A continuum-based perspective of language and literacy development for Spanish-English speaking children

A continuum-based perspective of language and literacy development for Spanish-English speaking children

First Author: Lisa Fitton -- University of South Carolina
Additional authors/chairs: 
Rachel Hoge
Keywords: Bilingualism, Assessment, Emergent literacy, English Language Learners (ELL), Development
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Children who speak more than one language are often identified as a distinct group compared to children who are monolingual. Considering the need for rigor in educational and reading research, particularly given the replicability crisis, an alternative perspective on dual language learners (DLLs) is suggested. Instead of considering DLLs and monolingual children as distinct groups, the authors suggest that children’s language skills be quantified continuously. The purpose of the present proposal is to demonstrate the use of English and Spanish proficiency as continuous predictors of emergent literacy skills in a relatively small sample of Spanish-English speaking children and their English-speaking monolingual peers.

Method: Sixty children ages 4 to 7 completed story retell oral narratives, two measures of Spanish and English language development, one measure of nonverbal intelligence, and one measure of English emergent literacy development. Approximately half of the children were classified as English language learners by their preschool and elementary schools. The remaining students were identified as monolingual English-speaking children by school standards. The relations between identification status, dual language skills, and emergent literacy were examined.

Results: Results revealed a continuous relation between English language and English emergent literacy across both groups of children. Interactions between children’s English and Spanish proficiencies suggest that children with stronger Spanish skills tended to benefit more from each one-unique increase in English skills than children with lower (or no) Spanish skills.

Conclusions: Findings support the feasibility of quantifying DLLs’ dual language proficiencies on a continuum when assessing performance in academic settings. This approach yields benefits including reduced effects of measurement error due to cut scores and increased power to detect relations among variables.