The first thing she addresses is the difficulty of identifying if an ELL has a disability. Initially upon entering the American education system, the student should be screened to identify current skills. This establishes a baseline. Then instruction in the classroom should be adapted to include strategies to target ELL students. If the student does not make progress, then they should be evaluated for a disability. She highlights that the gold standard of evaluation is to complete it in both the native language AND English so that the evaluator can understand skills of the child in both languages. This is important because students will have a learning disability in both native and new languages. Dr. Hagan also points out that the tests must be culturally sensitive, reliable and valid. While this is most doable in Spanish, the most common, non-English language spoken in schools, it may be very difficult in other languages that we encounter with less frequency. Often tests are not available in native languages so that we must extrapolate results- comparing students who are given a translated test and students who took the test in their native language, English.
One major strategy that she supports is to develop language skills- both academic and social. Students need to talk and listen in both their native language and English. Then similarities and differences between the two languages can be highlighted. Cognates, words that share a common etymology, can be used to help enhance vocabulary. For example the Spanish word, abandonado, or the French word, abandonner, means abandon in English. Unfortunately cognates are most abundant between European languages and English than between languages from other regions of the world. The website http://laowaichinese.net/cognate-coincidences.htm identifies typhoon = táifēng as an English to Chinese pairing, but such examples are few and far between. Parents need to be encouraged to develop language- oral language in their home language is important.
Another strategy she highlighted to develop vocabulary was good vocabulary instruction: visuals, hands on activities, repetition, rehearsal, practice, explicit teaching and lots of modeling. These are not vocabulary tools that are solely ELL enhancers, but useful for vocabulary development across the board. After initial explicit instruction, it can take any student 7-12 practices to learn a vocabulary word in context. A student with learning disabilities may need 30 or more practices. Put the ELL and LD together and you need LOTS of practice. This practice needs to occur in a comfortable and safe environment. If a student is afraid of being teased, overwhelmed with work load or stress, or not feeling safe, this practice will become less likely to occur and less likely to be valuable.
General education teachers need to coordinate with the team providing support: teachers of ELLs, special ed teachers, paraprofessionals, speech pathologists and anyone else need to provide instruction that compliments each other. Conferences between staff is essential.
A general ed teacher needs to differentiate instruction. Yes, this idea is a fad of the year, as it were, but it is true. ELL's benefit from peer assisted learning. Small groups or partner work allows lots of practice of communication and models to occur. In order for this to be effective, they need to teach group roles and routines. Students learning the vocabulary of English need pictures and/or video to anchor meaning of words, even common words that we take for granted that students would learn easily. This is in part true because of cultural differences in word meanings. She pointed out that as an ELL growing up, her grandmother would rub an egg over her face to bring good luck. The egg was not connected to scrambled eggs.
Finally Dr. Hagan emphasized the role of the parent in school. Many parents who do not speak English fluently or who come from another culture, have different ideas of the role of the parent in their child's education. Educational communities need to identify what will appeal to parents, offer trainings, and understand cultural sensitivities. Ideas of how parents can support their children included:
- telling stories
- looking at pictures in books and perhaps predicting what the story is going to be about
- adult literacy classes
- going to the library to attend programs and check out books
- incorporating home language in the language of school
She summed up her discussion with three big points. One, we need to look at each child as an individual. While many of these suggestions work for children, finding the formula of success for each one involves different mixes. Two, we need to monitor progress and how children respond to interventions. If children are not responding we need to make changes. Three, there is limited research on ELLs with disabilities. We need to pursue how best to identify needs and interventions to meet the child's needs.
I thought that the majority of the webcast focused more on ELL in general rather than on specifics of those with learning disabilities. That being said, the information was valid for all ELLs so not useless. My quest for specific strategies geared toward working with ELLs with LD will continue.