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Colorín Colorado

This website offers a number of different helpful articles for teachers regarding ELL instruction, including an article about differentiation and RTI practices appropriate for English language learners. Another page from the same website offers great tips for supporting the language skills of ELL students in the general education classroom. And another article discusses how to teach the five components of reading effectively to ELL students.

Books

Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners: A Guide for K-12 Teachers by Shelley Fairbairn and Stephaney Jones-Vo. Available from ASCD.

Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, 2nd Edition by Jane Hill and Kirsten Miller. Available from ASCD.

Lutheran Special Education Ministries is dedicated to serving schools, churches, and families in order to advance the success of children who have learning needs. If we can continue to help with this topic or other special education questions, feel free to contact us at lsem@luthsped.org or 248-419-3390.

 

other STF links

LEA Convocation 2019 ReCap (Feature)

A Long Road to Hong Kong (GLEnet)

A Critical Piece – PD for Governing Boards (LEADnet)

 

 

LEA is looking for writers

LEA is looking for writers in front-line ministries for articles in future ShapingtheFuture magazine pieces. If you would like to write, contact ed.grube@lea.org (do not reply to this publication) to express and discuss your interests.

 

LDnet tab

English Language Acquisition
or Learning Disability?

Many student concerns revolve around the central question of how to tell whether student struggles are due to English as a second language or whether a learning disability might be present.I recently had the incredible opportunity to visit Concordia International School Hanoi in Vietnam! The visit there blessed me in so many ways, both professionally and personally, and I learned a great deal about the unique cultures and backgrounds of students attending the school. I also learned that even 8,000 miles away, many students still have the same needs and challenges as students we see in the United States, but these needs are often compounded when there is a language barrier. Many student concerns also revolved around the central question of how to tell whether student struggles are due to English as a second language or whether a learning disability might be present. These same questions often arise in the United States when students have a different primary language and are trying to master English at the same time as learning academics in our schools. It may be hard to determine where that line is between English language acquisition and learning disabilities, but it is a topic worth spending some time exploring.

children readingStudents with learning disabilities and English language learners (ELLs) often have difficulties with phonological awareness and learning letter-sound correspondences, but English language learners without disabilities often do not experience these difficulties in their first language. These difficulties are typically limited to learning English for ELL students. Both groups of students may also have challenges remembering frequently used sight words, but ELL students typically have trouble remembering these words when the word meanings are not understood. Other similarities include difficulty following directions, weak auditory memories, difficulty concentrating and feeling easily frustrated, and trouble processing challenging language. With these similarities in mind, it is easy to see the confusion between English language acquisition and learning disabilities.

English language learners with learning disabilities frequently exhibit challenges with their first language as well as English. A true disability is manifested in all of the student’s languages and across different settings.As mentioned in some of those learning characteristics, English language learners with learning disabilities frequently exhibit challenges with their first language as well as English. A true disability is manifested in all of the student’s languages and across different settings. This is important to remember to distinguish between the two areas. The school or teacher should ask about the student’s history with reading and other academics in his or her first language as part of their considerations. There is often a difference in oral language skills as well when looking at these two groups of students. Many times, struggling readers or students with learning disabilities who are native English speakers have broad oral vocabularies and know the meaning of a word if they can sound it out. These learners may also be more likely to understand orally presented information and assignments. On the contrary, English language learners are often more limited with their oral language skills as they begin to master the language. Decoding a word in English may not be sufficient to accessing the word’s meaning, and oral information is often not enough by itself to support understanding. These learners may also only know one meaning for a word, and they also may have more difficulty making the connection between content learning and background knowledge, since their background knowledge may not match the topics of study well.

children readingBefore potentially identifying a student whose native language is not English with a learning disability, it is important to look at the opportunity that student has had to learn and the length of time. Sometimes English language learners are identified with learning disabilities because they have not had the appropriate opportunities to learn, not because they actually have learning disabilities. One consideration is the amount of time the student has had with ELL instruction and the progress that student is making. If the student has participated in quality ELL instruction and is making similar progress to other students the same age and with similar levels of English proficiency, looking at a special education evaluation is likely unnecessary. However, if the student has had quality ELL specific instruction and intervention for at least a year and is making limited or slower progress that similar peers, looking at the possibility of a disability may be the next step.

The same evidence-based practices that work with students for whom English is their first language are not always equally effective for students from diverse backgrounds. The difficulty in Lutheran schools is often that schools and teachers are not equipped with specific knowledge about ELL instruction. Teachers often do not have access to ELL trained specialists or understand second language acquisition to the degree needed to offer specific support to these students. The same evidence-based practices that work with students for whom English is their first language are not always equally effective for students from diverse backgrounds. When this happens, it can be common for teachers to think that lack of progress may be because of a disability. While some ELL students do have learning disabilities, there may be over-identification of these students in some settings that cannot provide specific ELL interventions for students. Current statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that 14.2 percent of ELL students in public school qualify for a disability under IDEA, but it is difficult to know if all of those students truly have a disability or if they have not received appropriate ELL instruction.

children readingThe answer to the question about whether a student whose first language is not English has a learning disability, or whether that student needs more specific ELL instruction is not always clear. With limited resources available, teachers can consider some of the points discussed here, but also look for effective strategies to implement with ELL students to help them make progress. The website Colorín Colorado offers a number of different helpful articles for teachers regarding ELL instruction, including an article about differentiation and RTI practices appropriate for English language learners. Another page from the same website offers great tips for supporting the language skills of ELL students in the general education classroom. And another article discusses how to teach the five components of reading effectively to ELL students.

A number of helpful books are also available with strategies for teachers looking to provide more support for ELL students in their classrooms. Differentiating Instruction and Assessment for English Language Learners: A Guide for K-12 Teachers by Shelley Fairbairn and Stephaney Jones-Vo and Classroom Instruction that Works with English Language Learners, 2nd Edition by Jane Hill and Kirsten Miller are available from ASCD.

Understanding the needs of students with diverse backgrounds and different language experiences is challenging, but we also know that ministry to these students and families is equally important. LCMS has the privilege of serving students internationally at Concordia International School Hanoi, Hong Kong International Schools, and Concordia International School Shanghai as well as serving ELL students in the United States. This privilege comes with challenges, but LSEM is always available to assist schools and teachers in their efforts to educate all students. Please visit our website to let us know how we can help support your ministry to students with learning needs!

Kara Bratton is Special Education Director at Lutheran Special Education Ministries. She is a regular columnist for Shaping the Future. Kara has also done several LEA webinars, which are accessible in the Resources > Archived Webinars tabs at www.lea.org.

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