Classroom with three care givers, each with a child. The people are surrounded by toys, instruments, and letters.

Listening to Head Start teachers working with dual language learners in multilingual classrooms

About the brief

Dual language learners (DLLs) – children from birth to age five who simultaneously develop language skills in their home language as well as English – are a growing population. In Ohio, DLLs comprise 13% of children from birth to age five, with over 90 languages used by students in preschool through grade twelve. Nationally, one in three children live in a home with a language other than English spoken.  

This research brief by Dr. Ji-Young Choi shares findings from a study capturing teacher insights on their roles in supporting DLLs’ learning. To learn more about DLL education – particularly insights from multilingual preschool-aged Head Start classrooms – teachers were surveyed and interviewed about their unique beliefs, teaching practices, and needs. Researchers also observed the classrooms under study. 

Several key findings emerged:

Blue icon of teacher figure pointing at a board with lines on it. Three icons representing students looking at the board.

While teachers in the study did use instructional strategies for DLLs, they felt unprepared to teach these students effectively. 

Blue icon of two hands holding, representing support.

Teachers felt comfortable teaching DLLs when they had support; support could be offered in the form of translation programs, bilingual colleagues, or mentors. 

Blue icon of paper with bullet point list.

Teachers often used different instructional practices for DLLs, such as repetitions, bilingual labeling, and individual interactions. 

Blue icon of A, B, C blocks.

Teachers believed in the importance of fostering the home language of DLLs; however, many reported that parents may prioritize children’s English-language learning.