• by Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., and Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2008 •

Dr. Bradley ScottRosana RodriguezDr. Abelardo Villarreal

A continuing academic achievement gap, low performance and low graduation rates are powerful evidence that many schools continue to shortchange English language learners. Research reports that the achievement gap between English language learners and the general school population begins at an early age and continues through high school and college.

Building a strong academic foundation and a strong sense of self-efficacy from an early age holds the best promise for English language learners to persevere and succeed in slowly changing educational institutions. One of the contributing factors is the lack of bi-literacy and self-efficacy curriculum.

This article provides a brief description of the Semillitas de Aprendizaje early childhood curriculum that is currently being developed by IDRA to address this need.

The vision embodies the literacy skills and resiliency inherent in this curriculum: The amazement of being able to read… To be able to put letters and sounds together to make words…To be able to construct meaning from print…To be able to capture ideas and thoughts. To be able to move print from words to images, and even better, to be able to move images to words for others to see, to hear, to feel, to experience!

At an early age, children love being able to read, they can develop resiliency and perseverance, they begin to think about careers, and they develop a thirst for knowledge and inquiry.

Underlying Premises of the New Curriculum

Language development begins at a very early age. In an interactive manner, children learn by listening to and participating in conversation. Even very young learners begin to experiment with the joy of using language to express feelings, engage, communicate ideas, create and influence others.

Universally, young children learn the language(s) they hear and readily learn to reproduce those sounds, which ultimately supports their process of developing early and emerging literacy skills. As very young children listen to the conversations and stories heard in their families, powerful connections are made, emotions are explored and memories are created that forge the strong foundation of language as a precursor for literacy.

Children can learn expression in language through the introduction of the skill of recitation or declamation at a very early age. This skill is part of Hispanic cultural traditions that need to be valued and preserved.

Through its success over the years in the area of teacher development in early childhood education, and most recently with Reading Early for Academic Development (READ) project, lessons learned in creating preschool centers of excellence at home and at school have helped to inform an exciting new bilingual effort in early childhood education. IDRA collaborated with the Head Start program of Parent Child Incorporated in San Antonio to implement READ, an Early Reading First project funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

IDRA was able to translate these learnings into a wonderful new curriculum that captures the best of what we learned through research and practice. This has become the curriculum series, titled Semillitas de Aprendizaje.

This unique supplemental bilingual (Spanish/English) early childhood curriculum is based on the art of storytelling and listening. Children can listen to, view and then read along with this curriculum’s culturally-relevent stories. Children eventually begin to repeat the stories and learn the art of creating their own stories as well as recite poetry.

Semillitas de Aprendizaje focuses on literacy and has activities for 3- and 4-year-old children. The bilingual supplemental curriculum is comprised of: comprehension, phonological awareness and phonics, book knowledge and use, print knowledge and emergent writing, and storytelling/poetry reading and recitation.

The Semillitas de Aprendizaje Curriculum Package

The entire Semillitas de Aprendizaje series is comprised of three parts: (1) the Semillitas de Aprendizaje core curriculum that includes bilingual stories, accompanying original storytelling videos, teacher lesson plans and activities for parents; (2) a set of 10 illustrated storybooks with songs and poems; and (3) a “learning through nature” set of 15 short bilingual picture books for home use that focus on mathematics and other important concepts. A set of videos for the preparation of bilingual preschool teachers will also be available. Each component can be purchased and used separately.

Through the series of 10 original and beautifully illustrated stories, children will listen to their teacher talk about each illustration, listen to the stories that are rich in vocabulary that describes and delights the listener, talk about similar experiences that they have had, follow directions that are geared to take them to the next step in applying and experimenting with the information they have learned, and engage in predicting next happenings and story endings.

The teacher materials that accompany this bilingual curriculum begin with an activity cycle that includes developing a lasting love of reading and lifelong interest in learning. These steps include: provocar, provoke an interest in learning; enseñar, teach the joy of knowing by challenging the child’s imagination; retar, challenge the child’s imagination and intellect; transferir, transfer the new learning to English; and evaluar, evaluate your success in presenting the instructional material.

