Meeting the CCSS Needs of Young Dual Language Learners

In President Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address, he indicated a need to offer preschool for all children, a notion which has been embraced by many educators. In addition to this increased urgency to prepare all children for kindergarten, what is going to be expected of children once in kindergarten is changing. Most children, including a growing number of ELLs, live in states that have adopted the Common Core and will begin kindergarten taught through the CCSS framework. These children will be expected to work with the CCSS when they begin kindergarten. Two big questions remain:

  • How does the CCSS align with developmentally appropriate practices for young children?
  • How can we best prepare rising kindergartner ELLs for the new demands of the CCSS?

Who are Dual Language Learners?

We refer to young ELLs as Dual Language Learners or DLLs. One thing that sets preschool learners apart from K-12 students is that all preschool-aged children are essentially English language learners. All children under the age of five (including monolingual children) are still in the process of acquiring their first language. The Office of Head Start defines Dual Language Learners as children who acquire two or more languages, either simultaneously or sequentially, and learn a second language while continuing to develop their first language. Thus, Dual language learners face the even more complex task of learning their first language and one or more additional languages at the same time.

Also, recent census data show that, nationally, 28 percent of children ages 0-4 live in a household in which a language other than English is spoken.

Challenges with DLLs and the CCSS

To learn more about the many issues related to educating young Dual Language Learners, I contacted Karen Nemeth, an author and consultant who specializes in first and second language development. She provides a wealth of resources for early childhood educators on her website at

Since some kindergarten programs are facing scrutiny about their ability to prepare students to meet the CCSS, many preschool educators are now feeling a ripple effect. Kindergarten teachers would prefer preschool programs to send them students who are ready to learn, and so preschool programs must focus on preparing students who are CCSS-ready. To support this preschool effort, states such as California and New Jersey are constructing their own preschool standards to align with the CCSS in order to give all children and their teachers a solid foundation in the skills expected of the CCSS.

The strong emphasis of the CCSS on oral language development and practice tends to be largely in line with the learning needs of young children. However, the CCSS require demonstration of these and other skills in English. This English requirement is controversial for those who teach young DLLs since the field has a significant body of research showing that children often do better if they begin learning literacy in their home language and transfer the skills later (after kindergarten and first grade) to English. The question then becomes how to best educate young DLLs within the CCSS framework.

Promising Practices

naeyc-logoAs outlined by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Developmentally Appropriate Practice upholds the view that play should be the focus of high quality preschool education. Nemeth contends that it is quite possible to address CCSS-based learning in the context of engaging, creative, supported and extended play. For example, an article from Time magazine describes the potential for building academically strong preschool programs rooted in play.

Many of the CCSS English Language Arts standards for elementary grades focus on the kind of oral language, discussion, and exploration that can fit very well with the principles of developmentally appropriate preschool practice. This focus on supporting language in the context of interaction is exactly what preschool dual language learners can benefit from.

Head Start’s Child Development and Early Learning Framework also provides a promising model for DLLs. The learning domains in the framework are designed to align with the CCSS for K-12 students. One notable feature of this framework is that each domain in this framework contains guidelines to supporting learners to show what they know and can do in English or their home language.

Areas of Need

Nemeth shared several areas of need in order for DLLs to be successful with the CCSS.

  • Teachers need to learn more about how to have in depth conversations with children who speak different languages and how to build depth of content knowledge by working on hands-on projects over time. They need to understand how they can use these strategies to introduce new words and word sounds, or recognize letters, or talk about connections between their play and the fiction and informational texts their teachers have read to them. To make this approach work, teachers need to be sure that administrators and policy makers are very well versed in Developmentally Appropriate play and in processes of 1st and 2nd language development so they can make informed decisions and supervise appropriately.
  • As a field, educators need to take a closer look at the very particular developmental and learning needs of 3- and 4-year old children who are growing up with two or more languages and come to a stronger understanding of how teachers can appropriately prepare them to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
  • Early learning happens in many different kinds of environments. A broader view of early learning that includes family home visits to build home literacy resources and practices as well as community based supports such as public library programs must also be considered. Literacy and learning experiences that help build the language skills needed for DLL success can happen at home, in a play group, or during a library story hour. Administrators can help develop comprehensive programs that meet children wherever they may be so the bar can be raised for all.

Connecting with Others Interested in Young DLLs

There are several ways to connect with other educators interested in the needs of DLLs.

  • Twitter: #ELLCHAT is a weekly online chat about topics for teachers of ELLs birth through adulthood with participants from all over the world Mondays 9 p.m. EST
  • Linked In: Join the group ELLs/DLLs in Early Childhood
  • TESOL Convention: Attend the Pre Conference Institute Titled “Little Children, Big Challenges: Appropriate ESL Supports for Preschool”

More DLL Resources

DLL Resources Created by Karen Nemeth

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Information is great! As a school board member I am very concerned how Common Core will work with our ELL"s. Will they learn at the same rate as the English only students?

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