Skip to main content

Guest Discussion: Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges

Hi group members,

My SME colleague, Miriam Burt and I are happy to announce plans for our upcoming guest discussion as follows:

Title:  Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges

Date: March 2 through 5, 2015

Description:  This will be a joint venture between the Adult English Language Learners and the Disabilities in Adult Education groups. The discussion will provide information and conversation on causes for learning challenges in some adult English Language Learners who may or may not have undiagnosed Learning Disabilities and how to help these learners thrive in the classroom.  

This discussion should be of particular interest to teachers of adult ELLs in non-academic ESOL programs who are primarily, but not exclusively, low or very low literate or who have experienced unusual difficulty learning.  The differentiated instructional component is aimed at teachers in ESOL settings that have mixed level classes; issues around learning challenges for ELLs apply to learners in any setting.

Guest Speakers:  

Robin Lovrien,  M.Sp.Ed: LD; Ph. D., consultant in adult ESOL; Dr. Lovrien is a lifelong ESL/ESOL teacher and specialist in learning difficulties in ELLs. Her professional work has focused on the learning difficulties of low literate adult ELLs as well as on ways to manage the adult ESOL classroom to be as inclusive for learners of varying backgrounds and abilities as possible.  Currently, Dr. Lovrien tutors non-English speaking immigrants to Downeast Maine, and continues to provide professional development to teachers in Maine and Massachusetts. 

 

Lauren Osowski is the ESOL Coordinator and an ESOL teacher at the Adult Learning Center in Nashua, NH as well as a member of the New Hampshire Adult Education Disabilities Committee. After receiving a BA in Sociology and Criminal Justice and working in the research field for a number of years, she began her teaching career ten years ago in Eastern Europe. In addition to teaching, Ms. Osowski has presented more than a dozen workshops for ESL teachers on topics related to all levels of English language learners. She has also completed several mini-grant projects for the state of New Hampshire, including her website, Adult Education Technology.

 

Alicia Broggio is currently the Professional Development Facilitator at Literacy Solutions NY. A faculty member since 2004, Alicia has taught all levels of English Language Learners. She has extensive experience with the New York State U.S. Civics For Immigrants (USCFI) curriculum. She has been a teacher trainer for the curriculum since 2006 and has trained dozens of adult educators throughout New York State. Alicia collaborated on the writing of two USCFI modules as well as writing the curriculum used by Literacy Solutions NY in its fee-based hotel and hospital vocational ESOL program  In 2009, as part of the Hudson Valley/Catskill Partnership Regional Adult Education Network (HVCP RAEN) Professional Development Project, she was asked to be a teacher coach. As a coach and mentor, she has evaluated and guided teachers in their classrooms to help them develop more effective instruction.  In the summers of 2007 and 2008, Alicia organized two highly successful family literacy programs at the Yonkers Riverfront Library. Later, she conducted a similar program for parents at several Head Start Centers. She has also been a Best Plus Test Administrator since 2005.  Alicia is pursuing a M.S. TESOL from Mercy College. She will graduate in Spring 2015.

As the date gets closer, we will send out some pre-reading selections to prepare for the guest discussion.

Now, I would like to open up this discussion thread for members to begin asking questions.  The questions will be shared with the guest speakers to help them plan their discussion content,  You can simply add your comment/question onto this message.  All comments and questions will be appreciated.

Thank you.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME - Disabilities in Adult Education

and

Miriam Burt, SME - Adult English Language Learners

 

Comments

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

Thank you, Rochelle, for the informative message about the upcoming event. And thank you Robin, Lauren, and Alicia for agreeing to share your time and expertise with us.

Although it's still early days, I have a question: Will you be addressing possible overlaps and divergences between promising instructional practices to use with native English speakers with emerging  literacy in English versus those to use with non-native English speakers with emerging literacy in English?

I hope that makes sense. If not, I can try to unpack it a little.

Thanks again.

Miriam

SME, Adult ELL CoP

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Miriam,

Thanks for starting out our question thread with such an interesting question.  I will start making a list of all the ones that are submitted.  I will also go back into the other discussion strand where the idea for this guest discussion began and pull topics and questions from there.

Who else has a question to post for the speakers?

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Disabilities in Adult Education

 

Phil Anderson's picture
Fifty

Thank you, Rochelle and Miriam, for setting up this important discussion. Here are two questions for the panel when the discussion begins.

1. Scenario: A teacher in a class with low literate adult ELLs recently shared with me that when the students used a keyboard and could see the letters forming words on a computer screen, they advanced faster than when they wrote by hand. In both cases they began by copying the letters from a text that the teacher prepared. By "advanced faster" the teacher meant that when the students used the keyboard, they were able to write  words and were able to identify them in a text in a shorter time than when they wrote the words by hand.  Question: Do you have any additional information about the ways keyboards/computers can be used to help low literate adult ELLs make gains? Do you see any potential problems that the teacher of these students should be aware of?

2. Do you have a list of 3 to 5 essential key guiding principles or instructional practices that are paramount for teachers of low level literate adults to be aware of and to use in the classroom?  I am sure you could provide a long list of useful tips and other teaching practices that are helpful, but which ones would be important to start with and never lose sight of?

Phil Anderson, Adult ESOL Program Specialist, Florida Department of Education

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi,

It is good to hear from you.  Thanks for submitting questions for the guest speakers.  I really like the scenario you posted.  What a good idea!

These will be added to our list.

To members of both the Disabilities and Adult English Language Learners groups, please keep these good questions coming in,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Hi-- A BIG thank you to Miriam, Rochelle and Phil for priming the pump, as it were, for the upcoming discussion.  I will address those questions-- as will the other women-- and any others that come up.  I have already responded re differentiation, which is a core issue in the disability discussion.   From my earliest days as a teacher at the Lab School of Washington, where everyone has a learning challenge of some kind and must learn in his or her own way, I have worked to provide differentiated instruction and to help other teachers achieve high levels of differentiation in their own classrooms.   This is a topic near and dear to me and the heart of my work over many decades.   I will discuss it further during the upcoming discussion.  

Robin  

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Robin,

Thanks for adding your voice here.  In less than one month, your guest discussion will begin (March 2-5).  Once the speakers' outlines are ready, we can post them here within this thread.  Until then, group members can continue to post their comments and questions.

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Glenda Rose's picture
One hundred

One of the biggest and most discouraging issues that comes up in the classroom is what to do when you, as a teacher, suspect a serious learning challenge or disability, but there are no funds to have it diagnosed.  Keeping in mind social, political, and legal issues regarding learning disabilities and adult learners, my question is not only how do we keep these students with significant learning challenges in the classroom, but how do we access resources for them without an official diagnosis so that we see better outcomes?  How do we differentiate instruction so that it is effective but not so "differentiated" that the student feels uncomfortable or "different" from his/her peers?

I'm looking forward to this discussion from the experts.  Thanks for sharing your time!

Glenda

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Glenda,

I appreciate your submitting this message.  Your concerns and questions will be added to our overall list.  You have mentioned several important 'critical issues' within your message including what to do about students who exhibit risk factors, diagnosis of a disability, and the difference between "learning challenges" and "learning disabilities."  That should provide our members with some fascinating conversation during our guest discussion.

Miriam and I hope that members from all of our COP groups continue to submit more questions for our guest speakers.

Thanks so much.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Disabilities in Adult Education group

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello group members,

This is a reminder that our guest discussion, Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges, will begin tomorrow, Monday, March 2, 2015.  If you have been procrastinating or forgetting to submit your questions for the guest speakers, you still have time to do it now.

If you have colleagues that would benefit from this critically important topic in our field, please share information about the event and advise them that they need to register to join the Community of Practice.

I am looking forward to the discussion.  You will find that the messages will all be housed within this discussion strand.

Until Monday morning,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Disabilities in Adult Education group

 

KarenWright's picture
First

One of the aspects that I have struggled with the most as a teacher is when students make progress and then are reluctant to move into more challenging work (more vocabulary, sentence structure, writing, etc.)  It is so important that students experience initial success that they some are reluctant to move on.  I imagine it being extremely stressful to learn in the beginning and that the process of advance sometime just brings back those early insecurities.  Are there strategies that can be discussed to help students get and keep a mindset that learning will be a continual process for them (as it is for all of us)?

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Karen,

Thanks for posting your question about strategies that will help our students.  We will add it to our overall list.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello,

The following pre-reading selections may supplement the reading resources that will be shared with you by your four guest speakers.

    a.    MAESTRA! The Letters Speak.” Adult ESL Students Learning to Read for the First Time (Patsy Vinogradov) 

            https://lincs.ed.gov/professional-development/resource-collections/profile-767

    b.    "Using Oral Language Skills to Build on the Emerging Literacy of Adult English Learners" (Martha Bigelow, Patsy Vinogradov) 

            https://lincs.ed.gov/professional-development/resource-collections/profile-762

    c.    "Promoting Learner Engagement when Working with Adult English Language Learners" (S. Finn Miller)  

            https://lincs.ed.gov/professional-development/resource-collections/profile-421

The above are all part of the LINCS Resource Collection.

The last pre-reading selection was written by our guest speaker, Robin Lovrien:

           "Taking a Closer Look at Struggling ESOL Learners" (Robin Lovrien Schwarz)

            http://ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/fob/2005/fob_8a.pdf

Happy reading!

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello,

Below, I am posting a summary of all the questions for the guest speakers that have been asked to date.

Please feel free to continue asking questions - and posting comments -  to the speakers throughout the 4-day guest discussion.

Rochelle Kenyon, Subject Matter Expert

Disabilities in Adult Education

 

Questions:

What are  possible overlaps and divergences between promising instructional practices to use with native English speakers with emerging literacy in English versus those to use with non-native English speakers with emerging literacy in English?

Do you have any additional information about the ways keyboards/computers can be used to help low literate adult ELLs make gains? Do you see any potential problems that the teacher of these students should be aware of?

Do you have a list of 3 to 5 essential key guiding principles or instructional practices that are paramount for teachers of low level literate adults to be aware of and to use in the classroom? 

How do we keep these students with significant learning challenges in the classroom, and how do we access resources for them without an official diagnosis so that we see better outcomes?  How do we differentiate instruction so that it is effective but not so "differentiated" that the student feels uncomfortable or "different" from his/her peers?

Are there strategies that can be discussed to help students get and keep a mindset that learning will be a continual process for them (as it is for all of us)?

What are the panelists experiences in working with students from different cultures around the topic of disabilities.  How have others approached this conversation with individuals, or even in groups.  Is it right to try and change the meaning our students attach to disabilities?  If so, what is the language used to change perspectives, while also honoring their cultural perspective?

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Hi all-- I have just posted my first long piece about why teachers tend to think students might have a learning disability.   At this point, I would like to pose a question:  Why would you as a teacher want a student to be diagnosed with a learning difficulty?  What do you think would happen and how would that happen?

I would really like to know people's answers to these questions so that I can address some of the core beliefs that push people to think about diagnosis etc.  

Robin  

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

HI all-- I want to address the questions that Rochelle posted at the beginning of this conversation on Monday morning.  Several I have already hit on-- but a couple need direct answers:

I want to address the first one about possible overlapping instructional practices for those with "emerging literacy"-- This is a tricky question.  First of all, the native English speakers already speak the language they are trying to become literate in, so their challenges with understanding the meaning of things are nothing compared to those of ELLs. Similarly, their cultural orientation is not a question either-- they do not have to struggle to understand cultural implications of pictures or reading passages.    Second, a native English speaker who has no literacy is pretty rare, so either this means they are profoundly dyslexic or have some other challenge that has prevented literacy from happening or they somehow were somewhere where education was not available. 

If the first issue is the case, there could indeed be overlap--primarily in the approach to teaching them-- very slowly, very systematically, focusing on strengths and addressing challenges as needed.   Materials should be highly concrete, just because multisensory learning is helpful for those with really low literacy.   Content and materials need to be adult, not childish, and challenging in content, if not in reading level.   I would seriously doubt that a literacy-challenged native English speaker has trouble with pictures, since our culture is so full of them, and typically a person in this culture who cannot read MUST rely on pictures and images to survive.  This is not to say symbols or other visual materials are not confusing, but that will vary by individual not by the non-literacy issue.  

As with ALL adult learners who are NOT at a level of education they want or society hopes for, they could be carrying quite a bit of shame, so huge efforts must be made to guard their dignity at all costs.   This means NOT pairing them with other students who can read or can figure out how to do activities in class-- the better student did not come to class to be a tutor, and it is humiliating to most-- not all, I realize, but most-- students to have to depend on another student and reveal how little they know.  It means NOT isolating them in some part of the classroom, either.   It also means making sure they are able to have variety in their learning while still focusing on the most basic of skills, and both groups need to MASTER those basic skills before moving on to new material.    

The learning center activities the other ladies and I will be talking about tomorrow are excellent for all literacy-challenged students. Students feel competent readily, they are at the same level as other players, and they get the much needed repetition for mastering the content.  

Like the non-literate ELLS, the native English speakers need heavy focus on phonological processing skills, particularly on rhyming and hearing syllables and then on phonemic awareness in words.    And just like the ELLS, the native English speakers are easily put off and drowned in the technical language of literacy.  DO NOT use "grammarese" or technical words of any kind.  Do not assume that these students have ANY familiarity with the conventions of writing or language such as punctuation, capitals, writing on lines or in spaces.   Very likely, the non-reading native English speaker has relatively low motor skills, too and could profit from a lot of the activities mentioned in these postings for helping adults gain better fine-motor skills.   

Both groups of students need to learn the letters of the alphabet, but the native English speaker is likely to know what literacy means--and that he or she doesn't have it-- while the ELLS may not yet have any sense of the purpose and function of text. This is a HUGE difference--so presenting the alphabet will be done very differently, with native English speakers likely able to manage the whole alphabet, while the ELLS, as has been mentioned before, likely do better learning little bits and pieces of it for quite a while. 

And above all, the native English speakers who do not read MUST have a vision check and a check for visual stress syndrome (VSS) ( sometimes known as the Irlen sydrome).  This is a condition where the visual receptors in the brain react to one or more colors in the light spectrum and literally cause an allergic-like reaction in the brain when a person reads-- headaches, watery eyes, very poor concentration, great tension in the head and shoulders, a strong aversion to reading, sensitivity to bright light, a report that things move, flash, fade in and out or run off the page,  and reading errors that LOOK EXACTLY like errors caused by dyslexia.   (Of course not all persons will have all symptoms-- but pretty much ANY of these is a strong indicator of this syndrome).  The issue is VERY easily addressed using colored plastic overlays on top of reading material.  I have seen more than a few amazing turn-arounds in poor reading behavior when the overlays are used. 

I cannot stress enough how important this is to find out for persons who struggle to read.   Generally speaking, native English speakers with this syndrome can read--but not very well. Many reach a plateau where they can read only short words.   Only in one instance have I encountered an adult ELL who could not LEARN to read because of this syndrome-- the letters on the literacy alphabet book he was trying to learn from moved so much he could not be sure from day to day which letters he had seen before.   Overlays cured that problem instantly-- as they do all reading problems for which VSS is the cause. 

If the person really IS dyslexic and cannot assign sound to symbols fluently despite LOTS of instruction( the definition of dyslexia), the overlays will not do anything.   They do not cure dyslexia as some critics claim.   They merely remove yet another reading obstacle in the same way that glasses do for the very far-sighted person.   A remarkable number of poor adult readers have this problem, which has never been diagnosed.   I personally think it is CRIMINAL to subject such a person to phonics, which is the usual response of reading personnel, when the problem can so easily be taken care of (I say this with some 40 years' experience as a tutor to reading-challenged adults, too).   When the overlays do NOT help, the person reports that the page just looks the color of the overlay and nothing else changes.  This is GOOD.   You can learn more about the problems of VSS at irlen.com and get overlays there and through Powerpath.com as well.  

