionally for young ELLs. Additionally, children raised in a bilingual home showed significant advantages on tasks requiring memory and were more effective in ignoring outside interference(s) when concentrating on a task (Barac et al., 2014).

Understanding Language and Culture

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory is critical to understanding the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young ELLs. Culture, language, and social interaction are the main constructs that play key roles in the active learning processes of young ELLs. In the book Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (Vygotsky, 1978), the term social is added to constructivism indicating that children learn in relation to the support from a more knowledgeable partner. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), used by Vygotsky to represent the importance of conversations that provide children with scaffolding, is a supportive structure that assists learners as they make the most of the knowledge they possess while also acquiring new knowledge within an appropriate learning zone (Pinter, 2017). Evidence supports that instruction targeted just above children’s current skill level is intrinsically motivating, whereas teaching skills already mastered can be boring while instruction beyond a student’s skill level is frustrating.

The Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) PreK-3 Model is an example of a successful comprehensive professional development model to support ELLs’ language and academic skills by creating a continuous approach to teaching PK–3. The program evaluation indicated that children in SEAL classrooms outperformed other children who had not been in the SEAL classrooms (Sobrato Family Foundation, n.d.). The SEAL model has pedagogical features that children experience in preschool through third grade consisting of workshop sessions, coaching, and collaborative reflection and planning that could be a model replicated in internships or practicums within EPP structures. The hallmarks of the program support the research on second language development:

  • An emphasis on intentional and extensive oral language development in language-rich environments and along with oral language instruction using enriched vocabulary
  • Text-rich curriculum and environments to engage children with books and the printed word in both English and the home language, plus a variety of home-school partnerships
  • Language development through academic thematic units based on science and social studies standards using instruction for ELLs with scaffolds such as graphic organizers, visuals, and realia

Language plays a central role in teaching and learning (Mehan, 1979; Vygotsky, 1987; Wells, 1999) and the development of language and literacy in children is at the center of exemplary elementary education teacher preparation. The language and literacy demands found throughout the teaching standards in today’s classrooms present challenges for all students but particularly for those students who are still learning the language of the instruction (Bunch, 2013). Literacy requirements, found throughout the standards, are included in the content areas of math, science, and social studies (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). When studying the ELA standards specifically, teachers find that students are required to “gain a firm control over the conventions of Standard English” and “come to appreciate that language is at least as much a matter of craft as of rules” (NGA & CCSSO, 2010, p. 51). The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) along with the services of WestEd and the Understanding Language Initiative at Stanford University developed a new set of English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards found on the following website: and should be used in EPPs. In order to hold students to these standards, EPPs must adequately prepare candidates to teach all the students in their classrooms. This is becoming an increasing challenge. The National Center for Educational Statistics (2014) reported that only 7% of fourth-grade and 3% of eighth-grade dual language learners score at or above proficiency on reading assessments as compared to 38% and 37% of native English speakers.

Few teachers share the same insights and understandings about how children learn a second language. Many teachers do share misconceptions and simplistic understandings causing unnecessary and damaging pressure on students as they are learning a second language (Sawyer et al., 2016). EPPs can provide a remedy by embedding second language acquisition content into existing language and literacy coursework. Many studies have confirmed that the most effective teachers are able to tap into the knowledge of a student’s first language to support the learning and application of the second language (August, McCardle, & Shanahan, 2014; Dressler & Kamil, 2006; Francis, Kieffer, Lesaux, Rivera, & Rivera, 2006). These similarities, used to support the language and literacy development of ELLs all the way through complex reading and writing activities, are recommended (Goodrich, Farrington, & Lonigan, 2016).

Childhood Bilingualism and Primary Language Instruction

The acquisition and maintenance of two or more languages can create a tremendous advantage to ELLs. Cummins’s (2000) seminal research on childhood bilingualism addresses that as children learn a second language at school, they need to learn both informal and academic language. Cummins called these terms BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) and CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency). Children learn informal speech through observing and imitating interactions in casual settings such as recess and the cafeteria. While students who have acquired BICS often receive the term “fluent” speakers, they may demonstrate great difficulty in performing academic tasks (CALP).

