• by José L. Rodríguez • IDRA Newsletter • April 2002 • Jose L. Rodriguez

Many communities across the country are experiencing changes in their population. Some are shrinking, while others are growing. Still others have growing concentrations of certain racial and ethic groups. These changes have implications for the way schools operate, particularly when the growing population speaks a language other than English. Such is the case throughout the state of Arkansas.

As a result, educators in Arkansas have been in search of strategies and models to help them serve their English language learners. Some educators attended an institute hosted by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), the Annual La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute.

This institute began nine years ago as a professional development experience to enhance early childhood educators’ professional skills and to give participants an opportunity to network with colleagues and other experts. The institute focuses on ensuring that children who speak a language other than English benefit from quality instructional programs that capitalize on students’ language and culture. The ninth institute is being held in San Antonio this month.

The Arkansas participants were inspired to host their own early childhood educators institute. They wanted to include more of their educators in exploring, assessing, and reflecting on alternative strategies to lead a diverse student population to success.

Arkansas Department of Education’s Dr. André Guerrero asked IDRA to work with a team of educators from Arkansas to plan an event that would address not only English as a second language (ESL) and bilingual instruction, but also technology and parent leadership. IDRA’s role was sponsored by its South Central Collaborative for Equity, the equity assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The first day of the institute would be dedicated to recognizing cultural differences in the classroom and best practices in ESL and bilingual instruction. The second day would be spent working out a plan of action for parent leadership. The final day would be dedicated to technology and second language acquisition.

Recognizing Cultural Differences in the Classroom

Because recognizing cultural differences in the classroom makes such a difference to a quality education, there was a group session dedicated to the topic. The purpose of this session was to bring to focus the value of validating our student’s culture. To better serve our English language learners, we must first understand and value their culture. Before we can accomplish this, we have to define culture and become familiar with the categories of culture. The participants reviewed the elements of surface culture and deep culture from several ethnic groups. They then generated ideas for validating the culture of the students they serve.

Through a series of group activities and sharing, they were able to see how each person present in the room contributed to the richness of our world community. By sharing their personal experiences, they discovered that many have an understanding of and concentrate on students’ surface culture. As a whole, the group discussed similarities and differences in the cultures. They then were able to better understand where their students are coming from.

Strengthening Second Language Learning

Ms. Tara Newman and Ms. Claudia Torres, excellent teachers from the Nacogdoches Independent School District in Texas, facilitated an intensive workshop on strengthening English language learning. The presenters led the participants through the stages that students go through while learning a second language. Because the focus was second language acquisition in early childhood classrooms, they did not include early language development in the native language.

The stages are:

  • Sound approximations;
  • One word utterances;
  • Short phrases, such as telegraphic speech;
  • Rule development;
  • Sociolinguistic awareness;
  • Linguistic-code awareness;
  • Scribbling and drawing;
  • Reading, print awareness;
  • Syllabic writing; and
  • Alphabetic writing and invented spelling.

“Not all children go through all stages, but because we want to value their progress and celebrate it at each step of the way, we feel it is important for us to have these stages in mind as we interact with our students,” said Ms. Newman.

Children are most eager to learn the letters and sounds of their own name because it is so meaningful to them. That is why the presenters stressed the importance of name centers, name charts, name puzzles and other activities focused on students’ names.

The participants were also involved in a book-making process. This activity increases the students’ perception of themselves as authors. The books made by the children soon become their favorite reading books.

The use of the oral tradition is also important because it enhances comprehension, and students are able to master sequencing, main idea and story elements. The participants then interacted with each other and shared some of the activities they are already implementing in their own classrooms.

Valuing Parent Leadership for Educational Excellence

Anna Alicia Romero, an IDRA education assistant, led a whole-group, all-day workshop on parent leadership. IDRA’s concept of the leadership role is part of a broader schema for parent involvement. Our underlying philosophy is that of valuing as illustrated in facilitating parents to identify the strengths and assets in themselves and their peers (Montemayor and Romero, 2000).

During the session at the institute, the participants engaged in a series of activities so that they could compare deficit and valuing assumptions. They learned what kinds of activities educators can apply with parents of English language learners.

Ms. Romero stated: “This model is a vision of all parents as advocates of excellent neighborhood public schools. We consider leadership the culminating set of activities in a spectrum of parent participation.”

In this context, leadership is:

  • Expanding;
  • Based on peer support and rotating responsibilities;
  • Ongoing invitation and support of new leadership;
  • Connecting parents and communities across race, ethnic and class divisions; and
  • Focusing on collective action for the good of all children (Montemayor and Romero, 2000).