I do not always recommend overlay screening for ESOL readers because the emerging literate ones are not familiar enough with the way a page looks to know if the overlay is helping anything or not.   Remember that the VAST majority of ELLS who are non-literate are that way because they come from a non-( or pre-) literate CULTURE, while the vast majority of adult native English speakers who do not read are that way because they have severe reading problems that were not adequately addressed in their youth. 

Methods such as the Language Experience Approach can be great for both groups, too. 

 Robin 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Dr. Robin,

You give such complete and informative responses to the questions. We appreciate that so much.

I look forward to hearing more about learning center activities when you return today.

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Good morning all-- I apologize for the LONG posts -- I do get passionate about this subject, as Rochelle and Miriam both know!  I will break today's postings into little digestible chunks..

Today's topic is Learning Centers.   This is what I call stations in the classroom which learners can access at any time and which consist of games and activities that provide learners with targeted practice in language points, content or skills that they have identified as wanting or needing (in the case of those with very low literacy, I may take the step of deciding what they will practice until such time as they can express preferences in some way).  

I began advocating and developing the idea  of learning centers when I was doing a great deal of training and presenting about learning challenges.  As you have read, the seventh, and perhaps most powerful of all causes for learning failure in ELLs are pedagogically induced problems--- inadequate, misguided, insensitive, teaching, program design, curricula, materials, etc.  combined with teachers and programs who do not take the time to take the necessary steps to find out what is holding learners up from making progress.  

What I knew from my own teaching, from my extensive work with teachers and programs over almost 20 years and from my work at the Lab School, is that two things can guarantee that ALL learners learn and profit from instruction: 1) the teacher having the attitude that something will work and the learner WILL learn --and is NOT a burden or drag on the class or program  and 2) sufficiently varied opportunities to access instruction that takes into account adult and adult language learner needs.  This latter means that learners have to have choice in learning that includes active, hands-on learning, and opportunities that actually HELP them learn.  It means too that the classroom needs to be run in very NON-traditional ways, since traditional instruction is not helpful for a pretty big segment of the learner population, and, as FDR said, "If [what you are doing] is NOT working, try something else."    I knew from the Lab School that non-traditional teaching practices and very non-traditional learning opportunities result in spectacular success fore EVERY student. 

However-- and I always give credit where credit is due-- it was not until a gifted adult ed. volunteer in Poughkeepsie, NY was willing to adapt the concept of learning centers ( widely used in K-6 and which she had been using for nearly 40 years as a K-1 teacher) to adult learners and showed us all that 99% of the problems about which teachers and programs complain about adult ESOL could become moot that I really moved ahead in teaching about the idea and method.   This teacher showed that, as I mentioned in my example about using computers with students at all levels of English, if the students feel they have something to gain by being in class, they WILL come on time-- since she started using centers in 2007, she has consistently had to LIMIT how EARLY her students could arrive before class --mostly because she couldn't get there any earlier than half an hour before class was to start;  she completely eliminated the problem of the multi-level classroom, having activities for students at virtually all levels of learning.  When I observed her class, she had a couple tables of very low educates students, one of non-literate students and one of two people preparing for their GED essay writing test--and many others besides.   She also eliminated the problem of open enrollment, and students arriving weeks after the term had started. The games and activities allowed for new students to be folded into the class virtually seamlessly-- without disruption to her or the class, a feature I experienced myself while I ran my drop-in class here in Downeast Maine two years ago.    She also addressed the personal needs of students to a very high degree. At that time she had many men who were in construction. One center was a table with REAL handtools on it and the men were THRILLED to be able to learn the names of tools they worked with everyday.  And then using the tools as the base vocabulary, she expanded the activities to provide practice in gradually more difficult grammar structures.   She readily took suggestions from her students about what content or type of activity they wanted, and she learned to turn over responsibility for set-up and take-down to the students themselves, giving them real responsibility as adults and real ownership in the classroom  and its contents.  Interviews with her students confirmed that they LOVED this classroom. Several compared it highly favorably to traditional teaching-- one class had a teacher to assigned workbook pages and then sat at her desk and read while students did the workbook assignments. The students HATED that.   All said they felt it was excellent use of their time,  not time was wasted because there was always something to do , they could review vocabulary or grammar or language points at will and with other learners; they especially enjoyed the small group activity over whole class activities. 

I did an extensive study on the effect of centers on learning of adult ELLs for my doctoral thesis ( unfortunately unpublished....).   I learned almost exactly the same things as I did quantitative and qualitative studies with two classes of low-intermediate adult ELLS at a very large ESL school in Washington, DC.   The students reported that the LOVED the centers, they loved working in small groups, they felt they were improving their English more effectively than if they had just teacher-fronted classes, and they felt they could work on needs particular to themselves.   The quantitative study showed that those who used centers learned the required curriculum content needed to pass the exit test for each level far more thoroughly than did students in the two control classes.  This was the outcome I was most interested in , as I had been sure that centers provided the extensive practice and repetition adult language learners need to master new language and language skills. 

Here are the principles of centers:

1. The content is NEED driven-- it is something,as stated above, that students need or want-- it may be content they need to  master for the curriculum your school or program uses and on which they will be tested, as were students in my study, or content they have a personal need for, as did the construction guys.   Activities are designed to give practice in what the student needs, NOT to fulfill a desire to have a hands-on activity in a classroom.

2. The activities are designed to give extended practice and repetition of the vocabulary or skill or language point in question (e.g. question asking with Do; simple past tense forms of irregular verbs, pronunciation of --teen and --ty numbers for Spanish speakers;  expressions of time,  categories of some vocabulary class-- e.g. food containers,  etc.)

3. Activities are always entirely self-checking-- either because answers are provided, or because of the way a game is played (other students monitor with an answer sheet, or groups of cards in Go Fish are color coded, etc. )

4. There are activities and games with content and skills accessible to ALL levels of learner-- from those with the most basic skills to ones with advanced English skills and needs and everything in between-- AS A PARTICULAR CLASS NEEDS them.  If you have only low intermediate students, you do not need very advanced content or grammar points in the activities.  

5. Nothing is graded-- but the activities can be used for evaluation and the results/progress recorded by student and teacher (e.g. X knows the past -tense forms of 20 irregular verbs;  X can ask questions in the present tense with "Do/does"  ) To be recorded as learned, an activity must be 100% mastered. 

6.  Activities are set up to assure group interaction -- two to four players or participants.  More than that lessens the amount of repetition, English used, and involvement in a game or activity.  Solo work is discouraged unless a student truly needs or prefers it.  

7. Activities are often-- but not always- -made by students.  The quality of materials is not of great importance-- only, as Lauren noted, clarity of writing for students to read easily, and consistency of materials so the game or activity is done correctly.   Scavenging parts of commercially made materials is encouraged!!  Some commercially made materials are very useful: Blank professional quality game boards, for example, are inexpensive and last longer than teacher made ones. 

8.  Students generally teach each other how to use the games or activities AFTER the idea and basic games and activities have been presented by the teacher.  

9. Activities are tailored to a particular class or group of students as much as possible.  Some may be used with other learners, some not.  

10.  Activities MUST be used ENOUGH during class time and during a week for their benefit to be gained by students.  They should NOT be used as rewards or time fillers at the end of class or during break only.  In classrooms getting the most benefit from them, students use centers more than 50% of the time, some use them as much as 95% of the time.  The teacher who pioneered their use in adult ESOL used them that much because she could find no other activity the whole class could do together except pronunciation practice.   *

***************************************

And by the way, these activities are excellent for tutoring, too!!

More later on types of activities I use

Robin 

 

alicia broggio's picture
First

First I'd like to apologize for not posting as much as I would have liked. I am conducting a PD workshop this coming Friday and there has been a major glitch with the materials. I have spent the last few days re planning the activities with what we have on hand now. 

One of the things Robin once said which stayed with me was that we need to spend less time trying to figure out if a student has a disability, and more time just dealing with the student standing before you. That is not to say we do not try to address the student's challenges but it is important not to focus on finding a "label" for the student. Because of the absence of adult ESL, even if we find the proper "label" for the student, we will still be in the same position of needing to find ways to help this student learn.

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Alicia,

I am so glad that you were able to join the discussion again. Labeling is an issue we have discussed within the Disabilities in Adult Education group.  There is a discussion strand with the subject line, "Label Jars, Not People."  Check that out; you might find it interesting.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

I don't have a lot of knowledge about how well non-literate students respond to the use of technology-- particularly computers or tablets.   I do know that one teacher tried tablets and found them extremely helpful for the low-non- literate adults because they do not require mouse coordination. I know from experience that developing mouse skills is a REAL obstacle for some older ELLs.   So many students have smart phones that it would be worth examining the skills your learners use with their phones to see how accustomed they are to communicating in some fashion with someone else.   Just as it seems fairly common to find that non-literate students know money systems pretty well, these same students may move into necessary technology fairly readily.  

I think the cost, ease of use and enormous variety of apps make tablets highly desirable for adult ESOL programs.  A great deal of work has been done in the field finding programs and apps that help students.

One other experiment I tried twice with computers may ring a bell with some of you .  A few  years ago I was asked to do a writing class for Spanish-speaking immigrant women who were going to be aides in math classrooms in grades k-2.   The aides were going to have to communicate with the parents about the math kits and lessons the students were receiving as well as report on the progress of the children.  The women ranged in education from barely three years of school to post-graduate-- a typical adult ESOL grouping as I was to find out later in Massachusetts....!   Faced with this range, I requested access to computer labs in our two class locations, and then  I put the women on computers for most of the three hours of class each day.  The college graduate read articles from the Washington Post and summarized them and asked questions to me about them;  the lowest literate practiced writing their names, the names of the children and other things-- and copied things I gave them having to do with their math assignment.   Some worked on workbook exercises, but did them on the computer.     I repeated this approach with a class I had in Massachusetts. 

Just as Lauren noted in one of her posts, as long as everyone is doing their own thing, the different level of work is unimportant.   I felt these groups were very successful-- at least the students loved them-- and in the case of the class, we had 13 computers and 15 students, so on the days we had computer class first, ALL students came EARLY to class, a response I have often cited to teachers to demonstrate that when students feel that what is happening is interesting and important to them, they will NOT be late.....It was a completely individually differentiated situation.  It was easy to find just the right lesson for students to copy or do on the computer and they worked far more willingly on corrections and work than they did in a regular class.   For the ones who had poor mouse or keyboard skills, part of the time was spent with programs targeting those skills.   There was no expensive software involved, no program to follow.  It was simplicity itself- and highly motivating.   It would be easy to do a similar thing with non-literate students giving them some of the creative apps for tablets.  

Programs that have pictures and audio would be terrific for non-literate students-- again--there are sites and apps where this can happen on touch devices, too.    As I don't currently have a home organization to provide technology to my students, I don't use it all that much-- except to recommend language learning sites to students who use smart phones a lot.   However, I am sure someone out there in the world has already done this-- I hope we hear about it soon!!

Robin 

 

 

 

nanfrydland's picture
Ten

Hi Robin,

I just read through most of the postings over the last few days and have benefitted greatly from the discussion. Thanks so much, especially for information about low-literacy learners. Here's an example of the student leading the teacher (I think of funds of knowledge), in technology. A Guatemalan man who I tutor cared for my house while I was at a teacher's conference recently. I told him I planned to bring back new ways to use our phones, but I learned nothing in a 3 hour seminar. I texted Jose when I learned of a heavy snow at home and he texted back, "I am fine. All is well."  This was unusually fluent language for this man. When I got home I asked him where he learned the phrase "all is well" and he said he wasn't afraid of English anymore. His nephew showed him Google Translate, and he proceeded to show me how to download the app and how it worked. He spoke Spanish and then we saw English text and listened to both Spanish and English speakers.  Together, we explored the icons (camera, mike, scribble line) and how they worked. When my Korean girlfriend arrived, I showed her what I just learned. She said she was excited because she had "communication problems" with Spanish speakers, and she planned to translate from Korean to Spanish while working at a nail salon. When I went to my local nail salon, I showed the app to six Chinese workers who often brought their English questions to me, and they were delighted. So my student Jose has touched many people with his teaching. This is a man with three years of education in Guatemala, who labors long to write a sentence.  Now I'm thinking how right you are that ipads would be excellent learning devices for low-literacy learners.  I'm going to bring this news to Saturday's NYSTESOL Applied Linguistics Winter Conference.

nan

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Nan-- this is a terrific example of the learner, as it were, showing us that they know how to survive!   I love this example!  I love when the non-English speakers find ways to use technology to communicate.  I use Google translate when I tutor just to get a word or phrase across, but I will explore further how students can use it to communicate more fully.   I think we are just tiptoeing into the wide-open world of technology and learning in our ESOL world.

 

Robin

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Nan,

What an interesting story you shared with us!  Thank you for adding to our fascinating discussion.  It is appreciated.

Rochelle Kenyon , SME

 

 

Glenda Rose's picture
One hundred

I loved Robin's article with very specific examples.  I've come across the problem of a teacher searching for a learning disability when other factors were at play not only in ESL, but also when helping relatives.  My family speaks a non-standard dialect of English and they have sometimes been flagged as learning disabled when it was simply a cultural and communication difference.  On the flip side, my best friend was not diagnosed appropriately in grade school and labeled "slow" when she actually has dyslexia.  Her mother accused her of deliberately not learning her alphabet, so she learned to cheat her way through until she got to third grade and got caught.  Eventually, she adapted and learned to read on her own, but having been labeled "slow" in a small town, she was not put in the academic track.  She had to fight to take the "advanced" courses.  Like me, she was the first one in her family to go to college, so there was no support.  It's amazing she made it through.  Her younger brother had the same problem, but by then people were becoming more informed about learning disabilities and interventions were made for him.  The mother still thought it was just a ploy by the kids to avoid doing word, but fortunately an older cousin stepped in to make sure he got the help he needed. 

All of that to say, I look forward to hearing the experts on walking the balance between assuming a learning disability when none exists and not diagnosing when appropriate, as well as any research on the effect of "labeling" on adult learners. 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Glenda,

Thanks for sharing such a personal story. As you have experienced, I have had similar stories.  The risks associated with having a possible learning disability and whether or not to begin the process of diagnosis are very personal ones to consumers and their families.  From a teacher's standpoint, it is very easy to spot a student who is challenged and not progressing as well as others.  What is difficult to determine is why the student is challenged and what to do next.  Our guests this week will present information to us on this very difficult issue.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Michael Cruse's picture
One hundred

Hello,

I'm looking forward to the discussion, beginning tomorrow!

The first question that comes to mind is about the panelists' experience working with students from different cultures around the topic of disabilities.  In my classroom experience, there were sometimes great obstacles to even using the word disability with some cultures.  These students would often explain that in their countries and cultures, persons with disabilities are kept by their families, often hidden away from the world, or left to beg on the streets.  

Clearly, our definitions of disability differed greatly.  It was often a significant undertaking just to get them to be able to broaden their definition of what a disability may look like.  I'm very interested in how others have approached this conversation with individuals, or even in groups.  Is it right to try and change the meaning our students attach to disabilities?  If so, what is the language used to change perspectives, while also honoring their cultural perspective?

Thanks,

Mike

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Thank you for posting questions, Michael.  I just spoke to Dr. Robin by phone and she plans to respond to your interesting remarks.  

Welcome to the guest discussion!

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Michael-- this is an extremely important question.  It fits in well with the question I just posed about why teachers want students to be diagnosed or why they, the teachers, think to go the route of "disability."  This is going to be a long answer-- the short answer is now I NEVER --never-- go the route of discussing the idea of disability with ANY student, regardless of background, UNLESS it has to do with their children in the public schools.  