Bialystok (2011) and other psychologists have found evidence that achieving bilingual proficiency has positive effects on academic success. Over the years, studies have begun to review the knowledge and skills necessary for teachers to effectively teach both content and language to ELLs (Echevarria, Vogt, and Short, 2017; Flores, Sheets, & Clark, 2010). “Disciplinary linguistic knowledge is the term used to emphasize the important role of language in teaching content (Turkan et al., 2014). Coady, Harper, & deJong (2016) hypothesize that teachers’ instructional practices with ELLs is one of the key areas to address in teacher preparation programs. It is critical to know how a second language is learned, how a first language influences the acquisition, and how multiple languages can have an impact learning and teaching (Palmer & Martinez, 2013).

Many studies discuss the strategic use of bilingualism as a resource during instruction, also referred to as translanguaging (i.e. García, 2012; Garcia & Wei, 2014). For example, in programs where English is the primary language of instruction, it is important for teachers to show respect for a student’ home culture and primary/home language (L1). The home language and culture are an integral part of a child’s bicultural identity, so it critical to use all areas of children’s linguistic toolkits. Some ways to use L1 would be allowing those from the same L1 to discuss new words using both languages, providing language friends, and using a variety of grouping strategies to expose children to home languages and English with their peers. Teachers can use translanguaging as a scaffolding approach to ensure that emergent bilingual children access texts and produce new language practices and new knowledge. Fillmore (1991) observed that when children are ‘submerged” in a new language for long periods of time, their development of L1 may be slowed down, stalled, or stopped completely, before they have had proficiency in the new language. The loss of a common home language can lead to significant socio-cultural problems such as alienation of children from their parents as second language (L2) development progresses. The research suggests that a better approach is to aim towards additive bilingualism, maintaining L1 while L2 is learned. Translanguaging is a powerful way for emergent bilinguals to model and talk about what they know and can help them serve as “language brokers” to other learners (Lee, Hill-Bonnet, & Raley, 2011).


The literature on social and emotional development of young ELLs needs addressing, as teachers begin to design strategies for teaching this population. Much of the research on these developmental trajectories address the link between the family and the student’s healthy emotional, social, and cognitive development. Research on children’s learning, programs, and policies follows a division between early learning programs (birth to 5) and pre-K to 12 education (ages 3 to 21) in the United States (Takanishi, 2016). To address this gap, the U.S. Department of Education has issued non-regulatory guidance on how states can better connect early education programs with pre-K to 12 education, as proposed under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The laws shifts responsibility for early education and pre-K to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with programs such as Early Head Start, Head Start and childcare. ESSA also includes requirements for family engagement requiring schools to promote parental, family, and community participation in language instruction educational programs for parents, families, and communities of ELLs.

Engaging parents and guardians of young ELLs is an important area to address in teacher education because the U.S. has growing areas of refugee communities, bilingual homes, and young ELLs. We also know that parents, guardians, and caregivers are the first and most important teachers, and parent involvement is one of the strongest predictors of school success, especially for ELLs (Olivos & Mendoza, 2010). Few teachers and administrators enter careers with formal training on how to work with families and communities. However, because every teacher and administrator works with families, there should be at least one required course on school, family and community partnerships in every EPP.

Immigrant families come to the U.S. from diverse backgrounds with a wide range of needs and prior educational experiences, thus a one-size-fits all model does not meet the needs of all immigrant families. General parent involvement models do not adequately address the unique factors affecting immigrant parents (Han & Love, 2015). A new model—called the Stages of Immigrant Parent Involvement — illustrates that a parent’s needs, skills, and interests evolve when moving through the stages of Cultural Survivor, Cultural Learner, Cultural Connector, and Cultural Leader (Han, 2012). Understanding these stages can better equip educators to identify where families are, their unique challenges, and help schools determine how to best support them. Targeted outreach strategies aligned with activities to meet the needs inherent in each stage can assist schools to develop effective practices and services, however, educators must first understand immigrant parents’ needs based on the four stages of immigrant parent involvement.

