LENA Grow: Lessons from our learning site


In April, we launched a LENA Grow learning site with Aspen Center for Child Development. We chose to work with Aspen Center because of their culture of continuous improvement and reputation for quality – they are one of only 16 centers in the state of Colorado to receive the highest possible rating from Colorado Shines. Operating a learning site gave us the opportunity for a fully hands-on field test of our ECE professional development model that could be used, in parallel with feedback from other partner sites, to inform program developments.

Three members of the LENA team were heavily involved in the implementation: Dr. Jill Gilkerson, Chief Research and Evaluation Officer, as well as Kara Van de Grift and Dr. Kate Riedell from our program team. The team regularly visited Aspen Center to meet with teachers, and did everything a staff at a LENA Grow site would typically do, from planning logistics to managing LENA devices to conducting coaching sessions.

Over the course of the 12-week program, we gained several key insights:

Experienced teachers foster trust as coaches.

The role of a LENA Grow coach is to help a teacher establish and achieve her own goals, not to act as an outside expert with all the answers. Kara and Kate found that drawing on their previous teaching experiences helped them build trust with teachers, who were sometimes reticent to let an outsider influence what was happening in their classrooms. The teachers at Aspen Center also asked Kate and Kara for new resources they could use with their kids, and both coaches found that their background as teachers gave them a wealth of materials to share.

Involving every staff member creates a center-wide focus on increasing talk.

early childhood teacher puts infant down for nap

Brittany works hard to make sure she’s engaging children in every classroom, and tracks her progress with LENA Grow.

One of our goals with LENA Grow is to foster a center-wide focus on early language that becomes part of the organizational culture. The team knew that because LENA reports show what is happening in one classroom throughout a full day (or half day), they would need to be creative to involve staff members who move from room to room. At Aspen Center, Brittany is a floating staff member who worked in all three participating classrooms at different times of day, so they shared reports from each room where she had worked on LENA Days.

“I was really excited to have the coach come in. I wanted to see that paper and how many stars we got, and to see how we grew and in what part of the day,” Brittany said. “Because I’m in different rooms every day, I wanted to see if the highest talking points were when I was in the room.”

Immediate feedback on new materials helped us to prototype more quickly.

Conducting the coaching sessions enabled Kate and Kara to go “off script” and test revised formats of worksheets and handouts that aren’t yet available to our current partners. Immediate feedback from staff, teachers, and parents helped us to quickly learn what was working and adjust materials accordingly.

For example, teachers at Aspen Center expressed that they would like to share the interactive talk data for each child with that child’s parents, but lacked the proper supports to do so. Working together, the research and program teams at LENA were able to create a simplified feedback report designed just for parents, and find out immediately how it was received.

The team also used teacher input to design new resources and materials that will be rolled into a revised coaching guide scheduled to be launched in early spring 2019.

It’s important for coaches to meet with teachers as a group, as well as one-on-one.

cake with thank you written in frosting

A ‘Thank You’ cake completed the final meeting and marked the hard work and accomplishments of the teachers and staff.

In addition to the weekly coaching sessions, the team opted to pull all of the center staff together for a few meetings as a group:

  • An initial introduction to explain LENA Grow and gain buy-in from teachers
  • An orientation meeting on how to use the technology and curriculum
  • A mid-point check in halfway through the program
  • A celebration (complete with cake for everyone!)

These weren’t all meetings that we had recommended to our partners previously, but the value of getting everyone together for collective reflection and discussion quickly became clear.

“We did have several teachers who were pretty reluctant and it sounded a little strange to them, with recorders and concerns about what is being recorded, and all of that sort of thing,” said Linda Swedhin, Aspen Center Director. “Then we were able to have a staff meeting where teachers were allowed to ask their questions and have it clearly explained, which was very, very helpful, and from then on, the teachers have been in great support of it.”

Finding an optimal time for a coaching session can be very challenging during a teacher’s hectic day, so flexibility is key to making sure everyone can participate. Often coaching sessions take place during nap time with whomever is available. Getting everyone together as a group from time to time provided a calmer atmosphere and helped maintain momentum and energy for the program.

We’re lucky to have a partner like The Aspen Center.

We chose to partner with The Aspen Center because of their strong history of quality improvement and openness to participating in a program like LENA Grow. The enthusiasm and dedication of the teachers throughout the 12 weeks of coaching sessions truly blew us away.

Throughout the fall of this year, we’ll be working to take what we’ve learned and use it to develop an even better LENA Grow program. We can’t wait to share more about the new materials and software updates we’re developing in the coming months!


The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers, and linguists.

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One Comment on “LENA Grow: Lessons from our learning site”

  1. Increasing awareness of early interactive talk is an area of ECE of interest. I’d love to match my skills as an educator to your needs. I’m currently investigating areas in communities, related to child and family development, I can be of service in. Thank you!

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