Mrs. Panda
November 13, 2021

$2.9 million grant will support literacy programs for English-language learners

The funds continue to help School of Education researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette’s work

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
November 13, 2021

A $2.9 million grant will allow UC Riverside School of Education researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette to continue developing technology-based language and literacy programs for English-language learners. 

The five-year literacy grant came from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of English Language Acquisition. Navarrette said she plans to further develop her newest project: Mrs. Panda, an animated pedagogical agent that comes to life as she teaches students language and literacy skills.  

“I’m thankful for this grant because it will allow me to focus on two priorities: further developing research-based teaching and creating literature for English as a second language learners in a way that parents can be involved in their kids’ learning too,” said Navarrette, who launched the literacy program Project Moving Forward in 2012. “I’m focusing on innovation to reach English learners and other diverse learners who during COVID, had a huge regression in their learning.” 

Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette (Photo courtesy of Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette)
Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette (Photo courtesy of Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Navarrette created the Mrs. Panda character as she transferred all her physical teaching materials into a digital learning platform she created called “ABC Rule of 3.” The program, which is part of Project Moving Forward, gives English learners and other early childhood learners a unique way to learn language and literacy skills. Navarrette adapted her existing, in-person Rule of 3 curriculum by creating lesson scripts, imaginative PowerPoints to enrich children’s vocabulary, animated phonics charts, and catchy songs. 

“Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Ventriglia-Navarrette was persistently working to reduce the achievement gap for English learners in our school systems,” said Louie F. Rodríguez, School of Education interim dean. “When the pandemic struck, her work shifted to online platforms and is impacting how educators can reach literacy and equity goals for students across the Inland Empire and beyond. This work is vital for our students and communities and is in direct alignment with our SOE mission.”

In the coming months, Navarrette will be working on strategies to offer teachers a blended approach to teaching with Mrs. Panda, combining both in-person and online instruction. 

The immediate challenge she’ll have to figure out: how to provide internet access to low-income households. If children have internet access, it also gives parents an opportunity to be involved, Navarrette said. 

“Parents can also take control of their kids’ destiny. Right now, if you don’t live in the right zip code, it’s tougher,” Navarrette said. 

Another item on her agenda is to develop curriculum for community college students wanting to become teachers.

The end goal is always the same: close the achievement gap for English-language learners and other diverse learners, an issue that has persisted for decades, Navarrette said. 

“Using an animated pedagogical agent and other technology, including online games, has the potential for accelerating young learners’ language and literacy skills,” Navarrette said. “Having a good grasp of language and foundational literacy skills in school is crucial for school success throughout the grades. Once children develop a strong language and literacy base, school success for the most part is guaranteed.” 

Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette (UCR/Kurt Miller)
Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette (right) during a visit to Seneca Elementary School in Moreno Valley in 2019. UC Riverside students and faculty were teaching Mandarin and Spanish to a kindergarten class at Seneca. The class was part of Navarrette's Project Moving Forward. (UCR/Kurt Miller)

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