ESSA mandates that school districts must have written family engagement policies in order to receive Title I funds and that 1% of these funds be used for family engagement activities (Henderson, 2015). Parent engagement is a predictor of school success, but it is especially important for parents of ELLs who need to navigate and balance the socio-cultural differences of home and school. According to Pong and Landale (2012), parents who are non-native English speakers are restricted in their ability to support their children’s sociocultural and linguistic learning in the host country, which is associated with children’s academic achievement. Trust is also a critical component of collaborative partnerships between families and teachers (Adams & Christenson, 2000). One way to build trusting relationships is to conduct home visits.

Building Relationships

A key recommendation from the National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools (NCFCCS) is to “meet [families] on their turf.” (Raymond, 2015). Home visits are one option to meet parents where they physically are and may be the first important step to building home-school partnerships. The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) model offers a replicable program to engage families in culturally competent and respectful ways. It developed in Sacramento, California, through collaboration among the school district, teachers’ union, and a community-organizing group, and has since expanded to 17 states (see for additional information).

The PTHVP model operates on five non-negotiable core practices:

  • 1. Visits are always voluntary for educators and families and arranged in advance.
  • 2. Focus of the first visit is relationship building; discuss hopes and dreams.
  • 3. Teachers receive training and compensation for visits outside of the school day.
  • 4. No targeting. Visit all or a cross section of students.
  • 5. Educators conduct visits in pairs, with reflection on assumptions, strengths, and bringing what they learned back to the classroom.

Home visits can help establish and build relationships between families and educators (Bradley & Schalk, 2013). Therefore, it is highly recommended to provide preservice teachers with opportunities to conduct home visits during coursework or internships. The home visits can serve as informal relationship-building experiences and a time to reflect on ways to learn from the parents and bring their unique experiences to the classroom in culturally relevant lessons. According to Vesely, Brown and Mehta (2017), conducting a home visit can shape preservice teachers’ development of cultural humility and increase cultural competence, and results from the study indicated that the home visit experience could help inform future teachers’ practice. Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington and Utsey (2013) conceptualize cultural humility as the “ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the [person]” (p. 2).

Fostering Family Engagement in Academic Activities

One solution to increasing academic achievement is to increase home-to-school connections. Student proficiency, achievement, and grades correlate to parent or guardian contribution (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). Parents or guardians of ELLs want to be involved in their child’s education, but often do not know how to do so. Two-way communication is vital and may happen at open house, parent-teacher conferences, while volunteering in the classroom, or being involved outside of school in a community event or special program. Special attention to the types of activities sent home is important in order to support academic learning, especially in homes where the families speak a language other than English.

One study investigating preschoolers with a year-long project, the Home-School Literacy Bag Project and Family Literature Circles (Brand, Marchand, Lilly, & Child, 2014), confirmed that families who have access to home school literacy bags had increased engagement in home literacy activities with their children and gained a better understanding of the importance of reading together with children. The children and parents learned how to combine the expressive arts and emergent literacy strategies including alphabet recognition, phonemic and phonological awareness and oral language fluency. The project provided books and directions for using the home–school literacy bags in other languages, and translators for ELLs were available for those who wished to share verbally their activities at Family Literature Circles.

Family Learning Opportunities

Abriendo Puertas / Opening Doors is the nation’s first evidence-based comprehensive parent training program developed by and for Latino parents with children ages 0-5. The mission is to support parents in their role as the leader in the home, the child’s first school. In this program, local community leaders deliver curriculum to parents in their neighborhoods. The lessons cover a range of best practices such as language development, bilingualism, early literacy, math, health, goal setting, and planning for success. (Abriendo Puertas, n.d.).

