Language and Diversity Program

1996–2000

SEDL's Language and Diversity Program (LDP) was funded under the 1996–2000 Regional Educational Laboratory contract to improve education for children and youth who enter schooling with limited English proficiency and/or whose cultural backgrounds differ from those of the mainstream community. LDP staff participated in a variety of state, regional, and federal initiatives, including research, development, professional development, dissemination, and networking activities to address the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population.

The program built on the regional laboratory's decades-long experience in carrying out research and developing resources for educators and others who work with children of non-English language background.

Field-based research

In the Adapting Comprehensive School Reform Models for English Language Learners program, SEDL observed as adaptations were implemented in comprehensive school reform models in a small sample of schools that served large numbers of English language learners. This examination revealed that the two most common adaptations involved translating program materials into Spanish and developing closer working relationships between regular and ESL/bilingual teachers.

SEDL's Community Dialogues on Education Reform project, designed to gather information on increasing the participation of diverse members in study circles, examined study circles in Arkansas and Oklahoma. In cooperation with SEDL's policy program, staff conducted interviews with community organizers and activities in the African American, American Indian, Asian, and Hispanic communities to obtain outreach strategies. SEDL staff involved with this project also reviewed the research and development literature as well as findings from the SEDL Bilingual Follow-Through program for effective parent involvement strategies.

This project resulted in the publication of three complementary guides: Public Deliberation: A Tool for Connecting School Reform, Building Support for Better Schools: Seven Steps for Engaging Parents and Community Members, and Family and Community Involvement: Reaching Out to Diverse Populations. All three guides are intended to help educators and community activists engage culturally and linguistically diverse parents and community members in their children's education and in their communities' schools. Each publication is available in English and Spanish.

SEDL's Organizing for Diversity program was a traditional research and development project that resulted in three resources on the vital topic of culture and teacher-student interactions. First, SEDL developed and field tested “Understanding the Cultural Contexts of Teaching and Learning,” an 11-module professional development program designed to deepen teachers' awareness of diversity issues and the ways they influence their interactions with students.

To conduct the field test, SEDL worked with 24 teachers from rural and urban elementary schools. SEDL collected data on the teachers prior to and after participation in the professional development program to assess its impact. A complete report of the field test, “Organizing for Diversity Project Research” can be requested by e-mail at info@sedl.org.

Finally, SEDL sponsored a two-and-one-half-day training-of-trainers institute, Understanding the Cultural Contexts of Teaching and Learning: An Institute for Educators who Provide Training in Diversity. From the more than 50 trainers who applied for positions at the institute, 22 participants were selected. Participants were screened for prior experience in diversity training and for the ability to use the modules in their current work. At the end of the institute, they commented on the content, implementation, and classroom application of SEDL's professional development program.

Development projects

Research has shown that the early childhood years are the optimal time to improve a child's physical, social, emotional, and intellectual potential. In partnership with the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, Texas, SEDL developed a second edition of the Bilingual Early Childhood Program (BECP), a complete curriculum package for ages three through five that was state-adopted and widely used in Texas and California until the mid-1980s.

Now titled Best Start Early Childhood Program, BECP continues to emphasize perceptual, cognitive, and language skills while seeking to develop self-awareness, self-esteem, and cultural pride among the diverse children in Head Start programs. BECP classroom space and activities make the most of interactive language and promote developmentally appropriate constructivist learning. Language activities designed to support the development of thinking processes are available in two versions: (1) English-language materials appropriate for use with children who are already proficient in English, and (2) a bilingual approach that helps prepare children who speak Spanish at home for the transition to English-speaking classrooms, with materials presented in Spanish and English.

For the Native Education Program, SEDL developed two regional resources to support educators who work with American Indian students in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas:

  • Native Education Resources for the Southwestern Region: Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas is a companion to a directory of nationwide resources. This regional directory focuses on a wide range of organizations, conferences, and contact persons available to teachers of American Indian students in the Southwest.
  • Profiles of Native Language Education Programs: A Source Book for Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas describes 24 programs in SEDL's region and gives teachers and other educators who serve American Indian students in the Southwest access to organizations and resources that can help them meet the educational needs of this often underserved population.