When I first started looking at students who were struggling to learn, I was teaching in a university Intensive English Program ( sometimes known as an IEP) and the students were generally highly educated.  The wisdom at that point was that if one was not LD in the native language, one would not be LD in the new language, but this turned out not to be true.  Many, many people report language learning difficulties which have nothing to do with learning disabilities.   Still, some of my students certainly displayed problems resembling problems caused by dyslexia or dysgraphia or other learning problems.  Thinking, as many obviously still do, that helping the student understand he or she had a learning disability would assuage their anxiety and bad feelings about failing English or struggling so much to learn, I did indeed try to discuss the idea of "LD" with them.  These were students from all over-- students from the countries of the Arabian Gulf, South America, Asia, African, Europe.    A very few were puzzled but interested.  Most were alarmed and even hostile to what I was trying to explain and achieve-- I was trying to get them accommodation as students with disabilities in their classes.   Part of the hostility was cultural-- I will never forget a student panel I put together in Washington, DC, for a conference of people from various college student support offices- the ones who certify disabilities documentation and issue letters to the faculty requesting accommodations.  The students were all ones I had helped get accommodation-- none with a so-called official diagnosis, though each had been seen by an LD diagnostician-- a psychologist who was bilingual and had gotten accommodation on the basis of her letter.   There were four students on the panel, and to my great surprise, NONE had taken advantage of the letter they had received to give to their teachers/professors asking for accommodations.  One noted that in her country, students who had "problems" or made problems for the teacher were made to suffer for it terribly;  another reported that he had given one teacher the letter.  His accommodation was for some alterations on the testing format.  The teacher announced to the class that X needed to take a different test and would sit in front with facing the class to do that-- thereby blowing his privacy completely and humiliating him.  He would have nothing further to do with accommodation.  Another had a similar experience when his teacher asked publicly who would take notes for him- -his accommodation was to have a note-taker.   And the fourth just said if he agreed to be diagnosed by a doctor, it would mean he was sick, and his family would be humiliated.  

I also learned about that time that the notion of LD was pretty much unknown beyond the shores of the US and Canada.  This is still largely the case. While many countries recognize dyslexia when it is very severe, most still do not have a generalized understanding of Learning Disabilities.   Worse, when the notion is translated into other languages, it often -- usually, I would hazard-- translates VERY negatively.  In fact, in English is is a negative construction.  A DIS ability-- not able to do something.   So stark were the translations I got from people from various language and cultural backgrounds that for a couple of  years in the mid-90's, I did presentations with a sociologist from the Gambia, West Africa, on the pitfalls of trying to explain the notion of learning disabilities in other languages.   It comes out as "diminished, slow, retarded, moron,"  etc.     As you indicate in your post, in some cultures persons with disabilities are not just marginalized, but humiliated and beaten.   I was on a bus in Nassau, the Bahamas not too long ago and the bus driver bragged about the high graduation rate from high school. Someone-- not I-- asked about those who did not do well in school.  He proudly replied that those who got bad grades were first beaten by the teacher, then by the principal, then the police took the student home and beat him or her and then the parent beat the child.   I lived and taught for three years in West Africa, where the approach was pretty similar.   Why then, would a student WANT to be singled out as being different and unable to learn?? 

Another case taught me that lesson all over again-- one of the Sudanese lost boys-- who was assumed to have LD because he was doing so poorly in high school in the Boston area.   One teacher told me he must have LD because he could not understand exponents.   Another said the student could not ever center his work on the computer program they were working on, so he must have LD.  A third told me that he knew the student had LD because he was completely confused by the parts of a cell and the parts of the earth's layers.  This young man had had no prior formal education before being put in 9th grade, but that did not seem to register with his teachers. I worked with him over several years and he told me that he was angry and humiliated that he had been labeled LD because he understood it to mean he could not --or worse , would not-- learn.   In his culture, men can always succeed and achieve and this diagnosis was making him less than a man.  He was devastated and depressed by it and he could not understand why anyone would test to find out if he could learn.  He was determined to learn, and he knew better than anyone that his determination was the real key.     

Finally, after all these lessons and after determining for myself that there is no viable, --dare I say LEGAL-- way to diagnose a non-American born, non-native English speaker using the tools and methods we have in this country, AND after recognizing what I said in the first post-- that there is no special education for ESOL learners anyway, and having learned that telling an ESOL student that he might have something WE call a learning disability can be highly counter-productive,  I have moved away from the disability paradigm altogether.  I prefer to put emphasis on the fact that we STILL have to figure out a way to help this person learn-- after all , a learning disability, if we buy the construct, is NOT retardation.  The person can learn-- just not so well in some areas of learning.    Thus my focus in the last 8 years has been heavily on highly differentiated, personalized, interesting learning instead of focusing on the learning difficulty.   

One more story-- which I reported on in my chapter in Learning to Achieve (Published by CAL)  was about an effort in a Midwestern state to test some 25 students from adult ESOL programs who were failing badly using the current tools and methods.  The effort was a complete failure-- all the students except one were terrified, humiliated and unable to complete the testing in any useful way.  All were students with limited literacy or no literacy and while their oral skills were determined ahead of time to be adequate for the evaluation, the students were unwilling or unable to answer questions in the testing sessions. They had no notion whatsoever of the idea of testing to see if one could learn.   The one student able to navigate the testing had been in this country for many years and was a student at a community college.  He did indeed need accommodation and was pleased to get it.    It was a large lesson in a wrong approach to the problems the other students were having. 

I have worked for years to convince teachers that the LD label and approach are not useful to anyone-- and will not answer the problem the teacher sees-- how to help the student learn.   Moreover, I have learned in great detail that MANY other factors cause students to fail to learn and LOOK LD.   Therefore, what works is first trying to figure out what is REALLY holding up the student and then creating learning situations in which the student can succeed. 

Robin 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

H Dr. Robin,

I was not at all surprised to be totally thrilled by your first major message.  It says so much about you, your experience, and why you are so passionate about this topic.  Our readers have 3 more days to learn from you.

In 2015, all you have to do is read educational resources from England to see that in their terminology, Learning Disability refers to persons with intellectual challenges/developmental disabilities.  They use the term, Dyslexia, when referring to those we call Learning Disabled.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Thank you so much Rochelle for reminding me and others that even among English speakers the terms do not mean the same thing.  I was more than a little led astray years ago when I was researching how other cultures deal with language learners with problems and finally figured out that the British were talking about cognitively challenged people, not at all what we call learning disabilities in the US!!   As I noted in my own post, the word DISability indicates an inability to do something-- and thus the Brits are interpreting it quite literally, while we in the US have worked for DECADES to convince ourselves that we don't mean they can't learn--even if the term means that-- but that they have difficulty learning.   This is the problem in other languages-- it mostly means someone with cognitive challenges.... or worse.  

Robin 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Dr. Robin,

I have been told that in some languages the term Learning Disabilities does not exist.  Would you know if that is true?

Rochelle Kenyon

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Rochelle and all:  As I mentioned in my response to your comment about the British understanding of the term LD, it is not so much that the TERM does not exist, it is that the concept or construct does not exist.  The notion that a person has a learning disability--difficulty learning "normally" -- is pretty much an American idea.  The idea is based on how we frame "normal" learning and intelligence.  We know from the fact that in K-12 the way of identifying a student who may have some kind of special need has been completely changed from referral and testing using intelligence and achievement tests to a long involved process known as Response to Intervention, or RTI, that our own notion of LD is very susceptible to attack and change.   This happened after decades of loud objections by educators and psychologists who focused on the many flaws in the model of testing someone's intelligence and comparing that to what he or she was supposed to have learned in school by giving an achievement test.  If the person was "behind" in any significant way in learning according to his potential to learn, then that was supposed to indicate a  learning disability. 

It doesn't take but about 3 seconds of reflection to realize that someone coming from another culture and education system probably won't have learned the same things American children are taught and not in the same order or with the same importance, so giving that person an achievement test developed on what American children have learned will show nothing accurate in terms of learning.  ( As you can imagine, I have a book-ful of stories about the travesties that have resulted from ELLS being administered these tests --and often then being declared retarded because they scored low on them).   Furthermore, different cultures have different ideas of intelligence, a topic wonderfully addressed by Robert Sternberg in his explorations of intelligence.  He has written interestingly about how wrong it is to assume that our western values of intelligence and wisdom apply to other people from other cultures.  Ceci, a researcher who is, I think, still at Cornell, showed famously how contextualized intelligence can be by demonstrating how different people perform on intelligence tests and how they have highly developed skills in areas of performance they are highly interested in.  Probably his most famous experiment was with men who were experts at trifecta betting but had relatively little education.  When he had PhDs try to do what the bettors did in betting the scholars failed miserably, but when he had the two groups take the standard intelligence tests, the scholars did well and the bettors did poorly.   He did many other similar experiments to demonstrate that we cannot test intelligence without placing the test in the context of the person being tested. 

All this is to say that our idea of learning disabilities does not translate to other cultures, not just to other languages.  Furthermore, as Michael's comment and my reply indicated, in many cultures being different or slow is viewed far more negatively than it is here, so the concept of identifying someone who is not getting school subjects well is unknown.  Even dyslexia, which is supposedly brain-based, varies hugely from culture and language to culture and language.  Enormous amounts of work went into finding ways to identify dyslexia across languages and all pretty much failed miserably as the research indicated that reading difficulties are entirely dependent on the written language the student is attempting to read.    I studied this topic rather extensively in the late 90's and early oughts and was thoroughly convinced that so much is the construct of learning disabilities a western-- American-- construct -- that it is unproductive and even damaging to try to fit an ELL who is not making progress into that paradigm.   In fact, I have taken a strong stand for years that it is unethical in the extreme to test ELLs for LD since there is no way linguistically, culturally, or educationally that a person from another culture can be expected to perform as American-born students do on our tests.  

Instead, I prefer to focus on what I was taught at the Lab School of Washington in my many years working there and training under the brilliant Sally L. Smith.   Sally-- and the Kingsbury Center people who also were part of the founding of the Lab School-- strongly believed that everyone is born with a learning prescription that is unique and that the job of the teacher and learner is to discover what that is and then let the learner get on with learning-- which ALL will do.  Sandra Fradd, who was an ESL specialist in the 80's and 90's , constantly urged teachers to find out what the student comes with and then go from there- and STOP focusing on the weaknesses and deficits.  Thus I focus on finding ways to make sure every student learns and and profits from teaching and being in the instructional setting. 

Robin 

 

 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Dr. Robin,

I appreciate your informative response on "The Term LD."  It speaks to your basic philosophy on educating adults.  My take-away from this matches your quote, "Stop focusing on the weaknesses and deficits."   Rather than concentrating on the medical model of finding things that are not working and then fixing them, you emphasize teaching to students' strengths and abilities.  Would you agree?

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Glenda Rose's picture
One hundred

Dear Robin and all,

Every time I have seen you point out the term DISability, I have to smile.  One of my dogs was born deaf and attends a special training class called TDAWG - Texas Differently-Abled Work Group - that is especially for deaf, blind, deaf-and-blind, and otherwise physically challenged canines.  The animal behaviorist who runs the group refuses to call the dogs "disabled."  They are pretty amazing.  We use scents for the blind dogs and sign language and other visual cues for the deaf dogs.  The focus is on what they CAN do rather than on what they can't.

Maybe it's just because I'm an animal lover, but I can definitely see a correlation for "differently-abled" English language students.  Just to be clear, I am not comparing teaching adults to training dogs.  But, as you pointed out, we do need to find out what the limitations are (and maybe why they are there) and then find a way to work through or around those limitations using the strengths the student already has. 

Peace, 
Glenda

 

PS: Here's a picture of me and Libby during TDAWG.  She's demonstrating her long-stay command. Then the TDAWG logo with "Charlie," who was born blind and deaf, running the agility course (hurdles and dog walk). 

Libby at TDAWG Charlie and TDAWG

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Glenda,

Of course, I adored your message because I am such a pet lover too.  I was not familiar with TDAWG, but I would certainly involve myself if it was located in my local area.

I plan to copy and paste your message in the discussion strand labeled "Dogs and Disabilities" within the Disabilities in Adult Education group for others to benefit.  If you are not a member of the Disabilities group, I encourage you to join and read that entire discussion thread.  I know you will appreciate it.

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon,

 

Michael Cruse's picture
One hundred

Hi, Dr. Robin --

Thank you for the thoughtful post.  Your experience, across countries and continents, speaks to my own here in Washington, DC.  I couldn't agree with you more when you say that "I NEVER --never-- go the route of discussing the idea of disability with ANY student, regardless of background, UNLESS it has to do with their children in the public schools".  The one caveat I would add is, unless they bring it up to me. Then, I'm happy to be a resource, and where possible an advocate, for them to access accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  When I do have these conversations, I actually lead with the ADA - not in detail, but as a general introduction to the system of protections built into the fabric of the U.S. legal system.  I've found that this mention helps de-personalize their disability, and empowers those who need these accommodations to at least learn more about their options.  In the end, that is my goal with any student.  I will say that the students I have had these conversations have almost exclusively been ones with physical, and visible, disabilities.  A few I have suspected also had undiagnosed learning issues, but the springboard for our conversation was their physical disability.

For other students I've suspected of having a cognitively-based disability, I try to take the approach that any good employer would in helping them to maximize their abilities, in an effort to overcome other areas of weakness.  I'm not saying this to them, so much as acting on my observations of their class performance, and feedback from the student.  Another 'silent equalizer', as one colleague calls it, is technology.  With principles of universal design being used more and more, and the ever expanding reach of technology into our lives, I find that I'm regularly learning about new Apps, or online resources to support student learning.  Sometimes it's a matter of trial and error, but I try to serve as a source of those resources for these students, and give them the autonomy to try what suits them, see what works, and forget the rest.  I think this is the best path to independence for many struggling students, with and without disabilities.  In my mind and experience, that's what adult learners are seeking from education, so it's an approach I plan to stay with when addressing the needs of my students.

Again, thank you for sharing your many experiences with the subject, and for leading this important conversation.

Mike 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Thank you so much Michael for reminding us about the need to bring up the ADA-- which I, too, have brought to the attention of students with physical or visual issues.   I used to find that more often I had to bring it up to the school where the student was studying because often the student or student's family did not know about disability rights and the school just ignored them.   

I was also happy that you mentioned technology as one of the equalizers.  That is so true-- and I will be discussing technology a bit more tomorrow and Thursday as per previously asked questions.  

Robin 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Good morning and welcome to our discussion!

Our discussion topic is one that has been requested by our practitioners in the field.  Please take advantage of this opportunity to interact with our three guest speakers, Dr. Robin Lovrien, Lauren Osowski, and Alicia Broggio.  Miriam Burt and I welcome them and thank them for sharing their knowledge with us.

The outline for today's discussion follows:

       I.   Introduction of the topic

           a.     Why we think they have LD?

           b.     Learning Challenges are real –but are NOT LD

           c.     What REALLY has to happen when learners don’t learn?

           d.     What causes ELLS to struggle—brief overview?

           e.     Outline of topics to be covered on remaining days

     II.   Other Speakers

          a.     Comments on struggling learners

          b.     How do you respond to teachers who say they have learners with learning challenges?

 

To our group members, please enjoy this unique learning experience.

Rochelle Kenyon, Subject Matter Expert

Disabilities in Adult Education

 

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

On behalf of the Adult English Language Learners community of practice I would like to add my welcome to our guest speakers and to all members of this community as well as those in the Disabilities in Adult Education community as we embark on this important topic of Helping Adult English Learners who Have Learning Challenges.

I  find myself expeciallly interested in I b above "What REALLY has to happen when learners don't learn," as it seems to me to be the whole point: That the student learns.

I am looking forward to exploring that question today and throughout the week and  look forward to hearing from our experts as they address that question and other issues related to English learners who experience challenges when learning.

Miriam Burt

SME, Adult ELL CoP

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Good morning LINCS Discussion list followers!  First I want to warmly thank Dr.Rochelle Kenyon and Miriam Burt, moderators of the two lists involved in this discussion, for inviting me to be a "guest speaker".  It is always an honor to be asked to lead a discussion for the LINCS groups.  Moreover, it gives me an opportunity to do the work I have been passionate about for years: advocating for learners who struggle to learn by helping their teachers understand better what is going on and how to help these learners more effectively.   I am pleased  to have Alicia and Lauren joining me, both teachers with exceptional talent and desire to do was well as possible in their classrooms and with teachers whom they are asked to coach and mentor.  