A national organization, Colorín Colorado, provides an excellent resource for educators and families of ELLs, A Guide for Engaging ELL Families: Twenty Strategies for School Leaders, ( with school ideas and resources to teachers. One recommendation is to design programs to assist families and parents in their language development. For example, family literacy programs encourage parents to provide a home environment where children read and write before entering school. Parents could read to their children in their native language on a daily basis, or programs could be set up to instruct parents in their native language on how to help their children with homework. Some programs provide ESL classes for adults or ways to help parents understand the U.S. educational system (Breiseth, Robertson, & Lafond, 2011).

As part of a Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education and Justice, the Lewiston SS/HS Early Childhood Prevention team in Lewiston Public Schools in Maine expanded a home visiting program to newcomer Somali women in a Nurturing Parenting Program. The team worked with Somali cultural brokers and interpreters to develop trust in the community, collaborated with a network of professional in the community to provide services and education to families, and helped parents understand that their children’s participation in the program could help them become successful at school. The program created a support group for the Somali women and worked with literacy volunteers to help both parents and children learn English (Educational Development Center, 2013).

Jasis and Ordoñez-Jasis (2012) formed community initiatives for supporting Latino parents’ school participation. The range of activities included parent–teacher dialogue, family learning of math and science, multicultural and bilingual heritages, and family health and nutrition. The activities allowed language minority parents to develop social and cultural capital for participating in their children’s schooling, while addressing ‘‘a variety of factors involving issues of pedagogy, socioeconomic status, power, and ideology’’ (p. 67)

The need for early intervention of emergent literacy abilities is especially important among bilingual children from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Cummins (2000) has argued that a child’s L1 helps to transfer learning to L2. The research on the benefits of L1 development has implications for planning school-home activities for parents using L1. One such program, the SALSA (Supporting the Acquisition of Language and Literacy through School Home Activities), uses an approach to address the areas of emergent literacy (e.g., alphabetic principle and print concepts). Parents produce simple drawings representing family activities while discussing the events with their children. Later in class, teachers lead circle time and ask children to show their journals and respond to teacher questions about the family activities. Children redraw the main components on a larger paper and add details with new vocabulary. This is one example of how to engage parents in language and literacy interactions with their children without requiring high levels of adult literacy yet encouraging discourse and interactions about shared experiences (Caesar & Nelson, 2014).

Based on an extensive review of the literature, The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC, 2009) provides principles for engaging diverse families. Programs should invite families to participate in decision-making, to set goals for children along with advocacy, to engage families in two-way communication with teachers in reciprocal fashion, to provide learning activities for both home and community, and to implement a comprehensive system for family engagement.


According to Pereira and de Oliveira (2015), the population of ELLs in mainstream classrooms is growing, and educators feel as if they lack the preparation to provide effective instruction for this special population. There is a continuing gap in achievement between ELLs and native English speakers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2010). Calderón, Slavin, and Sánchez (2011) affirm that the quality of education is the most important factor in educating ELLs. Research states that a high-quality teacher can have a significant impact on student learning outcomes (Croninger, Ricke, Rathbun, & Nishio, 2007), therefore, in order to close the achievement gap, it is necessary to also close a similar gap in EPPs and professional development because ELLs spend the majority of the instructional day in mainstream classrooms.

Teacher educators should strongly consider making the necessary modifications in EPPs because ELLs are in all classrooms. While EPPs across the country must address the needs of the growing population of ELLs, the scope of this chapter is unable to make recommendations on how to restructure teacher educator programs systematically. However, it is clear that teachers must have special expertise in teaching ELLs that goes beyond “just good teaching” (deJong & Harper, 2008). Because ELLs are still developing English proficiency, teaching ELLs is not the same as teaching native English speakers and students who are already proficient in English.

The driving questions are (1) what do teachers need to know and (2) how can EPPs incorporate these components into programs. Bransford, Darling-Hammond and LePage (2005) provide a framework for understanding the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for all teachers: knowledge of learners and their development needs in social contexts (human development and language), knowledge of subject matters and curriculum goals, and knowledge of teaching. It is not possible to cover the vast research in second language learning and teaching, however, critical areas will be included in this addressed. In general, teachers need to know the structure of the English language, the processes of second language acquisition and the ability to apply this information to teaching. Teachers must also develop certain dispositions and commitments to become linguistically responsive teachers (Lucas & Villegas, 2013) as follows.

