When she was a young teacher, Linda Navarrette, a researcher at UCR’s Graduate School of Education, made a trip to South Africa where she recognized the value of critical and creative thinking in primary education. As a bilingual school psychologist and school administrator, Navarrette noticed that local students of lower socioeconomic status and English learners were constantly being remediated starting in kindergarten and that the achievement gap never closed. Instead, says Navarrette, the gap is widening according to 2018 statistics. Her trip to South Africa and the widening of the achievement gap motivated Navarrette to launch Project Moving Forward in 2012.
Project Moving Forward was the focus of the first grant Navarrette received from the United States Department of Education. The program, which helps English-language learners and students with a limited English proficiency, started in the Moreno Valley School District, where it is now implemented in 17 schools.
In an interview with The Highlander, Navarrette wrote that she believes, in order to find a solution to close the achievement gap, “schools must accelerate students starting in kindergarten so that students don’t need remediation.” According to evidence from the Institute of Educational Sciences in Washington D.C., a focus on vocabulary development, phonics, collaborative learning and reading and writing emphasizing critical and divergent thinking moves students forward to academic success. Navarrette believes that, “schools are doing too much remediation using a myriad of programs. There is often little focus on what would accelerate learning by having students intricately involved in the learning process from the beginning.” Navarrette stated that students need to talk and think more in in the learning process.
Project Moving Forward implements the evidence found by the Institute of Educational Sciences and focuses on a fast paced learning system “termed by the Rule of 3.” Navarrette stated that when a multi-sensory technique is used, learning is better and students are actively involved in the learning process. Project Moving Forward accelerates the learning process for kindergarten students, helping them rehearse, analyze and produce vocabulary words. Through the Rule of 3, students analyze the phonetic make-up of a word only after they know the word’s meaning. Students then use their critical thinking skills to analyze the phonetic patterns in words. They then find evidence for these patterns located on “analyze phonics charts.”
Students learn the sounds through motions, pictures and the auditory representation of the sounds in words. English learners and other students can then practice using these words in conversations and question-and-answer frames. Using answer frames and open-ended questions, students can think about and create their own answers. Navarrette stated that this targets both creative and critical thinking skills.
Navarrette wrote that Project Moving Forward’s implications for primary education are tremendous. Navarrette wrote, “The Moving Forward program builds a strong foundation for students in listening, speaking, reading, writing and thinking starting in preschool and
kindergarten. Once students have a strong foundation in language, they can experience educational success.” The program targets thinking skills that are learned throughout grade levels K-6 which enable students to be successful on high-stakes testing.
This program is important for minority children, according to Navarrette, because, “they come to school oftentimes with half the vocabulary that students from middle class families come with.” Navarrette stated that vocabulary has the highest correlation with school success. Through a focus on words integrated with phonics, listening, speaking, reading, writing and thinking skills, minority children can accelerate their learning which will, in turn, level the playing field.
Project Moving Forward has been implemented in many schools and districts across the United States. As far as its reach, Navarrette hopes to see this program in early childhood classes across the United States in schools with English learners, whether they are in English-only or dual immersion programs. Navarrette’s goal is for this program to reach one million students. The program is currently being implemented in more than 100 schools in seven states.
Project Moving Forward has succeeded in closing the achievement gap from 12.9 to 1.8, lessening the gap by 11.1. The lessening of the gap means that English language learners and students of lower socioeconomic status are now almost at the same playing field as students proficient in English and middle class students. It has enabled many students to meet the high-level academic standards on high stakes testing. It has developed the foundation for students’ continued school success. A recent study, currently under the review of Harvard Educational Review for publication and cannot yet be released to the public, in reading with English learners done at UCR showed students not exposed to the program gained 0.6 points and those in Project Moving Forward classes gained 130.1 points.
“The techniques for acceleration would help close the achievement gap early on,” stated Navarrette. “We see this in our research with English learners who usually barely knew letter sounds and had difficulty speaking and reading. Kindergarten classes as exemplified by classrooms right here in Moreno Valley have these same students exiting kindergarten who are reading and writing at the first and second grade level.”
Navarrette noted, “I think teaching needs to change to a teacher facilitative model. Students need to talk and think more in the learning process. I hope that students going into teaching at UCR will participate in our Project Moving Forward classes and outreach.”