Campus: CSU Long Beach -- April 29, 2005

Cal State Long Beach College of Education Receives $1.975 Million Grant from National Institute of Child Health, Human Development

The College of Education at California State University, Long Beach has been awarded a four-year, $1.975 million grant by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) for a project that will look at factors that have the potential to influence literacy development among Spanish-speaking children in Mexico.

"Titled Language and Literacy Development Among Mexican Children," the project will specifically look for factors that might differentiate the development of reading and related skills in English and Spanish. Among those factors are syllabic awareness as a mediator of phonemic awareness, family literacy practices including the traditional practice of storytelling, and access to literacy resources in the community."

"The objective of the project is to study language and literacy development among 600 children in grades 1 through 3 in Mexico," said Leslie Reese, co-principal investigator for the project and a professor of teacher education at CSULB. "We hope it will allow us to understand more about the development of language and literacy skills in a cultural and linguistic context that is substantially different from that of the United States."

The project is a collaborative effort with CSULB as the lead institution. Among the other partners are the University of Houston, Temple University and, most importantly according to Reese, the Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores del Oeste, or ITESO, a private Jesuit university in Guadalajara, Mexico.

This new project is complementary to another program CSULB has been involved with for about four years. In that other program, which again includes the University of Houston and Temple University, researchers are looking at language and literacy development in both languages (English and Spanish) among Spanish-speaking children in the United States, studying children at sites in California and Texas.

"In the U.S.-based project, we've been looking at school, home and community factors and how all of those things influence Spanish-speaking children's language and literacy development here, but we were very interested in studying the same set of issues with the same set of measures among Spanish-speaking children who are in a completely Spanish-speaking environment," Reese explained. "To our knowledge, that has not been done yet. So, one of the goals of this project is that comparison - to be able to look at and compare children's Spanish development in a predominately English-speaking environment and their Spanish development in a predominately Spanish-speaking development."

Students will be sampled from three public schools in different contexts in a metropolitan area in Mexico: (1) a predominantly working class area with indigenous cultural influences; (2) a mixed working and middle class community with a large percentage of the population with family ties to the United States; and (3) a predominantly middle class community.

Children's language and literacy skills will be assessed at the beginning and end of the year, and there will be observers in classrooms five times each year - three times with coded observation protocols used in the U.S. studies and twice with ethnographic protocols designed to identify features of Mexican classrooms that pre-coded protocols might not assess.

"In terms of measurement, I think this study is going to help advance the field of education those children whose first language is Spanish," Reese pointed out. "What we have done up to this point, we have assessed the children in English using English norms, and we have assessed the children in Spanish using Spanish norms. We treat it as if the children have two languages that we can assess separately, but when children are growing up with two languages, growing up bilingually, it's different.

"They may have some concepts that they can express in one language, some concepts that they can express in the other language, and some that can be expressed in both languages," she added. "And the Spanish that is used in bilingual settings in this country most likely differs in some ways from the Spanish used on standard vocabulary measures."

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