A Framework for the Preparation of Linguistically Responsive Teachers

  • 1. Sociolinguistic consciousness
  • 2. Value for linguistic diversity
  • 3. Inclination to advocate for ELLs
  • 4. Learning about ELL student backgrounds, experiences, and proficiencies
  • 5. Identifying the language demands of classroom discourse and tasks
  • 6. Knowing and applying the principles of second language learning
  • 7. Scaffolding instruction to promote ELL students’ learning.

Lucas and Grinberg (2008), in their thorough literature review on preparing all teachers to teach bilingual students argue that teachers specifically need to experience multilingualism by studying a language other than English and by having contact with people who speak other languages. They contend that such experiences can serve as a foundation for teachers’ development of “affirming views of linguistic diversity” and “an awareness of the sociopolitical dimension of language use and language education,” both of which are fundamental to support emerging bilinguals in their classrooms (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008, pp. 612–613). To address the global perspectives of multicultural education, Wells (2008) recommends that EPPs increase second/foreign language competence among both teacher education faculty and students. Chang and researchers (2007) discovered that teachers who spoke more Spanish in the classroom related in a more positive manner to their Spanish-speaking students. With more than 400 languages present in today’s classrooms (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016), it is impossible to expect classroom teachers to speak the languages of all their students, however, studying another language and valuing a child’s cultural background could help teachers find commonalities and strengthen the teacher child relationship (Gillanders et al., 2012).

Teacher Knowledge of ELLs as Learners

In order to work more effectively with students, teachers need to take into consideration students’ backgrounds. For teachers of ELLs, this knowledge includes an understanding of the child’s cultural, linguistic, and family background. Both the home environments and immigrant or native-born statuses of ELLs are different from their non-ELL peers. For example, the majority of young ELLs are born in the U.S. and have had exposure to American culture and English through experiences such as watching T.V., shopping, eating out, or driving in various U.S. states and neighborhoods. These children may have knowledge of American culture but will experience a mismatch in the language of the home and the language of the school. Conversely, young immigrant ELLs will experience culture shock in both a different language and a different way of life. These children will have new surroundings and some will have complex immigration issues such as trauma from war or severe economic hardship that may result in limited formal schooling. It is important to understand that there is tremendous diversity among families of ELLs including socioeconomic level, educational background, and immigration status. It is critical that teachers learn about their ELLs and are cautious not to overgeneralize. Knowing students holistically will provide teachers with a much deeper understanding of the students they serve, so that they can help connect the content of the classroom to the context of students’ lives.

Funds of Knowledge (FoK)

One approach to connecting the home culture to the classroom is utilizing the funds of knowledge (FoK) of each child to develop activities in the classroom (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). FoK are described as, “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functional and well-being” (Moll et al., 1992, p. 133). FoK take the cultural practices that are part of the families’ culture and uses this knowledge base to build on the home experiences and incorporate the activities of the home into the classroom. The FoK approach is powerful for ELLs because it conveys a positive message that relationships and literary and cultural experiences of the home are valuable. The FoK approach is also a beginning venue for teacher candidates to connect to families.

In one qualitative study (Velez-Ibanez, Moll, Gonzalez, & Neff, 1991), teachers visited households and conducted interviews and observations. This type of study could be set up as a reproduction in EPPs by providing opportunities for teacher candidates to work alongside veteran teachers acting as mini-anthropologists collecting data and reflecting how to use FoK in their future classrooms. Collecting information on children’s home lives by conducting surveys, observations, and interviews and then designing student biographical sketches can assist pre-service teacher in creating activities in EPPs (Herrera, Perez, & Escamilla, 2015). Parents, guardians, and caregivers could be given an invitation to share their knowledge and expertise such as gardening, cooking, or sharing a special part of their jobs.