Each story and accompanying lesson integrates vocabulary development into related activities for classroom and home. Throughout the curriculum, knowledge and skills are integrated from other disciplines: mathematics, science, social studies, motor development and emotional development aimed at fostering positive self concept and resiliency.

The teacher guidebooks help to tie activities to each story being read to the children. Comprehension lessons include texts to be read in Spanish and in English followed by other recommended children’s books to expand learning. The series is replete with songs, puppets, games, short pieces for recitation and other learning activities associated with play that reinforce the objectives stated for each lesson. The object of Semillitas de Aprendizaje is to expand vocabulary and make learning seamless.

The children in the Semillitas de Aprendizaje learning journey will integrate and eventually use new vocabulary in both languages. They will experience and hear the new word in a sentence, encounter the word at least three times through song and play, isolate the word and see its representation with a colorful picture that is posted in the classroom, practice and reinforce the use of the word in activities, and have opportunities to use the words in normal conversation, stimulated by encouraging adults. Teachers of 4-year-olds will record the times the new words are used. The rich bilingual vocabulary used in Semillitas de Aprendizaje includes nouns; verbs; adjectives and emotion words; and prepositions, conjunctions and relating words.

IDRA looks forward to sharing this exciting new curriculum with teachers, parents and children. Semillitas in Spanish means little seeds or seedlings. We expect many seedlings of learning will be planted with this curriculum, and with the care and nurturing of loving adults, will sprout reading success for eager young bilingual learners, fully prepared to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

Semillitas de Aprendizaje Expected Outcomes for 3-Year-Old Children

The Semillitas de Aprendizaje lessons are designed to support 3-year-old children in achieving the following outcomes.

  • The child understands 75 percent of what is said in Spanish and 50 percent of what is said in English.
  • 75 percent of the child’s speech in Spanish is understandable and 50 percent of what the child says in English is understandable.
  • The child speaks in complete sentences of three to five words in Spanish and can use simple commands in English.
  • The child matches pictures to objects in the classroom and at the home at a 75 percent performance level.
  • The child matches at a 75 percent performance level pictures in Spanish and English (around the vocabulary items introduced during the year) to names called out by the teacher.
  • The child demonstrates actions called out by the teacher in English at a 75 percent performance level.
  • The child understands concepts of now, tomorrow, yesterday, soon and later in both Spanish and English.
  • The child begins to recognize cause-and-effect relationships in Spanish at a 75 percent performance level.

Semillitas is currently in development by IDRA.

Semillitas de Aprendizaje Expected Outcomes for 4-Year-Old Children

The Semillitas de Aprendizaje lessons are designed to support 4-year-old children in achieving the following outcomes.

  • The child uses a 1,500-word vocabulary and speaks in relatively complex sentences in Spanish, and uses a 750 word vocabulary and speaks in relatively simple sentences in English (“Mommy has a dress”).
  • The child understands words that relate one idea to another in Spanish with a 75 percent accuracy level, and at a 50 percent accuracy level when presented in English (e.g., if, why, when, where, or, because, instead, on, in, under, over).
  • The child can read short storybooks at a 75 percent accuracy level in Spanish and attempts to read short storybooks in English at a 50 percent accuracy level.
  • The child can identify the difference between fantasy and reality in Spanish at a 75 percent accuracy level and in English at a 50 percent accuracy level.
  • The child can name numbers from 0 to 50 and can use space concepts (more, less, bigger, in, under, behind) with a 75 percent accuracy in Spanish and 50 percent in English.
  • The child can demonstrate logical thinking through sequencing events in a story at a 75 percent performance level in Spanish and 50 percent in English.
  • The child knows 75 percent of the alphabet letters in Spanish and 50 percent of the letters in English.
  • The child recognizes beginning sounds and ending sounds in Spanish at a 75 percent accuracy level and at a 50 percent accuracy level in English.
  • The child can read 75 of the 100 words most commonly used in Spanish and can read 50 of the 100 words most commonly used in English.

Semillitas is currently in development by IDRA.

Abelardo Villarreal, Ph.D., is the director of IDRA’s Field Services. Rosana G. Rodríguez, Ph.D., is IDRA director of development. Bradley Scott is a senior education associate in IDRA Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the March 2008 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.]