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Teacher Support Moderates Associations Between Classroom Language Composition and DLL Preschoolers’ Problem Behavior

Thu, March 21, 4:00 to 5:15pm, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Social-emotional development is a major focus in early childhood education and particularly crucial for the success of Dual Language Learners’ (DLLs), who are at risk for negative social interaction in preschool (Halle et al., 2014). Although teachers’ use of students’ home languages can be key to DLLs’ social-emotional development (Chang et al., 2007), classrooms where teachers only speak English are prominent in United States schools. 40% of Head Start preschool students do not receive instruction in their home language (U.S. DHHS, 2013).

Theoretical Bases
Sociocultural theories posit that social learning is mediated by language and occurs in the context of interactions with others (Vygotsky, 1978). Thus, peers who share a home language may be particularly important resources in classrooms where students’ home language is not spoken by teachers. Attachment theory perspectives suggest that teachers provide a trustworthy base for children to explore and master peer interaction (Grossman et al., 1999). Thus, varying degrees of teacher social-emotional support could differentially influence peer effects on children’s social behavior.

Research Questions
Is the concentration of Spanish-speaking classroom peers negatively associated with Spanish-speaking children’s year-end problem behavior?

Is the association between the concentration of Spanish-speaking classroom peers and Spanish-speaking children’s problem behavior moderated by the level of teacher social-emotional support?

This secondary analysis used longitudinal data from the 2009 Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES; West et al., 2011). Participants included 212 Spanish-speaking preschoolers in 73 Head Start classrooms where teachers only spoke English. A mixed-effect regression model tested effects of the classroom concentration of Spanish-speakers and teacher social-emotional support on DLLs’ year-end problem behavior. Classroom-level variables were modeled as random intercepts, and random slopes varied according to language concentration and teacher support. Child-level variables were specified as fixed effects. An interaction term for concentration of Spanish-speakers and teacher support was included. Interactions were interpreted using a Marginal Effects at Representative Values analysis (Royston, 2013).

There was a significant (p=.03) disordinal cross-level interaction between teacher social-emotional support and classroom concentration (illustrated in Figure 1) on problem behavior outcomes. In classrooms with lowest levels of teacher support, DLLs’ problem behavior scores declined as the concentration of Spanish-speakers increased. In classrooms with highest levels of teacher support, problem behavior scores rose as the concentration of Spanish-speakers increased.

The hypothesis that an increased classroom concentration of Spanish-speakers would improve DLLs’ problem behavior was only partially confirmed in this study. The significant interaction between teacher support and classroom concentration suggests that it is not simply classroom teachers and shared-language peers that each influence young DLLs’ problem behavior outcomes, but that together they matter for young DLLs’ social development.

This is the first study to investigate effects of classroom language composition on DLL students’ problem behavior. While the mechanism for the interaction between teacher support and child language is not clear from the results of this study, the perplexing nature of this finding warrants further research, given the emphasis on social-emotional development in preschool, and the potential practical implications for DLL classroom placements.


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