Our first topic of today is "Why we think they have LD."   As my credentials and background indicate, while I started out as an EFL teacher in West Africa, I soon became a reading specialist and LD teacher at a large school for learners with learning challenges in Washington, DC.  This work was truly seminal in my work with ELLs with learning challenges.   Over the years since I began to focus on the struggling ELLS in my work in higher ed. ESL, I have learned that we as teachers of adult language learners need to be exceedingly careful in wanting to label or otherwise think of struggling ELLS as persons with LD.  What I have recognized, however, is that as with anything in life, there are always reasons why teachers want to go that route.   Some of the reasons I have compiled from observation, experience, interviews and study are the following:

  • The most prominent reason for thinking a student has LD is that he or she is not making expected progress despite what the TEACHER thinks is appropriate instruction.   This is one of the most basic symptoms of persons with LD, for sure.  However, if you read that sentence carefully, there are two big potholes:  One is "expected progress"-- as we will need to note MANY times this week, our learners have such varied cultural, linguistic and above all educational backgrounds that it is just about impossible to make generalizations about groups of learners.  What IS expected progress?  Is it what we expect of learners of a certain English level and and education and language background?  Is it what we expect of students using a particular book or curriculum?  Is it what we expect will happen from the usual instruction we try?   You can see already that this is swampy territory.   The second pothole in the sentence is the "appropriate instruction."    Despite a GREAT DEAL of research--qualitative and quantitative-- showing that our learners a) have GREATLY varying needs and educational backgrounds, and greatly varying purposes for English, and b) that relevance and personalized learning are by far the most effective approach, teachers still use generic lessons from books about topics learners may have little knowledge of and less interest in.  This can result in disengaged learners, confusion, and lots of other problems.  Or lessons can be either way too hard or way to simple for learners, also resulting in disengagement, confusion and failure. Thus the concept of a student not making expected progress needs to be examined very closely for each individual learner. 
  • Related to the first reason are behaviors such as rarely if ever retaining a lesson or information, not making expected connections or generalizations about learning (never picking up a question pattern or some other pattern),  and other behaviors that stand out as indicating some difficulty.   Again, the learner may not have the background to understand and retain the information, may not be interested, or may be overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in.  I think of a teacher in one of my training groups who reported to us that she had an Afghan student who had never been to school. This woman seemed incapable of learning the alphabet after many weeks of practice in many, many forms.   Finally, after remembering discussions such as this one about keeping learning HIGHLY relevant, the teacher had the student practice with ONLY the letters in her name.  And that was the key.  The student could NOT understand the alphabet as an abstract list, but she understood that the letters made her name. She quickly learned those and moved on to the letters of her children's names and other words important to her.    Another teacher, using commercial ESL materials about a kitchen, was stunned to realize that her students from Burma had no idea how to use any appliances in a kitchen, having only ever cooked over wood fires.   No wonder they were not very responsive to the lesson on a kitchen.  A well-known study, which I cite often, which examined why adult ESOL learners had left their program, showed the same problem-- irrelevant topics.  The students cited a lesson on using the airport-- this was being taught to students who were either refugees or in the US illegally. WHY would they EVER want to use the airport??  So the topic can be wrong, irrelevant, uninteresting or unnecessary for students who desperately need English to function well in the US.  The students in the study did what most adult learners do when faced with something they have no interest in learning: first they tuned out, and then they dropped out. 
  • Still another reason for thinking a student has a learning difficulty is that teachers run out of ideas of how to teach a student who doesn't learn the "usual" way or at the "usual" speed. One of the GREAT difficulties of adult ESOL classes is that the students are highly individual and do not learn at the same pace,  yet the curriculum is presented at a uniform pace and the teacher is likely to move ahead when a few key learners seem to have grasped things.  We KNOW from a lot of research that a) adults learn differently one from the other, and b) adult language learners especially are likely to be highly individual in their learning needs and behaviors.   So if the teacher is not able or prepared to find ways to let the learners who need more time have more time and repetition, then soon those learners will fall behind-- and LOOK learning disabled. 
  • Other reasons for this view is that there may be an unspoken hope that the student can be taken on by someone who knows more about what to do about him or her.    That is pretty much a vain hope in adult education. As I say at EVERY training I do, there IS NO SPECIAL ED in adult education/ESOL.  Even if there WERE a way to diagnose or identify special learning needs, that student is going to be sitting RIGHT in your classroom waiting for you to help him or her find a way into learning.  This hope and belief reflects a real desire by teachers to help the student as well as a feeling that he or she (the teacher) is not going to be the one to do it.   The teacher may feel unqualified, may think there is no way to individualize for one or two students or may feel there is no time (especially for part time teachers) to find out about and plan special learning for one or two students .
  • And finally, since we are not pulling punches here, it is a GREAT inconvenience in many classrooms and programs to have students who do not advance.  It is bad for numbers, bad for morale and bad for retention of students.    Thus finding a reason for the student's lagging can be a way to get some students out of the mix and in different reports and statistics.  This situation is going to become even more acute as the standards movement gets stronger. 

So the bottom line here is to examine the situation more closely and ask yourself why you think there might be a learning problem.    We will be looking at a number of reasons why students fail to learn-- but first we need to examine our own beliefs about learning issues.  

I am going to end this first entry here-- I am going to pose a question to YOU --the audience-- in the next post. 

Robin  

 

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

To address Miriam's query--- here is a brief version of I c from the outline: What REALLY has to happen when learners don't learn.

1--they must NOT be made to feel guilty about not learning

2-- they must not be ignored and put in the back row....

3--you-- the teacher-- need to start finding out more about your student to get at the root of what is holding him or her up. (Hopefully some was done at intake, where it is most useful to have this information..... see the next long post on what this involves)

4--based on what you find out, you respond to the issue if you can, AND you begin finding ways to engage the learner and make learning relevant, accessible, successful and engaging-- for ALL your learners, not just the ones you think are not making progress.  

5-- you adopt a "setting up learners for SUCCESS" attitude-- not ' setting up learners for failure' practices. 

In the next post, I will list and briefly comment on the seven factors I have identified that can--and often do-- keep learners from making progress.   In the interest of not scaring you all away with too much reading,  I will only briefly address the issues.  If you would like me to elaborate on any of them, please ask in a reply to that post. 

Robin   

 

 

 

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

Thank you, Dr. Robin, for reminding us all that a student's failure in class is likely more reflective on the teacher's behavior, attitude, and skill than it is on the student. When teachers tell me that a student isn't learning (we're an adult ESL program), I ask them to clearly describe what they mean by "isn't learning". It never comes down to the student not performing tasks at an expected level. There has always been evidence that the student has learned something, usually vocabulary.

Acknowledging a student's growth in any area builds his/her self-esteem. So the grammar wasn't all that great, but look at that vocabulary! Know what I mean?

I echo what others have said earlier about the challenges of not even venturing into the mindset that a learner has a disability, but to acknowledge that there is some barrier there and provide accommodations and differentiated instruction. All learners in the room will benefit from it and no one is singled out as the "burro," as so many have referred to themselves in my classrooms.

Kat Bradley-Bennett
Longmont, CO

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Kat,

Thanks for joining in on our guest discussion.   I agree with your statement, that a student's failure in class is likely more reflective on the teacher's behavior, attitude, and skill than it is on the student.  I actually used a variation of this thought in training that I presented which resulted in a teacher going on the defensive.   I know that specific teacher wanted very much to learn new skills, but she absolutely denied that her method of teaching could possibly have anything to do with her students' ability to learn.

Has anyone else had this experience?

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Over the last 25 years I have worked very hard to understand why adult language learners--particularly adult ELLS- sometimes fail to thrive in our classes--why they struggle, are confused, do not make expected progress, etc.   Coming first from an LD perspective as an LD specialist, I expected to find that those with learning issues had LD and was eager to develop a screening test of some kind to be able to really sift out the ones who likely had LD.  I had followed the research of a team of psychologists from Ohio who investigated college students who struggled in foreign language classes.  At first they were convinced that LD was at the root of the students' problems-- as I mentioned earlier, the conventional wisdom was that if you had LD in your native language, you would have it in the new language- --or the opposite-- if you did not have LD in your L1, it wouldn't be the cause of problems in your L2.   But after over 25 years of intensive research and analysis of scores of hundreds of students, those researchers changed their view and determined that there was no statistical evidence to support a crossover of LD to a new language and that the language learning problems of their subjects were just that-- language learning problems.     

Also, I began teaching in ADULT ESOL, as opposed to higher education ESL, and learned that the issues of students failing were far more severe and varied than those I had encountered in higher ed. ESOL . That is when I first began looking at EXTERNAL causes of student failure, as well as at some internal--or intrinsic-- causes.   I gradually compiled a list of factors that can cause adult ELLs to fail to learn.   These are ordered by ease of addressing the problem:

1.Vision problems and physical health: An astounding number of adult education students have inadequate vision for reading (see the extensive data from Dr. Laura Weisel).  Similarly, adult ESOL students, for whom eye exams and glasses are often a major luxury, may have significant vision problems.  Getting students' eyes checked should and can be an up-front priority for any adult ESOL program, as it is really unfortunate when a student struggles to read simply because he or she cannot see.   Students who have never had glasses ( as non-literate students may be, having not had a need for close-up acuity in vision) do not even know they cannot see.   I was very proud that at a large program I worked at in DC, vision screening was instituted as a systematic part of intake.  At that school, and in populations I have personally screened, a steady 10% of students needed significant vision correction.  

Similarly, hearing issues are far more common than we like to think.  And again, the students may not self-report because of cultural ideas about disability and what will happen to them if they do self identify, or because they think they can manage anyway.   And again, simple hearing screening takes only a few minutes and in an adult population is a MUST.   (I think of my adult friends here where I live and at my church, and I would estimate one out of five has a hearing loss significant enough to warrant a hearing device of some kind...).  Again Dr. Weisel's data is vast and powerful about how many adult learners have hearing loss-- while not so many may be in adult ESOL, if there is ANY hearing loss, it is working against functioning well in class. 

Physical health issues can also be enough of an issue to interfere with learning,  One such case is described in the articles in Focus on Basics, for which Rochelle has given links in a separate posting.   Students may feel ill, or be suffering from the effects of medications and cannot really focus.  They come to class because they must but cannot learn.

2.  Level of education-- surprisingly, this issue is asked about but may not be fully taken into account in placement or instruction.   The Sudanese student to whom I refer in an earlier post told me that he and his fellows gave interviewers various answers about how much schooling they had had depending on what the interviewer could offer them. That is, if they thought they would be taken as refugees, they gave one answer, but if they thought it didn't matter, they gave a lower estimate.   Like so many people who are refugees or have endured major upheaval in their lives for political reasons or natural disasters, these students didn't really have a way to estimate their level of learning or years in school. How do you count sporadic classes under a tree in the refugee camp?  Other students are known to come from pre-literate cultures and have experienced NO formal education at all.   Still others are highly educated, but speak little English so their level of literacy is ignored in favor of placement in a class for beginning speakers.  In all these cases, the level of education will be a significant factor in whether the student will succeed or fail.   Tomorrow we will limit the discussion almost entirely to students with no prior formal education and how they often seem to have LD.   Here, however, I ask you to be more realistic in evaluating those with more advanced education.  Just two weeks ago, I read a program audit from a large ESOL program in which the auditor noted that the completion level of the more advanced students was WAY below that of the beginning or low intermediate students.   This usually means that the advanced students are not correctly challenged and are, as I said above, placed in classes for beginning speakers, along with those who have no or very low education. Or the materials and topics are not of high interest to them-- or are actually unknown to them.  A study on adult foreign language learners showed that when students did not have any familiarity with the topic they were reading, the usual benefits of strengthened grammar and increased vocabulary were lost.   This is a recipe for disaster-- and for drop outs or disinterest.   The mis-match of education to what is happening in the ESOL classroom is one of the major reasons for students to disengage or fail to learn.    A thorough intake-- with interpreter if at all possible-- can go a long way toward finding out what education students have.  But even that will not guarantee that students from different cultures and countries will have similar educational backgrounds, been exposed to the same instruction or will learn in similar ways. 

3.  Adult language learning issues:   A great weakness in adult ESOL is not taking fully into account how adults NEED to learn languages.  Adults' ability to hear the sounds of a new language is known to diminish sharply as the person matures over age 20- --or even before that.  Some of the great voices of second language acquisition have noted that adults need far more repetition and focus on the most salient aspects of language than younger learners need.   VERY FEW class settings, in my experience and observation-- which is long and deep.....provide for or allow for sufficient repetition and practice for adult learners to actually master language structures and retain and use vocabulary.   Heide Sprucke Wrigley noted a decade ago in "What Works in Adult ESL" that interactive, meaningful activities in classes worked far better for adult language learners than book and paper focused activities.   And a report out of Canada about preparing students for workplace English found that there was almost zero transfer of preparation for the workplace from classroom-based activities, particularly worksheets.   And of course RELEVANCE of topic and learning is paramount to maximum student engagement.  (see earlier posts on this topic).

Furthermore, the long- noted and oft-discussed issue of BICS and CALP-- oral survival language learned quickly and often inaccurately versus language needed for reading and understanding directions, text. and other non-contextualized language-- is real and prominent in adult learners.  I see this EVERYDAY in the 10+ adult ESOL learners I tutor here in Maine.   What they hear and say is far from accurate and what they can read and understand often bears little relationship to what their conversational English is.  Dr. Alba Ortiz of  U Texas, whose work has been my guiding light for decades, has long said that the BICS-CALP gap is probably the greatest reason that ESL learners are suspected of having learning difficulties, particularly reading difficulties.   Teachers need to be fully aware of this gap and what it implies for reading comprehension, writing skills and general literacy skills versus oral skills of students.  

I am going to pause here as I need to go tutor some delightful 11 year-old Spanish speaking girls, whose idea of a terrific class is for me to ALLOW them to read outloud for me-- in English-- a teacher's dream, yes?? Fluency has skyrocketed in about 4 sessions!! --Then we play "instant bingo" with a set of question-and-answer cards designed to give them practice in the past tense forms of the pesky irregular verbs in English- the questions and answers are about them and their families and school.   Trying to practice what I preach about making learning relevant and interactive!  

Robin  

 

 

 

 

alicia broggio's picture
First

I agree with Robin that it is so important not to underestimate the impact of the student's educational background on their "progress" in class. Students with very little formal education face a double challenge: learning English and learning the "culture of school". We must be vigilant not to assume anything when working with low/non literate students with little formal education. These are a few examples of real life situations that have happened in my classes: #1 when asked to write their name where indicated on a page, one student it wrote at the very edge because there was a line there and he didn't want to write on the line", #2 when asked to copy a short 3 sentence dialog, the student didn't not copy the sentences in the order in which they were written rendering the dialog senseless. Sadly, too many times I hear teachers say things to the class like "today we're going to work on the present continuous". To students with little or no knowledge of grammar, this in itself is like a another language. 

 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Alicia,

I welcome you to this discussion.  We greatly appreciate your willingness to share your expertise with us.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

In addition to Alicia's comment about educational backgrounds, we as teachers need to also remember that non-literate students have no connection with the materials we see as standard items used for learning: books, pencils, notebooks, paper, etc.  Holding a pencil is an extremely difficult fine motor skill, let alone learning to take that pencil and create symbols in a pattern.  When I first started teaching this low level, I gave a few new students notepads.  I didn't know they had no prior schooling.  To my surprise, none of the students touched the notepads.  They picked up the pencils and tried to write on the notepad exactly as I had put it on the table in front of them.  Some were upside down, another was at an angle, and another was sideways.  None of the students noticed anything was wrong with them because the idea of having paper in front of them to write on was a new concept.  Similarly, when I handed these students books (they are given out as part of our program), they could not "operate" it.  When I asked them to open to page 33, they flipped one page at a time to try to find the right one. 