After the work session, participants collaborated with their colleagues to create a strategic plan of action with long-range goals and yearly objectives. A few of the questions that needed to be answered for these goals included:

  • When will the plan of action be completed?
  • What are the initiatives?
  • Where will our resources come from?
  • Who will be responsible for this plan to be fulfilled?

The participants had a productive day and were re-energized about the work ahead of them.

Bilingual Early Childhood Web Sites

Dr. Laura Chris Green, an IDRA senior education associate, led a session based on her Diversity Bookmarks Collection. It was a very popular session. This large list of Internet bookmarks, or favorites, was developed over the course of two years. It includes most of the major web site addresses of special interest to bilingual and ESL educators and others interested in issues of educational equity and diversity (Green, 2001).

The participants were led on a journey through the Internet using the bookmark collection. It was amazing to see the many resources available on the Internet for educators and students. Surfing the web is intimidating for some of us, but Dr. Green’s Diversity Bookmarks Collection makes it friendlier and more efficient.
Educators were able to see relevant and creative books and activities. They visited museums from around the world, which is an opportunity our students seldom have. In her bookmarks, Dr. Green has categories including: adult education, bilingual and ESL, early childhood, math and science, and parent information. See the box below for a complete list. This was a wonderful session for educators who find themselves wondering how to incorporate technology into their teaching.


The Arkansas Early Childhood Educators Institute was designed to prepare teachers to serve the growing Latino population in their communities. After the three-day institute, they felt they had a better understanding of the culture of their students and felt more comfortable with the literacy strategies presented. The parent leadership component however was most inspiring for the participants. Once we value parents as the first teacher, we can understand more about the culture of our families.
Some comments from participants include:

  • “I appreciate the dedication and hard work from the presenters in this conference. They are very skilled in conveying the message to us and empowering us to go back and share. I felt that everything I learned is top priority to engage our families and partner with them.”
  • “This was more than I thought it was going to be. Thank you so much for it. I will work with my parents and children to better our center.”
  • “I am very pleased to have been invited here and excited about what we learned.”

Dr. André Guerrero captured the spirit of the institute saying to the participants: “You are the cornerstone in our state’s efforts to welcome language-minority families and children into our educational system. You are key to opening the door for our English language learners into the world of literacy and learning and success in school.”

Diversity Bookmarks Collection

Adult Education – web sites designed for those who help adult learners learn to read and write, acquire English, obtain GEDs, etc.

Assistance Centers – web sites hosted by training and technical assistance providers. Good sources for schools of information for training such as research results and model programs. Includes: ERIC system, national centers and labs, standards and assessment, state of Texas, technical assistance

Bilingual/ESL education – web sites of interest to bilingual and ESL educators, researchers, and advocates at all educational levels. Includes: advocacy and language policy, ESL multi-resource web sites, ESL student activities collections, Spanish resources (SSL and SFL), technical assistance for bilingual/ESL education, technology approaches to bilingual/ESL

Early Childhood – web sites for educators who work with ages 0 to grade 3. Includes: authors, bilingual (Spanish), student activities, technical assistance, early childhood

Fine Arts – web sites for the visual and performing arts. Includes: kid art, museums and exhibits

Language Arts – web sites that promote literacy (reading and writing) development. Includes: authors, electronic books, literature, student activities, technical assistance, language arts

Math and Science – web sites that help teach math and science topics. Includes: earth science, general science, health and anatomy, life science, math, museums and zoos, physical science, space, technical assistance for math and science

Multicultural – web sites dealing with issues of equity and multicultural education as well as sites that address specific cultural and minority groups. Includes: advocacy and educational equity, African-American, Asian-American, Latino, multicultural education, Native Americans, women and girls

Parents and Families – web sites for parents and families and educators who work with them. Includes: college, family fun, family literacy and homework help, parenting and parental involvement, teens

Resources – web sites that can provide informational and instructional resources to schools either free or through purchase. Includes: book publishers, electronic journals, grants and funding, libraries and reference materials, professional associations, software, commercial

Social studies – web sites that help teach the social sciences. Includes: careers and vocational, geography, government and law, history, news and current events

Special programs – web sites for categorical programs excluding bilingual/ESL programs. Includes: gifted education, migrant education, safe and drug-free schools, special education

Technology – web sites that focus on a variety of ways to use technology for general purposes or for instruction. Includes: audio resources, collaborative projects, graphics and video, integrating technology into teaching, lesson plans (many subjects), links to major lists, plug-ins and other web tools, search engines, noncommercial software, technical assistance for technology

The Diversity Bookmarks Collection is developed by Dr. Laura Chris Green at IDRA and is updated regularly.

Intercultural Development Research Association, www.idra.org


Green, L.C. Diversity Bookmarks Collection (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2001).

Montemayor, A.M., and A.A. Romero. “Valued Parent Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, June-July 2000).

José L. Rodríguez is an education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]