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$Million Grant Will Support Literacy Programs for English Language Learners

by Eric
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UC Riverside researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette will continue her pioneering work of developing innovative technology-based language and literacy programs for English-language learners as part of a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Navarrette shared her intentions of further developing Mrs. Panda, her newest project, where Mrs. Panda will be an animated pedagogical assistant, which will come to life as Navarrette teaches her students language skills.

Navarrette expressed her gratitude for receiving such a large amount of money for the literacy programs to support English-language learners. She said that this grant will allow her to focus primarily on two priorities – 1) further facilitating research-based and technologically aid teaching, and 2) generating literature in English for second language learners of English in a way that even parents can involve themselves in the learning process.  

Navarrette initiated the literacy program called ‘Project Moving Forward’ back in 2012. She said that she aims to bring innovation to those English language learners who had a massive regression in their learning during the Covid-10 pandemic. And this project will benefit other diverse learners as well.

Navarrette designed the character, Mrs. Panda, during the pandemic as she transplanted her complete physical teaching materials to a digital learning platform that she created. She named this platform “ABC Rule of 3”. The Mrs. Panda program is a part of ‘Project Moving Forward’. Those who learn English– both early childhood learners and teenagers will be highly benefited from this program as they get to experience learning language and literacy skills in a unique method. Navarrette upgraded her existing physical Rule of 3 curriculum as she created lesson scripts, animated phonics charts, catchy songs, and imaginative PowerPoints presentations to enrich the vocabulary of students.

The interim dean of the School of Education, Louie F. Rodríguez, informed that before the pandemic, Dr. Ventriglia-Navarrette had been tenaciously working to lessen the achievement gap for English language learners in their school systems. He also added that after the pandemic struck, Navarrette shifted her work to online platforms, where it has initiated a discussion regarding the various ways educators can reach equity and literacy goals for students all over the Inland Empire region and even beyond. Finally, the dean concluded that this project started by Dr. Navarrette is crucial for their students and communities. The project is also directly aligned with their SOE mission.

In the near future, Navarrette will work on her strategies to expand the Mrs. Panda program to include a combined method of teaching that includes both in-person and online pedagogy.

Although she faces the immediate challenge of figuring out how to provide affordable internet access to households with low income. The internet is something every child should have because it is a valuable digital resource in a student’s education. And if the children have access to the internet, it provides their parents an opportunity to be involved in the educational program as well, which in turn can accelerate one’s learning pace. Thus, access to the internet is especially important for children of low-income families who cannot afford to buy laptops or tablets.

But Navarrette’s agenda doesn’t just stop here. There is another item on her list, and that is to develop a curriculum for pupils from community colleges wanting to become teachers in the future. The ultimate goal of this project remains unchanged – to bridge the disparity of achievement for learners of the English language, including those with diverse needs. This issue of the achievement gap has been there for decades – but now it needs to change for the better.

Navarrette said that the use of an animated pedagogical assistant, online games, and other technologies is more likely to accelerate the language and literacy skills of young learners. She thinks that students should possess a good grasp of language as well as foundational literacy skills while in school because these are crucial for their success throughout their respective grades. Once a student develops a strong base of language and literacy, success for the most part in school is guaranteed.

In order to have a strong command of literacy skills, students need to be engaged in what they are reading, before reading, during reading, and after they read it. They can accomplish this by being active participants by responding to what they read. The more interactive the content of what is being read, the better a student is going to learn from that lesson or book.

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