Dual-language learning takes center stage

EYEPlay for Dual Language Learners

Principal investigator:
Award amount:
$721,000
Originating sponsor:
Helios Education Foundation
Grant start date:
November 1, 2015
Grant end date:
September 30, 2019

The challenge:

In Arizona, 43 percent of children under the age of 5 are Hispanic. Many of those live in homes where Spanish is the primary language. Yet when they begin to attend school they’re expected to read, write and learn in English, and meet performance goals alongside other children for whom English is the first language.

Bilingual education is one solution for addressing this gap, but there is a shortage of certified, qualified bilingual and dual-language learning teachers in the state. Even students who are able to work with one of those teachers may face another stumbling block: a curriculum that reflects an incomplete understanding of how abilities in any language develop.

“Some teachers think it’s OK to translate for the children,” says Michael Kelley, associate professor of early childhood education at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “However, when you translate from, say English to Spanish, the native Spanish-speaking children don’t need to attend to the English as they know the teacher will translate. Each language learned needs its own time.”

The approach:

EYEPlay — Early Years Educators at Play — is a curriculum model that incorporates theater arts into learning for prekindergarten dual-language learners, adding kinesthetic features that support comprehension and retention. EYEPlay promotes language and literacy development through creative drama, providing a story-based approach to Total Physical Response methodologies. (TPR, a language teaching method developed by James Asher at San Jose Staté University, has proved particularly successful with DLLs as well as special needs children who may or may not be dual-language.)

The Helios Education Foundation is funding a research project to create district-wide professional development programs in Phoenix’s Osborn and Creighton school districts. Kelley is the principal investigator for the research component. Early childhood teachers in those districts work with teaching artists from the children’s theater group Childsplay to train in EYEPlay methods, introducing them into DLL preschool classrooms and integrated special needs DLL classrooms. Core content is taught in both Spanish and English to a mixture of native Spanish and English speaking children. Each day is split, with morning content in English and afternoon in Spanish or vice versa.

The program trains teachers to use EYEPlay techniques with children ages 3 – 5. These techniques allow children to answer questions after listening to stories and provides them with deeper understanding of story content by encouraging them to create characters and act out scenes.

Findings and impact:

This project continues through September 2019, with ASU’s Kelley working with the children, parents and teachers for at least two years. He hopes to follow the students’ progress through the third grade.

“Helios is interested in knowing whether the DLL preschool children we are working with have an increased ‘readiness footprint’ when they matriculate into the K – 3 grades,” Kelley says. “We know this approach works in low-income preschool settings; now we are formulating the model for children in dual language settings.

“Most of the research on dual language learning has been done with older children,” Kelley says. “By taking a look at how dual language opportunities can support early literacy and language development, we hope to better understand how to ensure more children in Arizona are ready for success when they enter kindergarten and are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.”


Learn more about EYEPlay at the Helios Education Foundation.