Language Acquisition

Markos and Himmel (2016) recommend that it is valuable for teachers to utilize students’ L1 in order to help acquire reading and writing skills in English. Before teachers can make content comprehensible for an ELL, the teacher needs to know how the student’s L1 influences L2 development. Oral language proficiency ranges from one to three years and cognitive academic language can take anywhere from four to seven years (Collier, 1995). Experiences with the L1 allow children to develop phonemic awareness and other oral language skills, which are predictors of reading success (August & Shanahan, 2006). The amount of formal schooling a child receives in L1 is “the most powerful variable” in L2 learning (Collier, 1995, p.23). The consolidation of research from other countries states the importance of bilingual education for language minority students and is in agreement that the most powerful predictor of language minority student achievement is non-stop development of students’ L1 (Collier & Thomas, 2017), or bilingual education. For students not enrolled in bilingual or dual-language programs, translanguaging can be the next best classroom practice.

Teacher Knowledge of Instructional Practices With ELLs

Even as the non-white student population is about to outnumber the white student population nationally, 80 percent of public-school teachers are still white and non-Hispanic (Aud,, 2013). The child development principles discussed early in this chapter are central to understanding how children grow and acquire knowledge. Applying this knowledge is important to creating an engaging learning environment for ELLs to have many opportunities to practice and improve language learning. Based on extensive research, CAL (Center for Applied Linguistics) developed 7 principles of instruction for ELLs

Cooperative Learning and Grouping

Cooperative learning involves teachers planning for effective grouping configurations and instructional strategies for students to work together and help each other learn. There is strong research on cooperative learning with many studies documenting the effectiveness of this approach for teaching diverse populations (Calderon, Slavin, & Sanchez, 2011; deJong & Harper, 2008). There are several recommendations for grouping, based on second language acquisition theories. Teachers selecting the groups is better than random grouping or self-selection. When students self-select, hierarchies creating inequities have a tendency to increase along racial/ethnic, language and socioeconomic lines (Tharp, 2018). Grouping should be purposeful based on the task. It is important for ELLs to have opportunities for extended interaction with peers at various proficiency levels. The WIDA Focus on Group Work for Content Learning (2013) provides examples and rationales for ELL group placements. Cooperative learning is effective for all learners, and is most effective when students work in mixed-ability groups of two to four students with opportunities to learn from each other and teach each other after the teacher has introduced a lesson. Cooperative grouping is especially beneficial for ELLs because it fosters respect and friendships among diverse groups of students. Small groups provide environment to practice English for students who may feel intimidated speaking in a full classroom setting. Students also have the opportunity to speak more freely, which in turn promotes social skills, while discussing content using peer-reduced language, integrating language and content in a more naturalistic setting.

Cooperative learning is not easy to implement and it involves more than placing students in a group. Students need to a specific or strategic placement in a group and given specific steps and directions for completing structured tasks, and teachers must monitor student participation so that all students share the work, rather than one or two completing the tasks. The teacher will also need to set up a way to evaluate student outcomes including individual and student accountability.

Multicultural Education and Lesson Planning

Multicultural education and social justice issues are not exclusive to social studies. Most EPPs agree that it is important to include at least one course in multicultural education, and these courses will generally consist of topics such as respect, tolerance, and understanding of diversity. One important aspect of multicultural education is transforming the curriculum. When bilingual students read culturally relevant texts, texts that are connected to their particular backgrounds and experience, their reading proficiency is greater and they are more engaged (Ebe, 2010). There is powerful research documenting that children need to see themselves reflected in the books in their classrooms (Books, 2007; Koss, 2015; Tschida, Ryan, & Ticknor, 2014), therefore, it is important that preservice teachers begin selecting books for future classroom use. Additionally, according the Howe & Lisi (2017), all lesson plans should integrate one or more of Bennett’s (2014) six multicultural goals: (1) Developing Multiple Historical Perspectives; (2) Developing Cultural Consciousness; (3) Increasing Intercultural Competence; (4) Combating Racism, Prejudice, and Discrimination; (5) Developing Awareness of the State of the Planet and Global Dynamics; and (6) Developing Social Action Skills.


