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Connecting with Dual-Language Learners: Checklist for Language and Communication Skills

October 7th, 2021 | 2 min. read

By Lisa Williford

In Connecting Right from the Start: Fostering Effective Communication with Dual Language Learners, Jennifer J. Chen, EdD, relates that early childhood classrooms in the United States are becoming more diverse than ever, not just in young children’s intellectual strengths and learning needs, but also in their cultural and linguistic characteristics. This reflects the increasing diversity exhibited in all sectors of the U.S. 

"As the demographics of our nation have shifted, our classroom practice must also change accordingly," shares Dr. Chen.  "In working with DLLs (Dual-Language Learners), it is imperative that we engage in not only developmentally but also culturally and linguistically responsive practices. Intentional assessments are key to achieving that goal, as they can yield valuable information concerning each child’s individual intellectual strengths and learning needs from which to design responsive instruction."

Understanding the communication skills DLLs have in their cognitive repertoires and recognizing the patterns of use are key to beginning to design a strategic, intentional plan to expand their communication skills, and to form bonds among children to help them accept and communicate with each other. Dr. Chen  suggests developing a checklist or simple tool to allow for quick observation notes is helpful during the teaching-learning process.  What follows is an example of such a checklist used as a formative assessment.

In terms of formative assessment tools, early childhood teachers often observe children’s behaviors, understanding, and engagement in learning target content in naturalistic settings (play time, mealtime, circle time) in the classroom. A checklist similar to the formative assessment example below might be helpful for recording these types of observations. Other means of formative assessment include class discussion, drawing, journal writing, formal preplanned question-and-answer sessions, informal and instantaneous responses, talking with the children, and in-class activities.


Different assessment tools can be used for data triangulation, meaning that instead of relying on one source of data, the different sources may provide you with various information that can help inform your decision making and validate your interpretations of student learning and progress. It is always good to gather data from multiple sources to form a more accurate picture of a DLL’s learning and progress. However, be aware that the points of data may diverge.

In Connecting Right from the Start: Fostering Effective Communication with Dual Language Learners, you will find more methods for assessing language learners, ways to make DLLs feel more comfortable in the classroom, strategies for differntiating learning and more practical, proven strategies to foster a positive classroom environment that helps all children learn and grow together.  Grounded in research and supported by the author's personal experience as a student learning English, the informatin in this book can help you understand the culturally and linguistically diverse children in your classroom, as well as those with disabilities. 

Author(s)Jennifer Chen

Lisa Williford

Lisa Williford, an experienced marketing event coordinator, served with Kaplan Early Learning Company and Gryphon House from 2020 - 2023.