As teachers, we need to be mindful of these beginnings for our students.  As Alicia mentioned, learning the language is only half the battle.  For these students, learning the culture of the classroom and how to operate the materials necessary for education are additional challenges.  If students cannot learn the ways and means of the classroom, they cannot be successful with their language learning.  We need to observe the skills students are coming to class with and be prepared to start from zero.

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Lauren,

Welcome to our guest discussion on Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges.  We look forward to learning from your experience.

I was most interested in your comment on "culture of the classroom."  Will you or any of our group members give us more examples of what this culture might entail, please?

Thanks so much for joining us in this interesting discussion.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

Thank you for the kind welcome, Rochelle!

In regards to the culture of the classroom, I am referring to the skills and knowledge that students learn in their first years of school.  These skills are cemented into memory and brought back to the forefront when students return to school as adult learners.  For students who were not exposed to schooling, they lack skills that a teacher might deem "common sense".  These students are often thought to have learning problems, when in fact, it is that they have not learned how to be a student.  This might include things like:

  • Knowing how to hold and flip through a book
  • Correctly copying written information - copying as a picture (exactly as it appears from where they are copying) vs. copying as text (formatting text properly and continuing on the next line where necessary)
  • Knowing when it is OK to speak in class and when to be silent, including making inappropriate or off topic comments
  • Understanding how to interact with classmates, whether it be as a partner, in a small group, or as a class
  • Having the right materials for class (pencil, paper, eraser)
  • Keeping materials organized (i.e. knowing how to put papers in a binder or folder - Are they upside down?  Are they all facing the right direction?  Do all papers need to be saved?)
  • Knowing how to sit in class (Are they facing the board/teacher?)
  • Having the right behavior according to the other students in the classroom (Are they being accepted into the classroom?  Are they doing something different from how other students do it that is causing negative attention?)

All of these situations might cause a teacher to think there is something wrong with the student.  However, the only thing "wrong" is that they have yet to learn how to be students in a classroom.  It is essential to maintain a respectful and comfortable environment for these students to learn all lessons, both English and cultural.  Through teacher and student modeling and persistence, these cultural classroom difficulties can be navigated and conquered.

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Lauren,

While reading your description of "culture of the classroom," I noted similarities between that and skills needed by students with low cognitive levels in exceptional student education,  I found the parallel quite interesting.  

Rochelle Kenyon

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

Lauren, you have presented and excellent example of how incredibly wrong we teachers can be about a student, despite the months or years we've known them! The list you presented is very similar to what Maria Montano Harmon called Scripts for School (as opposed to Scripts for Work.) We take it for granted that our adult ESL learners even know what to copy, let alone getting it down correctly. These skills need to be explicitly taught and reinforced.

We give binders to our students. For many, this is the first binder they've ever owned and it makes them feel like a real student. But, organizing that binder is another matter. I give all of my students one of those colored sticky tape tabs. Every day at the beginning of class, I demonstrate removing the tab from yesterday's paper and putting it on the next page in the notebook, always putting newer material in the back to reinforce left to right orientation. I have rarely had a student who wasn't automatically doing this by the end of the second week. Most come in, take off their jackets, open the binder, and move that sticky tab before class has even begun!

Kat Bradley-Bennett
Longmont, CO

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi again Kat,

In your comment above, We take it for granted that our adult ESL learners even know what to copy, let alone getting it down correctly. These skills need to be explicitly taught and reinforced..." would you consider this method Direct Instruction?  If so, this is one of the most effective instructional strategies for students with learning disabilities.

Lastly, would you explain more about "Scripts for School" please?  It sounds like something we would all benefit from.

Thank you~

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

Rochelle,

Direct Instruction is what I mean by explicitly teaching students classroom skills, such as notebook organization and copying from the board. I love the idea of using different colored white board markers and (again, explicitly) teaching students how to determine what should be copied, what could be copied, and what is not necessary to copy. The point I'm trying to make is that we can't assume students have these skills. We do them a huge disfavor if we don't help them develop these skills from the start.

As a Learning Needs Coordinator in adult education, I have yet to encounter a student with learning difficulties who had the first idea of how to take or organize notes. As a teen, I experienced exactly the same problem they reported to me; I'd write down everything and end up not really listening to the lecture or presentation and my comprehension was compromised.  All of these students had learning barriers and/or difficulties which could be accommodated, but not all had a diagnosed learning disability. They benefited greatly from direct instruction from the teacher or tutor how to take and organize notes in a way that facilitated study and review.

Scripts for Schools refers to language we use (and take for granted) that ELLs maybe don't have. It can be as simple as vocabulary, but it also includes understanding instructions (Egs: Open your books to Page 61. Go to the office. Fill out this form. Practice with your partner. Highlight the verbs. etc.). Basically, it's all the language needed to be successful as a student, which extends beyond the classroom content.

Thanks!

Kat

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

After I posted my description of Scripts for School, I read Robin's entry on ELLs with little to no educational background.  There is this: " It took psychology a while, but the field gradually came to grips with the fact that if you have not been too school and learned how to do "school" things, you would not be able to do well on a test that involved paper and pencil and drawings and words."

Those "school things" she writes about is what is meant by "scripts for school."

Kat

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Kat,

Thank you for the clear answers you provided to my questions about Scripts for School and Direct Instruction.  

Rochelle Kenyon

.

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Continuing with the thread I started this afternoon about why adult ELLs fail, I wanted to add four more factors that cause problems:

3.; Continued-- another adult learning need that is too often ignored is that adults need and want highly relevant material and lessons.  This is especially true for our students who come to find an English class because they need English to retain a job, to get a job, to communicate with a doctor or a child's teacher or some other urgent need. The literature on adult learning is exquisitely clear about this-- the more the learning is relevant, the more engaged the learner is and likely to persist.  Yet, again in that audit I referred to earlier-- done just last fall in a large adult ESOL program in New England,  the auditor watched as generic lessons from ESL text books were taught with no effort to then make the lesson personal for the students.  In the study I cited from Minnesota about why students had dropped out of an adult ESOL program, students reported that though the lessons were well designed and lively, the content was not at all of interest to the students.   The manager of a very large ESOL tutoring program in a city in Maine recently reported that one reason her program had great retention of students was that she worked hard with the tutors to make sure each student's lesson was as completely relevant to what the student said he or she needed as possible.  This usually meant using either pieces of a wide variety of commercial materials or figuring out how to create highly personalized lessons.  In my training on using learning activities (what I call centers), this principle is front and center:  the activities are created with individual students from an individual class in mind.  They are decidedly NOT generic.   Just this evening, I was with three young Puerto Rican men who work in the salmon and lobstering industries here.  They came to study English because they need to speak to their colleagues and managers about their jobs.  We worked tonight on me finding out what their specific jobs were (one's job is taking the spines out of the salmon !!).   In the course of this lesson--only our third together, I also discovered that they do not go to the great restaurant across the street from their apartment for breakfast because they are too shy to try to order.   Can you guess what Wednesday and Thursday's lessons are going to focus on for at least half the time and what I will bring in to do that?   Relevance of content can be one of the great keys to success-- and the opposite is also true. 

4.  Another language issue:  First language interference is significant.   It is clearly documented in second/other language acquisition literature that the further a language is from English in terms of phonology (the sound system) grammar, word order, word use and meaning, and of course writing system, other features, the harder it is for a student to suppress the features and interference of his or her first/native language when learning English.  An example would be if a student's language has prepositions or articles, then the student is more likely to use them in English, even if incorrectly, whereas a student whose first language lacks these elements will have a hard time using them in English at all.   Added to this are the challenges that older learners face in hearing new language sounds correctly and getting the brain to translate that to sound gestures (speaking).  Robert De Keyser, in his challenging work on how second language learners acquire grammar, proposed that the older the learner, the more likely he or she was to focus on salient features of language-- the most important parts for conveying the language and the less they pay attention to prepositions and other words that do not carry the main meaning. This can result in what  used to be called derisively : Tarzan English:  speaking in nouns and uninflected verbs:  and mixing up pronouns:  me buy shoes.  Me not like shoes.   (fairly exaggerated, but if you are an ESL teacher, you know what this sounds like...).  Acknowledging the need for unseemly amounts of repetition, De Keyser says that for many adults to learn "correct" grammar and use complex structures more readily, the learners have to be helped to focus on those features with targeted repetition and practice.   A researcher at the University of Washington who studies how babies and adults learn language also says that adult language learners need MASSIVE amounts of repetition in order for the brain to establish an archetype of sound that it can recognize.  Thus if your learners do not appear to profit from correction, do not self correct, complete but do not use the grammar lessons and never notice features you have taught, it can be because of interference from the first language that is preventing them from even hearing or noticing the feature you are trying to get them to learn.  These are the "fossilized" learners-- some of the most frustrating for language teachers.  Since it appears they are not profiting from instruction and often are not making progress in applying lessons that are then tested, they seem to fit the LD profile. 

5. Another significant factor in learning is culture.  This topic could warrant entire books of writing, and needless to say I have dozens of stories about how culture interferes with learning.  My take is that cultural conditioning causes many learners to not be able to profit from instruction because what they are experiencing does not at all match what they expect and want according to their culture.  My most vivid example of this is the student from Africa who finally burst out one day in her GED class in Texas, " You GED teachers are SO STUPID!  You do not even know what you want us to learn!  In my country, the teacher tells us exactly what to learn and then we are tested on that.  You just tell us to study something and then we do not know what will be tested on!"   This is so painful to think about.  This student had no doubt excelled at memorizing passages her teachers gave her in her country and then could write them perfectly.  I taught this method when I was in West Africa, though every fiber of my body objected that this was NOT learning as WE know it in North America!!  Students who come from this tradition are often completely puzzled--as was this student-- by the notion of "study";  they don't know what it means to "study" if it doesn't mean "memorize."  I will never forget the row of older East Africans in one of my community college ESL writing classes.   They had done  poorly on a quiz and I realized that they had thought they could memorize answers but there were no answers to memorize.  I said in class as we were going through the test, "Who thinks they need to memorize the answers to do this test?"  They all raised their hands.  When I said they could NOT memorize because their answers would be personal, they all were stunned!!  Students can be offended when you ask them what they want to learn or ask them to set learning goals.  As one student told his teacher, " That is  YOUR job to tell us what to learn!"  Many students are completely baffled by the way their teachers treat them as peers or are very informal in the classroom.  Others get nervous when the teacher does not go through a text book from page one to the end in exact order.  Students from highly authoritarian cultures expect to be punished or humiliated when they make an error and some are even disappointed that the teacher does not care enough to call out a student for not doing his or her work correctly or for making an error in class.   These are real obstacles and students cannot just put aside their lifetime of cultural training in how school will be to accept what is happening in their classrooms.   It is helpful to have conversations on a regular basis about what is happening, what students expect, why you are doing things, and how what you are doing differs from what they expect-- or want.   Culture can interfere in many different ways, not just in how the classroom is run.   It pays to keep asking yourself and the students what could be different in their experience and their expectations. 

6.  Phonological processing skills are weak-- Phonological skills are the nuts and bolts of listening comprehension and reading and spelling.  In English, a competent reader has a high level of phonemic awareness--- an awareness of and ability to manipulate phonemes in words.  Good readers have a strong sense of onset/rime-- which is chunking words by beginning and ending parts -- c/at;  pl/ay   str/ipe  etc. and as a result, have a very strong sense of rhyme and can hear and produce rhyme readily.   Phonological processing skills develop over a long period of time in English speakers-- they are never fully finished in fact, while in other languages that are much simpler in the degree to which the writing system matches the spoken system, phonological skills are acquired early and fast.   Also, languages differ enormously as to how much phonological awareness is demanded as literacy skills develop.  In languages that are syllabic, not so much attention is needed for phonemes except at the beginning of words, for example.  Phonological skills transfer at the macro level (an awareness that the sound system governs meaning) but often do not transfer at the phoneme level for various reasons, the most common being that the student's first language has less phonological demand than English does ( E.g. Spanish-- in which every letter is pronounced.  Spanish speakers have a high degree of phonemic awareness--but do not have awareness of the feature of English that a word can have only two phonemes but have many letters: Sigh).  Since phonological awareness is critical for good reading in English, if an ESL student does not have it-- or have the awareness that he or she needs to learn the sound system of English because it is different from that of his first language--then reading problems can develop and listening comprehension may stay low.   This this problem can exist as a result of first language influence, or it can be the result of the student not hearing English accurately and therefore constructing words and spellings in his mind that are not correct in English (Was that "cup or cop?"), or it can result from having a low education and the student not having the metacognitive skills to compare what is happening in English to what happens in his or her language.   This is one of the huge differences that can be encountered in adult ESOL with low educated students that is far less likely, in my long experience, to occur with well-educated students in higher ed ESL.   Teaching phonics does not by itself address the problem.  The student needs to learn about LANGUAGE as a thing to be studied--something low educated students have often never addressed-- and learn to compare first language to the new language.   In fact, years ago when many efforts were being made in colleges to help those who could not learn a foreign language,  one prominent university in the Boston area had a class that did just that-- students learned how languages work, what their elements are, how sound creates meaning and how meaning is translated to the written language.  Students who were failing foreign language classes could take this class and were often helped by learning ABOUT languages rather than just attempting--and repeatedly failing -- to learn a language itself. 

7.  Though this is the last, it is one of the most important factors that I discovered-- but was not the first to name-- in causes for ELLs'  learning problems.  This last factor is " pedagogically induced learning problems"-- or problems created by the teacher, the materials, the curriculum, the school system, the educational model the student has encountered etc.   When students with no prior formal education are thrown in with students who are literate and learning comfortably, the non-literate are likely to do badly---and when compared to the literate students, will inevitably SEEM to have a learning disability.   This is an example of a pedagogically induced learning problem:  the needs of the students are ignored for bureaucratic reasons and the students fail to learn and then are blamed for not learning.  When students are tested with a test for English speakers even though the ELLs have not had enough time to become competent readers in English and are then presumed to have reading difficulties, that is a pedagogically induced learning problem.   When students' hearing and vision are not checked, and a student is considered to need special instruction in phonics but does not profit from it because she is, in fact, profoundly deaf, and then is presumed to have LD (see one of my articles in Focus on Basics), that is a pedagogically induced learning problem.  When all of the six other factors are ignored and students do not do well in class, that is a pedagogically induced problem-- one that could be avoided by screening, interviewing, careful teaching .   Dr. Alba Ortiz ,of U Texas-Austin, was the one who gave these problems this name-- I call them PILPS for short.   She noticed this issue in the 1970's as she was horrified at how many ELLs were being referred to special education.   Paying attention to LOTS of things is required to prevent students from being victims in the education setting.  As I have said VERY often, I think teaching adult ESOL is the BEST job in the world-- and the hardest. 

More tomorrow-- be sure to post questions or comments on today's posting -- I will keep answering all postings all week and beyond. 

Robin 

 

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

Robin,

Several years ago, I attended one of your sessions at the NASLN conference in Denver. You related an incident in which a student was sent to you as having a learning disability when all that was wrong was that she was profoundly deaf in one ear! That story has stuck with me all these years as a reminder that there is always so much going on in our students' lives and if we don't engage with them, instead of pigeon holing them, they'll vote with their feet.

I wanted to offer a resource for vision services, albeit limited. Lens Crafters has a program called Gift of Sight (called One Sight in some areas). They will provide a free eye exam and glasses to a student who a) is low income, b) has not had an eye exam in the past year, and c) has no health insurance that covers vision. It's not a full-blown eye exam, so things like retinal issues or cataracts are not addressed. But, for many students, it might be the first pair of prescription glasses they've ever had! We had to provide proof of our 501.c.3 status and guarantee that we would pre-screen students before arranging for them to get an appointment. Usually, we could refer 1-2 students per month, but that varies from year to year.

What about hearing resources? I've contacted service organizations here in town and the ones that provide any assistance for hearing issues either only serve children or they require proof of residency or citizenship. Does anyone know of any good, reliable resources for adult immigrants who have hearing problems?

