Enhancing School Competence in English Language Learners: The Role of Teacher-Student Relationships in Preschool

Jerome, Elisabeth M., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Pianta, Robert C., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Examining the early educational experiences of English Language Learner (ELL) students has become increasingly important in recent years; this is especially the case for Hispanic ELL students, who constitute around 80 percent of the total ELL population. The number of ELL students attending school in the U.S. continues to grow rapidly, and schools across the country are faced with the unique challenges of educating students that have limited proficiency in English. Given an increased risk of poor school outcomes for this group, it may be particularly important to provide Hispanic ELL students with highquality preschool experiences. However, little is known about what components of the preschool experience promote school competence within the Hispanic ELL population. Grounded on a considerable theoretical and empirical base, this study suggests that the relational experiences of ELL students in preschool are a critical component of early schooling, and that the presence of high-quality relationships in preschool may positively impact school competence. The purpose of this study is to examine 1) what types of relational experiences Hispanic ELL students have in preschool, and whether these differ from the relational experiences of non-ELL students, 2) whether the relational experiences between Hispanic ELL students and their teachers are a function of child characteristics, teacher characteristics, classroom characteristics, interactions, or a combination of all four, 3) to what extent these relational experiences predict school competence for ELL students, and 4) what variables moderate the effects of teacherstudent relationships on student outcomes.

The primary study sample included 351 Hispanic ELL preschoolers taken from the National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) Multi-State Study of Pre-Kindergarten, and from the State-Wide Early Education Programs Study (SWEEP). Parent- and teacher-reports, as well as observational measures, were used to evaluate the quality of relationships and interactions, and direct child-assessments and kindergarten teachers’ responses to ratings scales provided data on child-outcomes. Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) conducted with HLM software was used to address each study question.

Results show that Hispanic children who were not proficient in English experienced less conflict and less closeness with teachers than their English-proficient peers. In addition, child gender, teacher sensitivity, child English language ability, the teacher’s ability to speak Spanish, class size, and percentage of poor students predicted differences in the quality of teacher-child relationships and interactions. Finally, results show that relational variables predict both social and academic outcomes in Hispanic ELL students. Results have important implications in developing appropriate interventions that might help to promote success for Hispanic ELL students.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
English lanquage learners, preschool, Hispanic ELL students
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