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From the Editors

Directions in Addressing the Language and Literacy Needs of Children Across the Bilingual Continuum

Editor(s): Troia, Gary A. PhD, CCC-SLP, Co-Editors; Wallace, Sarah E. PhD, CCC-SLP, Co-Editors

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doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000266
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If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

—Nelson Mandela

In this issue of Topics in Language Disorders, guest issue editors Mark Guiberson and Linda Rosa-Lugo asked authors to present work that investigates and/or supports the language and literacy development of English learners. As the aforementioned quote from the late Nelson Mandela suggests, individuals whose first language is other than English benefit from the comfort, connection, and support that communication using that language conveys. Dual language and English learners, particularly those who also have language delays or disorders, likely will have more meaningful and impactful educational experiences if those experiences incorporate their first language to the greatest extent possible because not only their minds but their hearts will be engaged. The authors of this group of articles surely would agree with this statement, and their collective work offers practitioners many practices, techniques, and strategies to support vocabulary and discourse skills in English language learners, many of which incorporate the child's first language.

In the first article, Guiberson employs convergent parallel mixed-methods to identify culturally consistent early literacy support strategies for caregivers of 2- to 3-year-old dual language learners. The first portion of his article presents a descriptive study in which caregivers and their preschool-aged children (about a third of whom exhibited early language delay) engaged in a Spanish-language book reading task and the interactions among the dyads were observed and coded. Several behaviors were found to occur occasionally (two to three times) or frequently (four or more times) during the book reading episode in at least 70% of the dyads in the categories of enhancing attention to text and promoting interactive reading and supporting comprehension, whereas behaviors in the category using literacy strategies were infrequently observed in a majority of the dyads. The caregivers of the oldest preschoolers used literacy strategies significantly more often than the caregivers of children with early language delay, but otherwise the dyads with preschoolers who exhibited delay and those with preschoolers who displayed typical language development were comparable. Next, he presents findings from an integrative review of the literature in which caregivers use language and/or literacy support strategies with young Spanish-speaking dual language learners and in which identified practices and strategies were rated for evidence strength. A total of 26 strategies were identified (with overlap with the behaviors noted in the descriptive study), 15 of which showed compelling strength of evidence.

Next, Fiestas and her colleagues present a pilot study that evaluates the feasibility of the Language and Literacy Together intervention to address semantic and narrative skills in 13 bilingual first graders at risk for developmental language disorder. In the intervention, (a) narrative and expository texts provide the context for learning vocabulary and narrative skills, (b) there is a focus on Tier 1 (common vocabulary words used in conversation) and Tier 2 (vocabulary words that occur across subject areas but may differ in meaning depending on the academic subject) vocabulary presented in thematic units, (c) Spanish–English cognates are intentionally highlighted to promote cross-language transfer, (d) vocabulary are presented in oral and written forms, defined using contextual clues, and mapped onto functions with visual representations for word types, and (e) narrative comprehension and production are reinforced through cued retells and questioning activities. Pretest and posttest evaluations of semantics and narrative comprehension and production in Spanish and English using standardized, norm-referenced measures revealed the participants experienced significant gains over 8 weeks in both semantics and narrative skills, in both the language of the intervention (Spanish) and English, suggesting cross-language transfer effects. The largest gains were observed for Spanish narrative comprehension and English narrative production, whereas modest gains in vocabulary breadth (raw score changes only) were realized though gains in vocabulary depth were more robust.

Roseberry-Mckibbin discusses in the third article research-supported means of supporting academic vocabulary learning in English learners who exhibit developmental language disorder. These include supporting a bilingual approach to intervention, teaching content-area cognates, facilitating multiple exposures and active engagement, teaching Tier 2 vocabulary words, and incorporating phonological awareness tasks to reinforce lexical storage and retrieval of vocabulary words. She presents an instructional hierarchy to guide intervention efforts, moving from simple recognition to using a target word in a written text to dissecting the sound structure of the target word.

Then, Ehren and her colleagues present an adapted version of the promising Vocabulary Scenario Technique to assist English learners with Tier 2 vocabulary learning. This technique uses direct and explicit instruction with multiple encounters with words in diverse contexts to facilitate word learning and word consciousness. In addition, student-friendly explanations and connections to students' prior knowledge are employed, as are multiple opportunities for scaffolding when necessary. The major feature of instruction is the use of scenarios in which the target word is defined and used meaningfully in a relatable context. The adaptation for English learners involves presenting the scenario in the child's first language, except for the target word itself, which is presented in English. In this way, other professionals, caregivers, and community members can become involved with intervention when they have proficiency in the first language and are willing to assist in the development and even presentation of the scenarios used for instruction. Although preliminary research on the adapted version of the Vocabulary Scenario Technique did not result in greater gains than other intensive vocabulary instruction characterized by greater instructional time and word exposures (as might be expected), this work is in its infancy. Thus, the authors make the case that more research is needed to validate this technique with English learners and an increase in the number of exposures to target vocabulary is likely to yield positive findings.

Finally, Peker and Rosa-Lugo present findings from a pilot study that examined speech–language pathology graduate students' self-efficacy beliefs before and after engaging with a TeachLivE simulation in which they practiced using questioning strategies and specific leveled questions they had prepared beforehand with English learner avatars with varied English proficiency levels. The simulation experience offers an alternative to typical clinical education with live clients when and where there is not enough opportunity to work with live clients who represent a specific population. Although there were no significant gains in the graduate students' self-efficacy for using questioning strategies for beginning or intermediate English learners, there was a statistically significant increase in their self-efficacy for using questioning strategies with advanced English learners (perhaps reflecting a better match between the students' language skills and those of the avatar). Moreover, there was a significant increase in self-efficacy for administering evaluation procedures following the simulation activity, and the posttest scores for self-efficacy for questioning strategies and administering evaluations were positively and significantly related. Written reflections on the simulation experience revealed the graduate students (1) felt the simulation was realistic, safe, and provided multiple practice opportunities, (2) were more confident in using questions effectively and appreciated more nuance in their communicative interactions and requisite adaptations as these intersect culture, language proficiency, and other personal attributes (e.g., engagement), and (3) desired more guidance regarding the nature of the simulation experience due to its novelty. Overall, the simulation experience led to a greater awareness of major issues in evaluating and questioning English learners for the speech–language pathology graduate students.

It is our hope that readers will find this set of articles helpful in guiding their work with preschool and school-aged English learners, including those who are at risk for or who display language learning difficulties.

—Gary A. Troia, PhD, CCC-SLP
—Sarah E. Wallace, PhD, CCC-SLP

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