Kat Bradley-Bennett
Longmont

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Kat,

Teachers have told me how difficult it was for them to get adult students vision and hearing tested as part of a thorough LD screening process.  You have asked a good question.  Finding free or inexpensive resources would be invaluable for the field.  I know that ABLE in Ohio had a statewide project to do just that.  Does anyone have more information on this?

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Kat-- thank you VERY MUCH for remembering the NAASLN conference and the session on struggling learners.  The story about that learner is in one of the Focus on Basics issues to which Rochelle has provided links.   That case was one of several that confirmed strongly the necessity for a good intake screening and needs assessment, which I will address in a separate post.

I just wanted to add here that Dr. Laura Weisel of Powerpath has excellent, professionally-developed equipment for screening adult learners for basic hearing and visual capabilities.    The equipment is rather expensive, but if you have any adult ed programs near you that use Powerpath and have purchased Laura's equipment, you might be able to make arrangements to use the equipment once a month or to send learners to that program for screening.  The screening takes about 10 minutes TOTAL and is highly accurate. 

I know all too well that one of the reasons adult ELLS often lack glasses is that eye exams are considered expensive and the persons also think they can manage without glasses.  It was great to learn about the eye exams offered by Lens Crafters.  That is a very nice service, though it is unfortunate they do not check for cataracts etc. (I say that because one time when I was teaching at American University and beginning my work on behalf of struggling ESL students, I referred 35 students in one semester for eye exams, and of those one had eye disease, one had an infection and one had incurable damage to one eye.   That was just ONE semester.....   I was fortunate for a number of years in the DC area to be able to refer students to a behavioral optometrist, who does a more thorough exam of eye functions, such as tracking and binocularity (how well the two eyes function together).  Because I referred so many students, the doctors agreed to screen the occasional needy student for free.   Remember also that I mentioned in an earlier post that a large school I worked at in DC fairly recently for adult immigrants agreed to institute routine vision and hearing checks as part of the intake process.  As I have always found, 10% of any incoming group was identified with hearing problems and slightly more with vision problems significant enough to interfere with learning. 

I do want to mention that if an eye exam and prescription can be obtained, it is amazingly inexpensive to get glasses online these days.  A number of sites sell them.   I order all my glasses online and save astonishing amounts of money-- so much so that I can have different pairs of glasses for different occasions!   By inexpensive I mean $34 for a complete pair of glasses with progressive lenses.  The last time I bought those at an optometry center, they cost almost $300.  

One other cheap and easy help for students who don't see well enough to read comfortably are reading glasses available at Family Dollar and most drugstores and other places. These glasses magnify and come in various strengths-- and in various-- and often amusing- styles and colors.    Following the example of one of my teacher trainees, I started keeping a basket of those glasses on the table at my drop-in program.  They were EXTREMELY popular-- one older gentleman simply adopted one pair for himself!    Many of the persons I work with are very shy about going to any doctor because they cannot communicate easily, though the migrant workers are fortunate to have excellent health care through Maine Migrant Health.   This includes some vision care.  

I have often suggested that adult ESOL programs might try to create a relationship with a community clinic of some kind or some other health facility to arrange to have students' basic hearing checked.  It obviously would not be a flood of people and could mean a world of difference for a few.  Also, there are reasonably inexpensive hearing boosting devices available that could be used by students while at school. 

My attitude is that if a program and teachers are committed to this extremely important aspect of adult ESOL, they can find a way to make the screenings and prescriptions and devices happen.  

Robin 

Glenda Rose's picture
One hundred

This post reminded me of something.  I always kept 3 or 4 pairs of cheapo reading glasses (different strengths) in my classroom for those students who "forgot" their glasses.  They were used almost daily.  

Peace,

Glenda

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Glenda,

Those glasses can be lifesavers, can't they~  

In a training on instructional strategies that a colleague and I delivered, we demonstrated how our  "emergency kits" could address many of the problems that plagued our students.  One lucky attendee was able to keep the demo.  Along with inexpensive pairs of the glasses you mentioned, we included post it notes, stress relievers (squeeze balls) and other tactile enhancers, highlighters, overhead transparencies, pencil/pen holders, lined and unlined note cards, ear plugs, modeling clay, a clip-on light, E-Z Reader Strips, a small calculator, and an assortment of other handy, useful tools.  Lists were provided to all the attendees of the contents of the kit and where they could be purchased.

Have any of our group members used these tools with students?

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Glenda Rose's picture
One hundred

Most of these items were added to my classroom over the years in response to student needs.  I use Play-Doh instead of stress balls.  It works just as well and can also be used for other purposes.  I often offer a ball of Play-Doh to students who are taking their oral proficiency tests.  I haven't done an official statistical analysis, but anecdotally, they always do better when they have something to do with their hands. 

Students are also "colored flag" happy!  The test for me as an instructor there is helping them to determine what to flag (or highlight, for that matter) so that the visual cues are actually useful.

The kit idea is very interesting - something I could pass along to teachers in PD workshops.  Can you attach the list of items?  I'd appreciate it!

Happy Monday!

Glenda

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Robin,

You have included such easy, practical ideas for teachers to help their students function more effectively in class,  Eliminating their barriers, whatever those barriers might be, can prove to be the gateway to success.

Thanks for your practical solutions.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Sheila Weston's picture
First

A big ongoing challenge for many EL educators, certainly including me, is accommodating the special learning challenges which some of our World English speakers face. WE speakers come from countries where English is the official language of government, commerce, and education, but speakers may use so-called "Pidgin" English or Creole and/or communicate in a different language in the home. Many West African students, for example, are considered WE speakers. Many WE speakers have much stronger oral skills than literacy skills; therefore, they may not truly fit into a traditional ESOL class.  While WE students may have relatively stronger oral communication abilities, their literacy skills often lag far behind. I usually do word study activities with all my beginner students, and for many WE students, "hearing," understanding, and applying sound/symbol correspondence seems to be a big challenge -- even though these students speak English. Many of these students have had limited education in their home countries due to civil war, poverty, lack of school facilities, etc., which obviously is a big factor in their success in adult ed. In addition, research on WE students from Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Liberia (de Kleine, 2006) shows that these students produce systematic grammatical errors which can be traced to their use of "Pidgin" or Creole in their home countries (note that my use of the word "errors" is based on expectations of Standard American English usage). In a busy classroom setting, the teacher often does not have the time or opportunity to help WE learners one-on-one. Are there any tips for helping these students succeed?

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Sheila-- the student who speaks a variation on our English is certainly a challenging kind of student to have in class- in my experience they are not too happy about being in an ESL class when they consider themselves English speakers.  As you point out, their pronunciation and grammatical constructions vary significantly from what US ears or even British ears are accustomed to hearing.  

I am firmly in the camp of linguists who insist that the language people speak among themselves is itself adequate and "correct" -- World Englishes, in my mind, cannot and should not be compared to US English in terms of "correctness" and I can imagine that the speakers are much distressed by having their speaking patterns called incorrect.  Here in Downeast Maine, the purest Downeasters use a variation of grammar that is non-standard-- the only past tense form of IS   is WERE-- She were, he were, I were,  etc.    as in " She were wicked windy out there today."   or " He were fishing all last week and didn't get hardly a thing."   This is not incorrect English-- it is the dialect these people speak among themselves.   

The truth of the matter is that what these speakers of dialects and World Englishes need to know is that to compete and be successful in academic and some other situations, they will need to learn US standard English for writing-- and I have encountered a Jamaican who had severe reading problems.  As she was learning to read her reading comprehension was pretty significantly impacted by the fact that what she was reading did not match how she spoke.   She had to learn the 'alternative' version of grammar and word choice to understand her stories.  

The sound symbol issue is common where English is not pronounced as standard English is pronounced and taught.  I often wonder how children in New England write  the words where the   R has been subsumed-- as in Pahk ya cah in Hahvad yahd.  That is no joke.   And there are many such strong accents around the US. ( Here in Maine we use it as a joke-- lobster chowder is often written as "Lobstah chowdah" on signs....) 

When I have encountered this issue, I have told the speaker what I said above-- in school and for reading and writing purposes-- except creative writing-- they will get along better if they learn and use standard spellings and textbook grammar, but it is NOT asking them to REPLACE their language with more conventional versions--rather, just as a foreign language learner does, they are learning an additional language-- and they will learn to code switch when it is appropriate.  

It is extremely important, in my view, NOT to stigmatize these students as having "learning problems"-- as I noted, the learning problem they are most likely struggling with is why they are being asked to learn English. 

Robin 

 

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

At my school, students' placements are dictated more by their oral skills than by their written.  Thus, we end up with students in a higher level where they can follow the verbal lesson easily, but have trouble keeping up with the writing and reading.  I currently have two of these students in one of my classes.  Here are a few things that have been successful with them and helped advance their literacy skills:

  • They are so eager to learn that they try to copy everything I write on the board.  Of course, this makes them fall behind because they can't write quickly.  I devised a color system with them.  When I write on the board in black, they know that they should copy it.  When I write in blue, it is optional.  I will leave it on the board and they can copy it if they have time, and they know it won't get erased.  When I write in red, they know that it is not essential for them to write it down.  For the other students in the class who can differentiate the information on their own, they make their own choices about what to copy and don't know the "secret color code", which also allows the ladies to save face.  No one else know that they are getting that extra guidance.
  • I believe that in any class, no student should feel bored nor rushed.  I make sure to have English distractions at each table, small activities that students can work on during down time.  This way, when the higher students finish the exercise, they can grab an activity (matching, spelling, reading, etc.) while the lower students have time to finish.  No one is missing new information, and everyone is getting all the practice time they need.  If the lower students want to do the activities as well, depending on what it is, they can use it before class or take it home with them.
  • My class loves dictation!  However, it is very challenging for a couple students.  If we do a pair dictation, I put the low students together.  They will actually dictate each letter of each word to each other and have a blast helping each other get it right.  In the beginning of the year, I give them fewer sentences to work on together (but give them all the sentences to take home).  As the year progresses, they notice that they get faster and faster and are able to handle more sentences.  If we do the dictation as a class, I will casually put a copy of the sentences I am reading on the table next to them.  I will point to what I am saying as I go, and they can listen and see it then copy the sentences onto their paper.  Also, the class usually remains unaware of the fact that they are looking at the sentences (they are too busy writing their own!), which again allows the ladies to save face.

Hope some of these ideas are useful for your WE students!

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Sheila,

Thanks for joining in on this discussion with your fascinating message.  Can you tell us something about where you work and about the class you teach now or have taught in the past.  World English is a new term for me and I want to make sure our Disabilities group members understand it as well.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello all,

We had the most wonderful start to our guest discussion yesterday.  So much valuable information was imparted by our three guest speakers.  They covered topics from their outline and more including:

Struggling Learners: Why do you think they should be diagnosed?

Talking About Disability with Students from Different Cultures

Disability Terminology

Why We Think They Have LD

What Really Has to Happen When Learners Don't Learn

The Impact of Students' Educational Background on Their Progress in Class   

The Culture of School

World English and Learning Challenges

The Challenge of Educational Materials Used in the Classroom

Good Oral Skills and Low Literacy Skills

What Causes Adult ELLs to Struggle in Learning:

        1.  Vision problems and physical health

        2,  Level of education

        3.  Adult language learning issues

        4.  The need for highly relevant material and lessons

        5,   First language interference

        6.  Their culture 

        7.   Weak phonological processing skills

        8,   Pedagogically induced learning problems 

 

 

Were you able to access and read the selected pre-reading materials?  Do you have any take-aways from what you have read?  

 

Lastly, please don't forget Dr. Lovrien's question to you:

Why would you as a teacher want a student to be diagnosed with a learning difficulty?  What do you think would happen and how would that happen?

You can post your responses at any time.

So, welcome to Day 2 of this interesting discussion!
 
Rochelle Kenyon, SME
 
 
 
 
Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Hello all-- I was delighted that Alicia and Lauren chimed in yesterday not only with examples of how non-literate learners are completely new to the culture of the classroom but also of how to help the slower and lower-skilled ones function in a multi-level setting. 

I term this group of learners the ones with "REAL special needs."  Here is where we really have to look at ourselves and our beliefs about learning to see how the notion of LD does NOT apply to these learners.   Since LD is intended to explain why a learner is not making normal progress in school, it is irrelevant to try to explain a non-literate person's struggles with the culture of school as LD-- they have never dealt with the written word before, nor struggled with what to us are simple routines of opening a book and finding a line to write on. 

As I began to examine teachers' claims that their students must have LD because they weren't learning, I saw that many of the students in question had little or no prior formal education before they appeared in the ESOL classroom in which they then struggled.    I began to examine this population much more closely.  I went to research of neuroscience and the brain and to research by psychologists who were attempting to determine if non-literate persons in places such as Mexico or Brazil had normal intelligence.  It took psychology a while, but the field gradually came to grips with the fact that if you have not been too school and learned how to do "school" things, you would not be able to do well on a test that involved paper and pencil and drawings and words.   As this realization dawned, researchers began to look far more closely at what was going on. 

For one thing, as LD expert and researcher Feggy Ostroski-Solis stated after many studies,  "School is a culture like other cultures."  We know the brain is shaped by the culture in which one grows up, and in the same way, school shapes the brain and the acquisition of knowledge and skills in it.  Therefore, concluded Ostroski-Solis, if a person hasn't been to school, he or she will do poorly on tasks that require school training-- as Alicia said-- even holding a pencil or figuring out what "the top" means on a piece of blank paper.   In our culture, children are exposed to school-type skills and literacy from the earliest ages.  They already know how to turn pages when they are small babies, and when children enter school they understand about finding things in books, putting your name at the top of the paper, etc. 

Persons who have NEVER been to school do not have that training and understanding of school procedures.   In an earlier post I mentioned a very unfortunate attempt in the mid-west to test some adult ELLs who were suspected of having learning problems.  I mentioned that most of them were previously non-literate and had struggled to make progress in their programs.  One of the behaviors reported by the testers was that the students being tested had no idea in which direction the test items were to be answered.  The same problem happened with the Sudanese young man I wrote about earlier-- when he was tested to find out if he had LD,  the tester reported that the student attempted to answer by working vertically instead of horizontally.  Again, this young man had had no real formal school before he got to high school and two years in high school had not yet convinced him of the primacy of horizontal questions.  

So lack of knowledge of school cultures and procedures and vocabulary and behaviors can be a HUGE reason why non-literate students may not do well in typical ESOL classes.  

Another closely related reason is culture-- a teacher in Wisconsin working with groups of pre-literate students finally conceded to the reality that these students preferred to work in groups and not alone.  The concept working alone and "doing your best"  did not exist for them. They wanted to help each other learn and make sense of the lessons.   Students who are confined to a desk by him or herself and not allowed to interact with others from the same culture may feel totally alienated and frightened by the classroom.   Similarly, a volunteer group in Denver conceded to non-literate Somali women's desire to sit on the floor to have class.  They had never sat in chairs to do anything formal and were highly intimidated and uncomfortable doing so for class.   This group of women, by the way, had been deemed " unteachable" by several social service agencies and volunteer education groups.   The volunteers who went to the women's homes, sat on the floor with them, encouraged them to discuss new words and ideas in their own language together, and above all, focused on what the women wanted to learn-- how to say the names of the pieces of clothing their children were wearing, which differed significantly from what the women were wearing- had enormous success with them and found them highly teachable, albeit at a pretty slow pace.

And this brings me to another factor that disenfanchises these students:  They are usually compared on tests and in book learning to literate students.  Of course they are going to look "disabled"!!  If a literate student can manage to answer a whole page of questions and talk about pictures, and a pre-literate student cannot because she has no idea what she is looking at, the outcome is understandable.   So I urge teachers NOT to use the same measurements of learning for the literate and the pre-literate or non-literate ( By the way--these terms were developed at the Center for Applied Linguistics-- preliterate referring to cultures with no tradition of literacy, such as the Karen or the Somali Bantu,  non-literate referring to people from literate cultures who never went to school.  the term illiterate, which is highly negative, can refer to a person who did not acquire literacy sufficiently or "on time"; ).  

