Data-Driven Family Engagement Tools for Head Start and State Preschools

Learning Genie is an app for ECE educators and family service workers for Distant Learning and Family Engagement including tracking in-kind. During the COVID-19 crisis, Learning Genie offers free tools till the end of 2020 under a grant (or in-kind) to support all ECE agencies for Distance Learning and track school readiness outcomes.


Learning Genie also provides a useful application for portfolio-building. The portfolio tracking and tagging systems could be readily applied to DRDP 2015, Florida VPK, Head Start (HS), Early Head Start (EHS), Montessori, and other state or private-backed assessment tools.

The Poll Strategies DLL

Hello, my name is Joanna Berkan Contrestano. I teach PreK students at the Herron House Preschool Center in Selma, CA. I would like to share a little bit about my experiences of applying the Personalized Oral Language(s) Learning (POLL) strategies in my teaching. The concrete approaches of these strategies support my teaching in all the environments. I had been using Poll strategies for about 5 years. POLL strategies helped me to connect with my dual language learners, connect with their families, my intentional teaching is much more dynamic, well planned, organized, clear, and goal-oriented, not to mention ,I’m also learning some Spanish language right with my children. We have lots of Spanish speaking families in the center, and they really benefit from this approach, appreciating high quality and culturally responsive lessons for their children. That’s what POLL is all about- great support for the teachers, young Dual Language Learners, and their families. 

The POLL strategies were originally developed by early childhood experts Dr. Linda Espinosa, Dr. Carola Oliva Olson, and Elizabeth Magruder. It was a real pleasure meeting with them on Saturdays, and learn about Poll Strategies during the trainings, presentations, and workshops. Here are the Poll Strategies we are using in my center:


Environmental Support 


STRATEGY 1. Anchor Text/Anchor Experiences 

STRATEGY 2. Vocabulary Imprinting 

STRATEGY 3. Intentional Message 

STRATEGY 4. Songs & Chants 

STRATEGY 5. Center Extensions POLL Boards

How do we implement each strategy: 

1. “Environmental supports —include materials, classroom organization, representations on the walls and throughout the classroom, the daily schedule, and all the way that your environment promotes an atmosphere of inclusiveness and supports learning in ALL languages.” (Dr. Linda Espinosa et al. 2020). We use the color coding for labels, posters, visuals, boards, daily schedule, classroom materials,etc. ( the main colors we use: blue for English, red for Spanish, we had been using orange for Punjabi ,brown for Russian, black for Polish), depends on what cultures are part of the program. We have books in our libraries that include different languages, diverse cultures, and traditions. We have some traditional clothing in our dress up center, couple of Mexican instruments in our music center, as well as visuals, real life pictures representing current study, for example during the garden unit we posted real life pictures showing different types of garden, such as vegetable garden( Huerta),flower garden ( Jardin de flores ), botanical garden (Jardin botanico ). Our daily schedule, calendar includes visuals and color-coded translations. 


2. Anchor Text is a book/ story /selectively picked for each unit. We pick vocabulary words to focus on, and to repeat as many times as possible during the reading time, during our conversations, during the meal time, during the extended activities with the children, during the outdoor play, basically through the whole day so it’s easier for the children to learn and remember, as well as connect the vocabulary word with provided materials indoors and outdoors. “Children love stories, especially those that reflect their identity, family, and language. Interactive reading and re- reading anchor texts enhances vocabulary and language development and early literacy skills.” (Dr. Linda Espinosa et al. 2020). We also use movements, signals, and gestures providing cues to activate meaning for selected vocabulary…for example when we sing the chant we also gesticulate showing the Sun or the rain or the seed or any other vocabulary included in the chant song. 


3. “The intentional message whether written or stated, focuses children’s attention and reinforces the targeted vocabulary and concepts in both English and home language.” (Dr. Linda Espinosa et al. 2020) For example , one of our current intentional messages is about the garden which we repeat in English and Spanish: Plants need soil, water, and sunlight to grow. Las plantas necesitan tierra, agua y luz solar para crecer. We try to engage children with new concepts in both their home language and English. I have a little boy in my group with the Russian background. I grew up in Poland. Polish is my native language; however, I can speak both languages, Polish and Russian so I often add Polish and Russian translations of the vocabulary words we discuss during the circle time. The children are always excited to hear different languages and they have so much fun trying to repeat the word with the similar sound and accent. 


4. The use of songs and chants builds a sense of community as well as teaches content and new vocabulary. All my children are engaged in singing and chanting. “Chanting promotes vocabulary imprinting, language use, and meaning making. Music, rhythm, and movement allow the body and mind to work together connecting the sounds and meanings of words, enhancing memory and self-expression skills.” (Dr. Linda Espinosa et al. 2020) I like creating chants for the children. Most of the chants are rhyming and include all the vocabulary words we want to teach the children…We use the most famous tunes familiar to the children. For example, we are currently singing the chant called “In the garden” to the tune “Head and shoulders” as well as “The garden” chant to tune “The wheels on the bus”. The children also love singing the song” Parts of the flower” with all the vocabulary words and gesticulations: “roots, stem, leaves and flowers, they need air, Sunshine, and little rain showers”. 

5. “Center Extensions- “extended activities” indoors and outdoors to keep the children engaged and to follow their interest. These are child-initiated and adult-facilitated learning opportunities where the adult listens and responds to the child’s active discovery, scaffolding language to promote deeper concept and content knowledge.” (Dr. Linda Espinosa et al. 2020) For example we extended our current activities outdoors to the small garden area, as we planted seeds, discussed our vocabulary words, the parts of the plant, soil, the garden creatures, in English, Spanish, Polish ,and Russian. We promoted deeper concept about roots and sprouts by growing onion and beans in our classroom so the children could explore, touch, water, grow, measure, then draw their observations in the journals. Finally, we created the Poll Board for children and their families to be fully involved in their learning, and to feel that their language, and culture are being welcomed, respected, and appreciated. We use these boards to communicate the POLL strategies, and intentional teaching experiences with families and others who may enter the learning setting. We also use these boards as a way to maintain focus on the POLL strategies as we integrate them throughout the daily routines and learning activities. The families are able to see the lesson plan, anchor text, vocabulary words, chant , intentional messages, few samples of extended activities. We also engage families by adding home projects to their children’s learning. For example, during the garden unit we send home the flower pattern. The children and their families were decorating the flowers at home, using 3D materials, glitter, paints, fabrics. Then each family brought their flowers back, which we exposed on our garden board. Each child had an opportunity to tell us more about it. The families are always happy to be part of the projects because it brings unity, creativity, fun family time, fun learning time, inclusiveness, appreciation, and proudness all together. 


As an educator, I often like to break from traditional teaching methods, which opens the door to new and exciting opportunities for the dual language learners to develop and grow. I’m very thankful I was introduced to the Poll Strategies. Intentional teaching provides creative and engaging ways to incorporate more critical thinking skills and challenging experiences into children’s learning goals. Poll Strategies helped me to provide my students with meaningful experiences that contribute positively to their growth and cultivate their home language.”


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