Early Childhood Education
Teachers Acquiring Language Learner Knowledge
The TALLK project provides preschool teachers with training and coaching in specific strategies for interacting with English learner children to support language acquisition. TALLK is based on the research-demonstrated best practice of providing adult education through a combination of information sharing followed by coaching. The goal is to support language development among preschoolers in their home language and in English.
The project serves state-funded preschools and child development centers in Sonoma County’s identified school readiness zone. A large percentage of the children served in these programs are from families that speak Spanish at home. The project endeavors to build language skills in both English and the students’ home language, recognizing that skills learned in both languages will support the children’s literacy development.
Through the TALLK project, a bilingual coach works with participating preschool staff to positively impact the quality of conversation between adults and the children they serve. Responding to evidence-based research showing that language development is heightened through meaningful verbal interaction, the coach trains instructional staff to:
- Build on and extend what children are saying
- Engage children in talk about cognitively rich topics
- Use varied vocabulary
- Sustain conversations about individual topics
TALLK extends throughout the school year by providing one-on-one coaching, on-site training, and individualized support. It begins with a one-day orientation session that introduces participants to two resources that will be used throughout the year: Preschool English Learners: Principles and Practices to Promote Language, Literacy, and Learning from the California Department of Education and One Child, Two Languages: A Guide for Preschool Educators of Children Learning English as a Second Language by Patton O. Tabors.
Following the orientation, TALLK provides:
- One-on-one coaching sessions at least twice per week using technology that allows the coach to suggest specific language development strategies to the teacher while the teacher is actively involved with the children (i.e., the teacher wears a headset and the coach communicates via microphone in real time).
- On-site monthly staff trainings that introduce specific “best practice” strategies from the two resource books, promote discussion about using the strategies with children, and respond to the site’s unique training needs. These trainings are scheduled in collaboration with each site and take place when teaching staff are available, but not during instructional time.
- Pre- and post-meetings accompanying each coaching session to allow for further professional development and prepare for the next session.
- Stipends of $200 for each participant who completes the year-long program.
The TALLK project serves approximately 20-25 participants each year, thereby enhancing language acquisition for 250-300 preschoolers at 5-6 TALLK project sites annually. Participant feedback and an independent evaluation indicate that the program has positively impacted teacher effectiveness in working with English learners and that there is a high level of participant support for the program. Further evaluations are being conducted to assess the program’s long-term effect both on the quality of teaching and on student language development.
The TALLK coach also offers parent workshops at each project site, emphasizing school readiness and strategies for building a language-rich environment at home. These workshops have a dual purpose—educating parents and training preschool staff to provide parent trainings on their own. The bilingual coach provides the first workshop at each site, modeling strategies for delivering an effective parent presentation. Next, the coach and school staff co-present a workshop, thus preparing the school staff to organize and provide the workshops on their own. A total of 10 to 15 parent workshops are presented each year.
The parent workshops emphasize the same evidence-based language development concepts that preschool staff are learning through the TALLK program. Parents learn activities to do with their children that continue to promote language learning at home.
TALLK Review Group
After completing the year-long coaching and professional development program, participants are invited to join the TALLK Review Group. Here, program alumni from all sites come together three times per school year to review strategies learned, add to their knowledge, and share their experiences. Led by the TALLK coach, these meetings provide networking opportunities and give participants a chance to model best practices for each other. Teachers attending the review meetings are encouraged to share strategies learned with others at their site, thereby building leadership capacity and developing a more effective teaching staff.
Funding for TALLK is provided by First 5 Sonoma County. The project was initiated in 2006 with a four-year grant, then refunded by First 5 Sonoma County for an additional four years in 2010. Additional funding for TALLK is provided by Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend Fund the Future Grant.