Another factor influencing non/preliterate learners learning is their phonemic awareness.  I discussed this issue a bit in the long post on factors that cause ELLs to struggle in learning. Phonemic awareness refers to knowledge of sounds in words and is the foundation of reading and writing and listening comprehension.   Studies on preliterate or non-literate adults show that they typically have phonemic awareness similar to that of the 3-year old in our culture.  Furthermore, having never learned the concept of "language"--something that can be studies and dissected, as it were, the non-literate do not think of the phonological properties of words; rather they think about the meaning of words. So a famous experiment in Holland, where a great deal of research is being done on the non-literate, showed that when nonliterate students were asked --orally-- which word was longer-- car or bicycle-- they answered car-- because a car is longer than a bicycle.   So the idea of "phonics" -- letters that are supposed to represent something and then the letters having sounds as well-- is very difficult for many to grasp.  Teaching phonics before learners understand the concept of "language" is, in my view, the best example in our day of putting the cart before the horse.....  Children in our culture are extremely verbal before they really tackle the concept of phonics, yet non-literate learners are often faced with letters and phonics in their first week in the classroom, despite the fact that they hardly speak the language whose phonics they are trying to grapple with.

The concept of language as a thing, and harder still the concept that letters and words convey meaning, is conveyed well in the title of the study from Minneapolis entitled, "Teacher, the letters speak!"---  it is exactly that breakthrough that must happen for REAL literacy to begin to develop.  Our children know from infancy that the words on the page are a story and that the pictures and words in books go together. Again, the non-literate have never had the opportunity to learn that basic lesson.    One teacher I heard once explaining how she taught non-literate students "to read"  asserted that if you just had them repeat the words often enough, they would know them.   This is true for parrots, too, is it not??

The final obstacle that is huge for the non-literate is perceiving two-dimensional information on the page.  I need to leave now to go to some meetings.  I will complete that part of the discussion later in the day.

Perhaps Alicia and Lauren have more things to say about working with the non-literate and how much has to happen before they begin to function as other students do.

Robin 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

Thank you, Robin, Alicia, and Lauren, for sharing your expertise and experience so generously.

I would like to pick up a bit and expand on what Robin talks about when she talks about the teacher in Wisconsin. That teacher/researcher was Dr. Helaine Marshall, who, supported by a grant from the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL), looked at how adult Hmong learners in Wisconsin experienced success in learning English and how they didn’t. From this project, Helaine developed the Mutually Adaptive Learning Paradigm (MALP), a framework for marrying the learners’ preferred ways of learning with the expectations and requirements of western education. On the website that discusses MALP and the services and resources Helaine and her colleague, Dr. Andrea DeCapua, describe the framework:

"This new framework was then be implemented using three strategies: (1) Hmong students’ conditions for learning, namely, a relationship and immediate relevance, are accepted and maintained; (2) traditional Hmong learning processes, including cooperation and oral transmission, are gradually combined with formal educational processes, individual achievement and the use of the written word; and (3) activities for learning are initially confined to practice, slowly yielding to analysis of familiar material and finally, analysis of unfamiliar material http://malpeducation.com/resources/articles/#earlyDev"

I wonder if some teachers who use the MALP framework in their instruction would be willing to weigh in here on their experiences with MALP?

Thanks.

Miriam Burt

SME, Adult ELL Cop

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

YAY Miriam for posting this information about MALP and Helaine Marshall and Andrea DeCapua!!    I  was really digging around in my memory for who it was had done that ( and my my   This could NOT be more timely and helpful.   I do hope someone has had experience with it.  It always seemed to me to be one of the more reality-based useful approaches to the Hmong of any that I have seen.     It is wonderful to have the link, too.   Robin 

nanfrydland's picture
Ten

After being trained by Dr. Helaine Marshall at Long Island University while working on my master's in TESOL, I implemented MALP as an action research project at a local community center where the learners were mostly low-literacy Guatemalan day laborers.  Having worked with this population at another community center, I knew that I needed to change my instruction delivery to be successful. What I learned from MALP (and there's a teacher's checklist on the website (and in the books) that makes it easy to identify if you're being consistent with the model), is (1) how to help learners overcome cultural dissonance by establishing interconnectedness (with me and each other) and creating immediate relevance (in the curriculum), (2) combining shared responsibility and oral transmission as students' familiar learning processes, and (3) engaging learners with projects that formed the foundation for acquiring academic tasks. In my context, I used scrolls---big pieces of Kraft paper taped to a blackboard---and made charts that were filled with the subject matter relevant to learners, that they transmitted to me orally and I wrote and they copied and I took home and typed up and brought back instead of using textbooks they couldn't relate to. We started with Name, Job, Languages, Home Country, Family. Eventually, we got to questions and answers about work and engaged in critical thinking (because we know about the funds of knowledge adults bring to the table) and in the end theme booklets and typed up pages with the text the learners had created became treasured and useful possessions. Men who had never raised their hands in a classroom before learned to do that and began to have fun! Instead of being the sage on the stage I began to be the guide on the side as these adults worked to make their own "scrolls" in pairs or small groups. Creating a fertile space within which they could ask questions and talk about controversial subjects, we became deeply connected. I have also used this method to a lesser extent with struggling Saudis in college IEPs and international students in writing classes. MALP can be used with most any curriculum, in content-based classes (colleagues reported on these), and in public schools or adult ed.  As you can tell, I'm a convert. 

Nan Frydland

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Nan,

I enjoyed your post.  There is nothing better than hearing from a "convert" who is willing to pass learning on to newbies.  

I haven't heard the term "sage on a stage" in a long time, but it is so relevant in this discussion.  Whether one is teaching students with cognitive or neurological impairments or those who are not native English language learners, simply lecturing them could never be the right approach.  All the speakers we have already heard from as well as those group members that posted confirmed that a hands-on, direct approach is best.  

Thanks for your contributions to this discussion.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Dr. Robin,

What resonated most with me about your informative message is the mental picture you create for each student you highlight.  

Your comment about parrots rings true.  For my African Grey parrot, she learned most words spoken in the house.  She never needed anyone to speak directly in front of her.  The fascinating thing is she learned the words using the voice of the speaker.  For common words that I said, her voice was distinctly female like mine, whereas she had a more identifiable masculine voice for words associated with my husband's lower and deeper voice. Visitors would look around our house for unseen people who might have been talking rather than believe me that my bird was speaking!

Rochelle Kenyon

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi group members,

Below is the content outline for Day 2 of our guest discussion.  The speakers will return later on in the day.  Please use this time to post questions, comments, or responses to Dr. Robin Lovrien's question from yesterday.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

I.   They ARE different—what these learners lack

       a.     Brain differences due to no literacy

       b.     Fundamental understanding of what text is and what it is for

       c.     Experience in the classroom

       d.     Experience as a learner—don’t really know HOW they learn

       e.     Cannot learn from books initially

 

II    All:  How they are the SAME as other learners

      a.      Adults

      b.      Need dignity protected

      c.      Need tremendous amounts of repetition to master material

      d.      Need to relate to material very strongly

      e.      Need evidence of learning

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Hi all-- I have had an unexpectedly busy day and have not gotten to all the items on the outline yet.  I promise I will do so later this evening!   I hope Alicia and Lauren can speak to some of the items in the second part of the outline.    Lauren has already spoken to some of them.    Robin 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

As I read through all the wonderful information posted by Dr. Robin, here are just a few things that came to mind.  I wanted to add these thoughts to the discussion of teaching non-literate English learners:

  • There is a new student at our school from Congo.  She has no literacy skills and has never been to school in her life (she is about 50 years old).  Although she had no schooling, it is very clear that she was a woman of status in her country.  She carries herself in such a way, proudly walking down the hall to class, that she instantly commands respect.  As she has begun class, it is abundantly clear that she does not like (and is not used to) being at the bottom of the totem pole.  She gets frustrated easily and does not like interacting with the teachers who are trying to help her.  While it is important to remember that all our adult students deserve our respect, she is a reminder that learning cannot occur until she feels comfortable with the interaction between teacher and student.  While trying to teach her to write her name, I was cautious with how I approached her.  I sat next to her rather than standing, to make our physical space even.  Before offering my assistance or beginning any task with her, like holding her hand as she wrote to show her the movements, I asked for permission ("OK?") and waited for her approval.  Because she has control over her learning and I am merely playing a supportive role, she has responded extremely well.
  • When working with non-literate students, it is important to break things down into the smallest pieces possible.  Why do we rush to teach a student the alphabet?  Start with just the letters in their first name.  Once they have mastered those, move on to the last name.  Take small bites out of learning.  Figure out what the "need to know" information is and start with the most urgent.  Also, when students need to know the information and it is of high interest to them, they will use it and remember it.
  • When approaching the alphabet, incorporate all possible senses.  Have you ever tried to use your finger to write a letter on a friend's back?  Do they guess the correct letter?  This is because the shape of the letter is ingrained in your mind.  You can actually feel the letter.  Have students practice in a similar way.  Not all alphabet practice has to include a pencil and paper.  Students can practice using their fingers on a variety of surfaces and textures, using magnetic letters or scrabble tiles, or using craft materials such as clay or a pipe cleaner to make the shape of the letter.
  • Because non-literate students do not recognize the importance of printed material, it is important to use real life materials to teach.  Students need to be taught to use pictures as symbols for vocabulary.  When using real life objects to teach vocabulary, students can easily see and touch the object.  When the use of real life objects is not possible, color photographs should be used.  Black and white drawings should NOT be used.  For students who are just learning to read and write and recognize letters, there is no significance to a black and white drawing.  I keep a binder of large pictures torn out of magazines.  It is the most useful resource in my classroom!  It can be used for so many things, and especially when I need to show a word to a non-literate student.
  • With non-literate students, I like to use "I spy" type books and games to train their eyes to search for visual clues.  I may have them search for a small picture among many pictures, a single object in a large photograph, an object in our classroom, or a letter among a group of letters (either on a printed page or a pile of magnetic letters).  By having them use their eyes scan and locate, they improve their ability to process the information, which improves their reading skills.
Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Good morning listers! 

I promised to finish yesterday's outline--but it was late-- and snowing again-- when I got home and the end of a long day.  Here I am catching up. 

How fortunate that Lauren posted her wonderful, concrete message last evening!  My comments here will enlarge a couple of topics she mentioned:

First-- Lauren notes that it is important to use colored photographs AND real items as students learn vocabulary.  There is real scientific evidence for this practice.  The earliest writings about non-literate ELLs--dating from the late 1970's when there was a massive effort to help the Hmong as they were having to flee their homelands, report that the use of drawings and pictures with these students was problematic in the extreme.  The non-literate really could NOT understand these materials and the teachers cautioned against trying to use pictures and drawings as primary teaching resources.  

An anthropologist in the late 1990's studying non-literate peoples also noted that pictures were not perceived by the people she was working with in the way literate people perceived them.  She asserted that non-literate persons did not accept pictures as substitutes for real things or real situations.  This point was strongly confirmed for me when I began to ask programs that worked with the non-literate whether they had noticed unusual situations or reactions to pictures.  One adult ESOL program here in Maine told me a painful story about trying to educate parents from East Africa about how to dress their children in winter weather (it's COLD here in Maine from November through March).   The teachers tried the usual-- fliers sent home with information about how to dress for the weather.  Still the children would arrive at school inadequately dressed--and the social workers were beginning to make loud noises about child neglect and removing students from their homes.  The ESOL teachers then tried pictures in their classes.  The adult students could name items in the pictures but did not relate the pictures to what they were supposed to do with their children.  Finally, at the last minute (vis-a-vis the social service agency) the teachers asked permission to bring down a child from upstairs in the elementary school to the adult school.  Then they demonstrated-- from underwear on out--how to dress for cold weather and explained that the government was not happy that their children were cold.   The next day all the children were properly dressed. 

Another program in Texas working with non-literate refugees was giving lessons in healthy eating in America.  The volunteer teacher had beautiful pictures of fruit and other things to show the students.   They listened politely, but as with the adults in Maine, did not change their behaviors.  Only when the teacher brought in REAL fruit did the students become animated and say, " Teacher!  THESE (pointing to the bunch of bananas) are bananas!  Why you show us this? "( indicating the picture).  When the teacher switched to using only real objects and food in her lessons, students responded eagerly.

And another study coming out of South Africa also showed that non-literate persons do not pay attention to the same things in pictures that literate persons do.  In this case, those doing the study were attempting to design medicine labels that non-literate persons could understand.  The most important factor in the drawings--such as the sun, used to indicate the need to take the medicine in the daytime-- was no more important to the non-literate adults looking at the labels than anything else that was in the picture.  Where a literate person would notice the most salient feature--a drawing indicating a wound to the head, for example-- the adults being studied commented on the hair of the person in the drawing and other features that were not important in terms of understanding the label.

Yet another example:  Two years ago I was working with non-literate older Haitians who were here in Maine as migrant workers.   As in all ESOL groups, this one varied enormously in education levels and previous exposure to English.  We had only a few short lessons, so I focused on oral skills and one night we worked on naming parts of the face.   Of course, after we named the parts of the face orally, pointing to ourselves and others, I got paper for everyone, drew ovals on them and told them to draw in the feature as I named it.  To my embarrassment (for not having found this out ahead of time), those I learned were non-literate were completely unable to put even a nose and eyes and mouth on the "face" on the paper!!!  They apparently had NO visual image in their minds of what a face looked like-- even when looking at each other.    The literate students had no problems whatsoever in doing this task (which I quickly abandoned for something else....) .

Research by international teams on non-literate populations found strong evidence of this issue.  According to various investigations ( all this research, by the way, is cited in the paper on non-literate adult ELLs I coauthored with Martha Bigelow), non-literate adults do not scan visual fields in a systematic way--a skill or habit that is the result of acquiring literacy.  The brain is significantly altered by acquiring knowledge of and looking at a writing system.  Once that system is mastered, ALL information coming into the brain --visual AND auditory--and even tactile--is processed in a systematic way.  If the brain has not learned an organizing system, information is randomly processed.  It was these researchers who found that there is a hierarchy of ease in how visual images are processed, with colored photographs of real objects being the easiest for non-literate adults and stylized black and white drawings being the most difficult to understand (think all the symbols used in our culture--such as symbols for handicapped access, smoking, use of cell phones, etc. ). And as we saw above, even understanding what is in the picture does not guarantee the learner will, as the anthropologist concluded, substitute the picture for reality.  

This is why Lauren suggests having both the real objects and the pictures present as the students begin to learn vocabulary, to help them transfer the concept.  ( This always makes me think of baby books in our culture--which now have big, bright colored pictures with either the first letter/sound or the word for the object written in big, plain letters-- our babies are trained in visual information from earliest infancy.  The adults in question here have never had that exposure to pictures and print). 

So many of our teaching materials rely on pictures and drawings-- in fact, it is impossible to imagine teaching ESOL WITHOUT pictures, isn't it??  Yet this information tells us this is a path to frustration and confusion for the learners with no formal education.   Moreover, the difficulties with visual information do not go away after the learner has acquired some literacy.   I worked with an East African woman who could manage most basic reading on her job and was remarkably gifted at figuring out words that she needed to know  in her environment cleaning in a hotel   She wanted to learn phonics to be more competent in reading. She had been in the school where I was working for several years, and had managed to move up to a  low intermediate level class. When I gave her a pretty standard phonics book, with black and white drawings of pictures having the vowel sounds she was working on, she was completely confused about how to use the book.  The page involved sorting words with one pattern ( e.g. all words ending in -an) into a circle which was labeled with -an.   This is a task any preschooler in our culture would pretty much know how to do.  The student placed all the words in ONE circle.  On another page, she did as the Sudanese student whom I wrote about when discussing the pitfalls of testing for LD: she worked vertically, despite the examples and despite my showing her that she needed to work horizontally.    Since she had worked in workbooks quite a bit in her classes, I was surprised at the lingering difficulties with visual fields. 

