Nominate an Educator

WIDA's Featured Educator is a monthly interview with a classroom, district, or state-level educator on how he or she is making a difference for language learners. You can honor an exceptional colleague by emailing with "Featured Educator Nomination" in the subject line.

Briefly tell us why you think he or she is doing an amazing job. Please include the person's name, what they do, and contact information we can use to set up an interview. Thank you for helping us feature amazing educators of language learners.

Marci Jamrose: Featured Educator

April 2016

Marci Jamrose works with young dual language learners in Lake Geneva, WI at the Rock Walworth County Comprehensive Family Services Head Start.

photo of Marci Jamrose
Marci Jamrose

Q. Where do you teach? What ages(s)/grade(s)? How long have you been a teacher and how long have you been at your current school or program?

MJ: I teach at Rock Walworth County Comprehensive Family Services Head Start in Lake Geneva, WI. This is my ninth year here working with 3-5 year-old children in a mix aged classroom. Before coming here, I did a lot of long term sub positions for Early Childhood teachers, for Head Start and as a public school teacher.

Q. What is your program? Can you tell me a little about its location, size and about the composition of the student body?

MJ: I have 18 children in my 3-5 year-old class and I work with an assistant. Their linguistic experiences are very diverse, with some entering our program without any English language exposure. We have a big Hispanic population at our program. In some families, both parents speak only Spanish and in others, one parent speaks English while the other parent speaks Spanish. In other families, a sibling speaks English, or the children have exposure to English at a day care. We also have some children who are learning English for the first time and who have been identified with special needs. They may need support in fine motor development or have development delays. This year, we have one child who came to us with no oral language, just gestures. So each child is unique with what they bring, in terms of experiences, to our program.

Q. Why are you an early childhood educator?

MJ: I grew up in a multigenerational family of teachers and felt drawn to the profession. I feel like it was my calling and I never really remembering wanting to do anything else. I started out with elementary education but then took a long term sub position in early childhood. At the end of this position, a Head Start practitioner position opened up and it seemed meant to be! So I went back to school for Early Childhood Education and have stayed with it.

Q. What makes your program unique in how you approach learning for DLLs?

MJ: Head Start is unique. We use The Creative Curriculum which is focused on learning through play, on children learning how to problem solve on their own and on fostering independence. It also includes a lot of self discovery. The curriculum is set up so children are learning about science while playing at the water table or about social skills in the dramatic play area. We set up the environment so that kids are doing the discovering themselves. We are just there to scaffold and guide them.

Q. What is your approach in your classroom towards DLLs? What techniques/strategies have you found to be most effective in teaching DLLs?

MJ: I had the opportunity to attend a training about supporting DLLs with Ruth Reinl, in which she started by doing an entire lesson in Spanish. None of us spoke Spanish and we were lost. Then she did the lesson again in Spanish, but this time with language supports using repetition, a visual calendar and gestures. It was an a-ha moment for me. I just thought, wow, this is what I need to be doing for my DLLs! I noticed how we were talking to one another to figure out what Ruth was saying. I realized that my children are doing this too and I need to make space for them to talk to one another.

Visuals are key. I use tons of pictures when I am explaining rules, activities, giving directions or presenting the question of the day. I find it is very helpful to use a pictorial daily schedule. It is comforting for children to know what comes next. This has been helpful for ALL my students. Repetition is so important too. We do the same thing, in the same order every day.

Also, I think it is important to be intentional about how you pair children up for group work. It can be helpful in the beginning of the year to pair a child who is new in the program with a child who is returning or with someone with whom they can use their home language. Later, it can be beneficial to pair a child that might be a bit stronger in English with a child who would benefit from having the English language model. Group work and pair work can serve as a great opportunity to support language development.

Instead of a story a day, I now do a story a week, so as not to overwhelm the language learners. I pick out the key vocabulary in a book and we work on this all week. We do activities both in and out of school working with the language in the book. For example, we ask kids who can find this word in the room, or in their home or who knows how to say this in Spanish. I show them pictures of the words and we talk about how to use them. This is all so they will know the most important pieces to aide in their comprehension of the story.

I often have had DLLs who are so excited when they see one of the key words we have been working on and they want to jump up when they find one of the vocabulary words in the book. This is something they can do verbally or by pointing, so everyone has a way they can connect to the learning. We also like to use props and real items to show them what the words represent. By the end of the week they are very familiar with the story so we can act it out or use puppets to retell the story. Since we have been using these strategies at story time, engagement has gone through the roof! It is so fun working with this age. Their enthusiasm is electric!

I think it is so important to let the children speak to each other, especially the dual language learners. It always amazes me when I will see three children in the dramatic play area talking to each other in Spanish but the minute an English speaking child comes to play with them, they get it, and they find ways to communicate and play with each other. Even when we are working as a group on the rug, I let them keep talking to one another. I often find that the children that may know more English are helping other DLLs in their home language.

I think it is important that kids see that their home language has value here too. It can be very comforting to DLLs to hear their home language being used during the day. My assistant and I do not speak Spanish so we try to utilize bilingual volunteers. We are lucky that we frequently have family members that can come in and use Spanish with the kids. I really try to encourage this and make all families feel welcome to help out any way they can.

It is amazing how quickly children learn who speaks what language and with whom they should try to speak English or Spanish. I try to tap into this and empower my DLLs by having them help me. For example, when I do not quite understand what a DLL is trying to say, I may ask a bilingual child if they would like to help me. They are eager and proud to help out the teachers in this way and we try to show how amazing it is that they speak more than one language.

Q. How do you assess your DLLs' language learning?

MJ: When a child first joins us in our program, the parents complete a parent survey to try to understand the child?s linguistic background. The survey asks what languages they understand or use and with whom (sibling, grandparents, parents) because one of our first challenges is to figure out how to help a child understand us and what is going on around him.

We also do pretty standard early childhood assessments (colors, shapes, numbers) but we let the child answer in any of their languages and we keep track of where they are, so when we test this again, we can see what they have learned and what languages they know the content in. We try to document everything.

A lot of our assessment now is done with videotaping, which I love. We can record them playing or interacting with each other and this allows us to look back at the language they are using in different situations. Often they will not talk to the adults as much but with video taping, we can see that maybe they are speaking in Spanish with friends in one area of the classroom and using a little more English during a different activity than we saw two months ago. Or maybe they are using non-verbal language to communicate in certain situations.