Understanding How Language of Instruction Impacts Early Literacy Growth for Spanish-Speaking Children

Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, Lillian Durán, Alejandra Miranda, Carlos Chávez, Michael Rodriguez, Norma Medina Morales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Multitiered systems of support hold promise for dual language learners when culturally and linguistically responsive practices guide instruction. We modeled growth on Spanish and English early literacy skills and examined the role of language exposure and use at the individual and classroom instruction level in a group of 313 Spanish-English-speaking bilingual preschool-age children from 81 classrooms. Results revealed a significant portion of variance in children’s performance was between classrooms. Children demonstrated meaningful growth on all measures except English rhyming. Predominantly Spanish and bilingual instruction produced growth as strong as English instruction on all measures except for first sounds and sound identification where bilingual instruction had a negative impact on growth. Children’s language profiles did not interact with their classroom language of instruction. Implications for understanding the role language of instruction and home language exposure in multitiered systems of support with Spanish-speaking preschoolers are discussed. Impact Statement Preschool-age Spanish-speaking dual language learners grow as quickly in Spanish language instruction as in English instruction on Spanish and English alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness skills. Preschool-age Spanish-speaking dual language learners did not grow as quickly in settings self-identified as providing bilingual instruction as in English-only instruction on English alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness skills. More research is needed to identify the factors in these settings that are related to this difference. Early childhood MTSS models can improve young DLL’s outcomes by facilitating data-based decisions that unpack the nuances of their performance. It is important when considering the needs of DLLs to include performance in each of their languages, understand expected growth rates in each of their languages, and consider tier 1 language of instruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)406-426
Number of pages21
JournalSchool Psychology Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A160077 to the University of Minnesota. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Association of School Psychologists.


  • Assessment early literacy
  • English language learner
  • HLM
  • Jorge E. Gonzalez
  • Progress monitoring
  • RTI


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