Implementing technology into instruction not only helps ELLs with language development but also enhances motivation and confidence (Lacina, 2004; Lin, 2009). In one study, adding iPod devices showed overall writing skills and vocabulary development improved significantly (Craig & Paraiso, 2007). According to Liao, Chen, Cheng, Chen, and Cha (2011), educators should take advantage of new opportunities provided by mobile devices to “engage, motivate, support, and interest students.” In one study, preservice teachers indicated they had a positive experience by enhancing children’s learning environments using documentary photography and storytelling, photovoice, with elementary ELLs (Graziano, 2011).

Even when ELLs have access, computers can be simple tools for individualized drill and practice activities with low-level cognitive demand or as rewards for assignment completion than as part of meaningful and high level instruction. Teachers who use video-segments from YouTube to enhance thematic lessons have the potential to strengthen learning (Colwell & Hutchison, 2015; Tan & Pearce, 2011). Mysore’s (2018) review of studies on technology integration in EPPs between 2015 and 2017 showed positive impact on preservice teachers using multimedia technology, digital media, blogging, inquiry-based computer simulation modeling (ICoSM) instructional approach, videos, mobile technology, apps, LMS, webinars, game-based learning, and digital video composition. Coordinated efforts by teacher education faculty, preservice and in-service teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders can bridge the digital divide and foster digital equity. The research suggests that classrooms for ELLs should be active, inquiry-based, and cooperative in nature, integrating technology, and language supports.

Service Learning

According to the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), clinical teacher candidates should have opportunities to engage with ELLs during their preparation. Candidates should have the chance both to practice pedagogical content knowledge techniques and to interact directly with students whose cultural backgrounds and experiences differ from their own (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & Levy, 2008). One way to integrate this need into EPPs is through Service Learning (SL). Yough, Gilmetdinova, & Perera (2015), claimed that SL is an essential component of teacher preparation for ELLs. Service learning (SL) refers to the combination of community service and a supervised learning component with intentional learning goals through an authentic community of school-based experiences. SL prepares teachers to see through the lens of how they serve and contribute to diverse learners in our society (D’Rozario, Low, Avila, & Cheung, 2012).

Integrating service learning into teacher education is not a new idea, and it is a beneficial pedagogical approach for teacher educators (Alvarez, 2009) to connect with students from backgrounds different from their own. SL promotes prospective teachers to connect to the community and get to know individuals members on a personal basis and hear their stories (Root & Furco, 2001). The teaching workforce continues to be overwhelmingly white and female (Gollnick & Chinn, 2017) having attended a schools where approximately 75% of their classmates were white (Orfield, Kucsera, & Siefel-Hawley, 2012). Approximately 80% of teachers are white, non-Hispanic (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Therefore, for the majority of preservice teachers, their educational experiences are in contrast to the educational and cultural backgrounds of ELLs. SL field experiences with diverse populations would be an invaluable learning opportunity to connect students’ theoretical studies with practice and application in the field of ESL. In an effort to address the gaps in preparing teacher candidates, one study found that participating in SL with ELLs provided opportunities for teacher candidates to engage in positive interactions that helped to address misconceptions about students, families, and communities (Rodríguez-Arroyo & Vaughns, 2015).

SL can foster important dispositions that teacher candidates need to be effective with ELLs. Schön (1987) defined reflection-in-action as the ability of professionals to think about what they are doing ‘while they are doing it. Schön views this type of reflection as a fundamental skill. Because SL places teacher candidates in authentic settings allowing for direct experiences and practices, there can be an inclination for boosting teachers’ confidence in their abilities to serve ELLs in their future careers. A benefit of SL is that it provides participants with the chance to ‘put themselves in someone else’s shoes’ and be more apt to take the perspectives of those who they may not typically come into contact with outside of the SL experience.


This chapter provided an overview of the research on the critical components of ways that EPPs can prepare preservice teachers for engaging with young ELLs and their families. The issue of diversity in public schools requires training and experience for preservice teachers to understand the socio-emotional development, cultural backgrounds, and experiences of students and their families. EPPs must make a concerted effort to train preservice teachers to understand the development of young ELLs, and give them experience to interact with ELLs and the families of these students. Strong EPPs will embed the following research-based practices into their programs:

  • Commit to multilingualism by promoting the study of foreign languages and translanguaging classroom practices
  • Provide service learning opportunities with young ELLs, their families, and their communities. Some examples could be ESL tutoring, sharing community resources/services, or working with the local community to provide assistance
  • Teach the FoK approach, incorporating home visits and ideas to design young ELL student profiles
  • Develop instructional routines of culturally responsive lesson planning (integration of content and language objectives, balanced literacy, multicultural goals, thematic units, and technology integration. The use of language objectives is a way for teachers to support the academic achievement of ELLs (Cunningham & Crawford, 2016; Echevarria et al., 2017). Language objectives describe the language skills needed in order to meet the content objective and participate in the lesson.
  • Learn how to choose appropriate materials, how to develop a classroom library for young ELLs, and how to write lesson plans incorporating multicultural goals
  • Increase interaction by using a variety of cooperative grouping strategies and model ways that interaction and grouping configurations can become part of all classrooms. Establishing a school and classroom environment with cooperative grouping assists in relationship-building and friendships to develop
  • Integrate technology. According to Diallo (2014), technology can scaffold and differentiate learning, lower the affective filter, and increase comprehension for ELL students.
  • Provide models and direct experiences for pre-service teachers to become involved in parent engagement and outreach initiatives

Understanding the foundational importance of a child’s home language and culture, whether schooled in an English only, a dual language, or a bilingual program, is an important component to address in EPPs, because the role of the child’s home language is part of the development of language, overall literacy, and identity. The importance of validating and affirming a child’s language and culture cannot be underestimated. According to Daniel (2014), EPPs need to provide teacher candidates with more opportunities to learn directly from students themselves. Learning from K-12 ELLs can be difficult in university-based settings, but teacher educators can ask candidates to tutor ELLs or engage in SL experiences and listen to students (Jiménez & Rose, 2010).

There is no single best approach to family engagement. The environmental factors surrounding the child are influential and resource-dependent. However, throughout the literature, one fundamental element of family engagement is critical, and that is the quality of the teacher-parent relationship. Positive, ongoing, and trusting relationships between educators and parents help improve the child’s success in school (Bryk & Schneider, 2003). According to Li, Doyle, Lymburner, & Ghadi (2016), a cultural interpreter could help decipher and convey the differing cultural norms surrounding parental engagement and role expectations.

It is essential that EPPs prepare preservice teachers with strategies to collaborate with parents and guardians of ELLs, as well as effective teachers or cultural mediators. EPPs could work on establishing partnerships with school districts with the goal of increasing parental engagement, which will ultimately support children’s academic success. Future research investigations could analyze EPPs that are currently integrating multiculturalism, translanguaging, the FoK approach, home visit models, service learning experiences, technology integration, and effective parent engagement with partnership schools.


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Early Childhood Education: Classrooms serving children birth through age eight.

Foundational Processes: Processes associated with child development that aid in transfer of learning.

Funds of Knowledge (FoK): Using students’ prior knowledge and cultural and experiential backgrounds in the classroom to strengthen learning.

Parent Engagement: Parents, guardians, and caregivers working together with school staff to support and improve the social, emotional, cognitive development of children.

Service Learning: A teaching strategy incorporating community service with academic instruction and reflection to enhance the learning experience, teach civic engagement, and strengthen communities.

Translanguaging: The ability of multilingual speakers to move back and forth between languages, and the pedagogical approaches, which support bilingualism.

Young English Language Learner: This term refers to a student from ages 3 to 8, who is in the process of learning English and has not yet gained full English proficiency. The student, who is also referred to as an ELL, requires specialized language instruction in both English and core content classes.