Another student I worked with just a few months ago was unable to understand the line drawings of the continents in her citizenship preparation workbook.  This lady is  not non-literate, but has a very low education level.  When I was learning about reading difficulties at the Lab School, I learned that this is a "figure-ground" issue-- figuring out what the foreground and background of a visual image is. 

Bottom line??   As Lauren urges,

  • Keep things concrete for a LONG time;
  • Use colored photographs ( materials for language therapists often have excellent photographs of virtually anything a student needs to know-- far more extensive collections than ESL materials have); 
  • Do not depend on written or visual material to convey important information; 
  • Create matching activities where students place pictures on real objects, 
  • Then have a set of pictures in front of them in rows ( this is what I call "Instant bingo" ) and hold up an item and have students pick up-- and eventually, cover with something-- the corresponding picture
  • Then give a student a picture and have him or her retrieve the corresponding real item from a pile or box holding many items
  • Make more games and activities of this sort--matching real items to pictures and vice-versa-- helping students begin to process and use pictures as substitutes--or equivalents-- for the real thing. 

In the next post, I am going to discuss more ways to have success with the non-literate.  

Robin

 

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

I continue to be amazed by the wealth of information, strategies, and activities being provded by Robin, Lauren, and Alicia. The first thought that comes to my head, every time I read one of these rich posts, is how much effort the teacher has to put into instruction for students who struggle to learn. It truly is the master teacher who can be successful with these learners.

But, in fact, the amount of work to put into teaching pre-lit, non-lit, semi-lit, and struggling English learners can be daunting, it seems. And dedicated as we are, there may be a limit to how much preparation time the possibly part-time teacher can put in as she prepares to meet the needs of all her students. Lauren, Alicia, Robin, and everyone who successfully is helping struggling learners acquire English skills, can you tell us if you find the preparation and set up to work with these learners exceeds that of working with with learners who who are learning more easily? Does it get easier for the teacher over time as you do this? Are there "short cuts" to use so that you aren't always starting from the same spot when creating materials and activities?.For example, and this may sound like moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, but I find when I make teaching or training materials and laminate them I am less likely to lose them and they are less likely to walk away from the classroom or training area and hence I am more likely to use them again with another group.

In a similar vein, the learning stations that Robin spoke about earlier in the discussion seem to be a great idea. Do you find you have to create new matierals for these learning stations for each student in each class or is there some carryover from one to another?

Teachers working successfully with struggling learners are true heroes, I think.

Miriam

SME, Adult ELL CoP

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Miriam-- the short answer to your GREAT question is NO.   I am awfully glad you took the initiative to ask that because as the two other ladies know, the amount of prep the learning centers and similar activities take DOES seem daunting to many, and in many groups I train, though the idea is well received, later follow up indicates that teachers cave to the imagined preparation.

First, let me say that the way I advocate managing classrooms makes planning for struggling students moot.  The whole idea is to make the activities accessible on several levels with varied content and to group students and offer variety in such a way that the so -called struggling learners ARE NOT treated differently or planned for separately from the group as a whole.  Second, as my research into learning centers indicated and my expert teachers in NY state and elsewhere have found out, once a classroom is organized around centers, there is FAR MORE time for the teacher to work with individual or groups of learners because the rest of the class is always productively engaged and working independently ( good learning center planning and management means that ALL activities are self- checking-- students do not need to wait for a teacher to tell them if they have done an activity correctly).

Though Lauren does not necessarily organize her classrooms entirely with learning centers, you can discern from her comments that she uses the basic principles-- students always have choices of activities to go to no matter what their level.  This means the faster, quicker students can find something useful to do at all times and do not need to wait for the teacher to finish with the slower ones-- one of the deadliest of problems in any classroom.  This problem was specifically cited in the study from Minnesota that I cite (about why ELLs left their program).   Furthermore, Lauren has set up rather simple procedures to assure that students who are lower literate or working slowly can be doing work that is similar to but not identical to what the faster students are doing, but that fact is not advertised.  The students can self regulate if they are going to copy or not or read the cue cards or not, etc. 

What teacher find to be the second most challenging aspect of the learning center approach is varying the content so there is an easy version and more challenging version of an activity and then varying the kind of activities so that a content item or skill or language point can be practiced in a variety of ways.   If students always encounter Go Fish and Bingo, useful as they are,  they will give up and find reasons not to engage with these.  It is why generic games from publishers really do not work for very long-- students learn them too fast and get too used to them.  Boredom is human after all.  And teachers complain about being bored themselves at repeating the same things over and over.  

Being a special ed teacher, I tried for my first two years in adult ESOL to imitate the approach I used in my classrooms at the Lab School and create a separate learning plan and materials for each student.  I nearly died of exhaustion, even though the approach was very successful.   Gradually I accepted the fact that ESOL students have a LOT in common in terms of learning needs-- basic question asking form for example-- and do not ALL have to have individual learning plans for everything.   This made the use of activities in groups much easier.  Furthermore, we say we are trying to cultivate independent learners, yet the teacher tends to do EVERYTHING for the students.  In the best run classes of teachers I trained, the students got the activities out and set up and put them away, participated heavily in creating new ones, were given a LOT of freedom to adapt the activities to their own needs and to use them in the way that was useful to them (for example, in the classes where I did my study, and in my program here in Maine it was very common for students to play the bingo-type games until ALL players cards or boards were covered.  They did not want to stop when someone got "bingo".  Did I care??? of COURSE NOT-- they were practicing English in far more depth than even I had in mind!!)  In short, the teacher and students were true partners in the learning process.    Alicia has run classrooms this way for a long time-- she and her colleague at Yonkers Library are absolute whizzes at launching center-based classrooms at all levels of instruction.  I hope she will chime in with more about how she does it. 

Robin 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learned in my research and saw in

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

It does take time to set up and plan activities for class of non-literate or low-literacy students, with or without learning centers.  However, I have found that although the initial investment was higher, the materials last and can be used for a long time, which actually cuts down on prep time over time.  Also, it is always great to get students involved in creating materials and activities for the class.  I have used higher students in my class who come early, stay after, or work while lower students are completing classroom exercises to create matching games and other activities.  We also worked in conjunction with a higher level class and had those students (who were working in a similar subject area) make games for the low level students.  As a perfectionist, I have to let go of my desire to have everything "look pretty" and "match".  As long as things are clear and easy to read, they work for the students.  I have found that cardstock is my new best friend - I can type a set of flashcards (cut up after printing) and print multiple copies on different colors so when they all get mixed together, I know that one color is one set.

I set up learning centers that correspond to the curriculum in our book (I will go into more detail about the centers later and add some pictures, but for now, just to respond to the question of time).  I have plastic shoe boxes set up by unit with different matching, spelling, dictation, sentence making, and board game activities.  The first year that I used the centers in class, I definitely spent more time than I had in past years getting all the things ready for the centers.  It was not an obscene amount of time, but it was definitely more.  However, in the two years since that first year, preparation has been a breeze!  When we get to new material, I swap the activities - the old ones go back in the box and the new ones come out.  Sometimes things come up that require the creation of a new activity/center, but the "bones" of all the centers are ready and waiting for me when I need them.  The initial investment was completely worth it!  Also, the year I created the centers, I was the only teacher who was teaching my level.  Now, there are two of us.  The other teacher now uses all of my materials, and I imagine that if she had been here a couple years ago, we could have easily split the workload.  As Robin mentioned, using commercially created materials is usually not a good option (although I have stolen the letters out of more Scrabble games than I can count!) but sharing materials amongst teachers benefits everyone!

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

Thanks, Lauren, and Robin, for your complete response to my question about the elephant in the room - does it take more time than the teacher has to give to make the prep to make the class work for everyone. I like the concept that the learning centers, like the learning, is for all the students so no one is singled out.

Speaking of learning being for everyone. I wonder if one of your three experts could speak a bit about the role of needs assessment in planning instruction for your struggling learners.  What kinds of assessments do you do throughout the course? I am speaking, of course, about ongoing needs assessment to find out what the students need and want to learn and how they feel about what they are learning.

Thanks, again, for the concrete examples you are weaving in with your discussion of your philosphy and the research on working with struggling learners!

Miriam Burt

SME Adult ELL CoP

 

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

To answer your question, Miriam, about assessing the students' needs and finding out what they want to learn, I do so in a very informal way.  First of all, when students register for our classes, they complete a brief registration form that includes information about his/her education level, work history, current employment, and native country and language.  I use this information to gauge what might be important to them before they enter the classroom.  Once they are in class, I try to observe what they seem to be enjoying most and introduce more activities that are similar in content or style.  I also walk around and ask the students if they like the activities (which can be as simple as pointing to the activity and saying, "Good?"). 

At my school, we are bound by a textbook that we are expected to get through in a school year, so many times the activities are an enhancement of what they have learned in the book.  If I notice that there are things outside the textbook that are of interest/need, we step away and use some centers specifically designed for the situation.  As an example, here is New Hampshire, it has been a particularly difficult winter.  I introduced some "winter learning centers", similar to what Dr. Robin mentioned.  One box had clothing and shoes in it for winter and summer and the students had to sort it (we have had some Congolese students coming to school wearing flip flops and socks because they had arrived last summer and had yet to be given proper winter gear).  Once the clothing was sorted, they asked, "Do you have...?" questions (which gave me a chance to identify those students who needed winter gear and connect them with a local organization that provides such things).  We also did a learning center to practice making a phone call and leaving a message to tell the teacher they would not be in school because of the snow and cold and stressed that it was OK to miss class because of this as long as they let the teacher know.  (Our city has done a poor job of keeping sidewalks clear, and since most of our students walk to school, it gets extremely dangerous.)

In summary, I don't use any large, formal assessment.  I tend to rely on my own observations and the bits of information I can get from the students in class.

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

I so appreciate Lauren's wise posting about informal needs assessment.     Not meaning to self-congratulate more than I already have, I have a hard time even relating to this as a formal idea because I do it constantly for all learners in every lesson.   Two really important things I like to find out very early on is some idea of how much schooling there has been and what the learner's work or daily occupation is.   It pains me no end to visit a classroom and quickly determine that the teacher has NO IDEA what his or her students actually DO outside of the classroom.   I often find this out by focusing on what the student says he or she needs English for, or where and to whom the person needs to speak English.  Right now I am the sole tutor in a small tutoring program that is sponsored by the little non-profit that serves the Spanish speaking population in our area.  We recently changed the process by which students access tutoring and now a pair of persons at the non-profit screens people before they are referred to me.  By doing this in Spanish, the interviewing pair is able to find out from the prospective student just what I mentioned--why they need English and what learning English will do for them.  The vast majority want it to communicate better on their jobs, so I need to know what their jobs are.   Then I tailor activities to that job-- what some call contextualizing.   It doesn't mean that every minute of every lesson is only about their jobs or lives, but we always end up there.   So for example, I work with three Puerto Rican men, two of whom who work in a lobster processing plant and one in a salmon processing plant.  They need to be able to communicate much better on their jobs, so we have spent a lot of time on numbers, since they are paid by the pound or piece.  While the activities I use-- Go Fish with numbers that Spanish speakers often confuse ( sixteen/sixty), bingo with amounts of money ( $34.95) etc.--are not strictly about the work in the lobster or salmon plant, the numbers are critical for their tallies, etc. and conversation gets back to that as the practice goes along.    I often create sets of words on cards to make into sentences that are specifically about learners' exact jobs:  "The spring on my clamp is broken."  "Don't throw away the little pickles!" (this last command is about working with sea cucumbers-- the plant manager asked me to be sure the workers understood it because they tended to throw away the little cucumbers, which have their own use!).  

And that last part indicates another way of doing needs assessment--I often visit the locales where my students work and find out for myself what English they actually need, and what the names are of the pieces of equipment they use or clothing they wear, parts of the process they perform.    This impresses the students no end, and has also created quite good relations with the plant managers, etc.  

Right now I work with quite a few women who are not working because it is not lobster season.  I go to their homes, which provides me a golden opportunity to work on conversation about their children ( who are often right there in mama's lap), their house, their daily activities etc.  Today I did that favorite language learning activity of having the student write labels on little stickies and post them on about 25 things in her kitchen. She actually ASKED to do that, which made me laugh a lot.  Such an OLD tried and true practice!!   And she is racing through this vocabulary because she WANTS to learn it.

As I said, I do informal assessment virtually all the time.  If I see that an activity is too hard, not really exciting a learner, too easy, too unfamiliar, I immediately adjust it or abandon it for something else.    If some special need arises, I readily put aside lesson plans and go with what is needed.  Two weeks ago one student ,who is a Japanese mother of two young children, told me she and her husband wanted to take the children to Boston to the Science Museum during school winter break.   So we stopped everything I had planned and spent most of two lessons looking up T routes ( the subway in Boston), parking, motel locations, hours of the museum, etc. and she repeatedly strategized with me how she would guide her husband while he was driving, what she would do if the younger child got too tired or the older one got very interested in something, etc.  Can you imagine a more relevant and vocabulary-rich topic??? 

Sometimes it happens that I proceed with whatever the learner said he or she wanted-- or didn't want-- and then a few lessons in , the learner changes his or her wants significantly.     A man who was working in lawn maintenance switched to working on lobster boats while he was coming to our drop-in program.  So my assistant teacher and I shifted gears quickly and created a bunch of activities for him to practice saying-- and understanding --the words for tasks and items on the lobster boat.  When we could not understand him , we turned to --guess what?? youtube!! and found wonderful videos of how to fish for lobster!! He could show us the equipment or actions he was trying to talk about.    In the middle of that set of activities, it became painfully clear that he could not pronounce nor hear  the V/B consonants as different.  So my assistant created a whole set of activities for him to practice that. 

I know this seems an impossible procedure with a large group of students, but the principles of this approach should always be operable-- paying attention to what students do and are interested in or NEED to be able to use English for,  to connect learning directly to them and their jobs in some way, to respond to changes and significant needs at some point.  

Someone posed a question early on about keeping students in the classroom.  Among many ways to do that is to make sure the student feels that the class is addressing his or her OWN needs.   I remember so vividly a quote from an Asian student in a wonderful qualitative study of adult ELLS done in the 1990s.   The researcher was finding out what helped students engage, and this woman said ( I don't have the exact quote available, but here is the gist), that she knew she should go to class but she could never find herself in what was going on in the classroom.  The teacher never actually "saw" her and acknowledged her as a person who had a life quite different from those of most of the other persons in the class (because she was a worker in a store, while the others were somewhat different).    Or I think of the students in that study from Minnesota (Schalge & Soga, 2008) who reported that they just were not interested in the lesson on using the airport-- which had NOTHING to do with their lives,  or the lesson in cooking, because they didn't cook that way anyway.  We so OFTEN make assumptions about what students SHOULD learn, must want to learn,  probably need, etc. without actually listening to them, or asking them.  We cannot be surprised or dismayed if they vote with their feet because the class is not addressing what they came to it to get.  Even advanced students like to know why a text was chosen for them, or how they can learn a particular body of vocabulary, etc.  

When a program  requires classes and teachers to use a specific book, as Lauren's does,  then the teacher's job means relating that book and curriculum to the student's lives, and helping them understand what it is they are benefiting from in the lesson.   Students who are a bit more fluent can be asked to make that connection-- "How do you think you can use these questions on your job?" "Tell me about your day at home with the children using this grammar point we just did. "   It IS hard if the topics in the book are completely out of the experience or interest of the students, but most can be related to in some way.   However, I remember the Salvadoran student who, when asked why he missed class pretty often, replied,  "Teacher, I can understand when it is something I know about, but I don't know anything about volcanoes in Hawaii, so I don't come."   He found topics he did not know about a waste of time and effort in learning English.   So yes, ongoing needs assessment is critical to success, retention, engagement, learner progress.

But I promised this morning not to do these endless posts..... I lied.  So sorry!!  I have really enjoyed this "conversation" -- I will add a few more posts about learning centers tomorrow even though our discussion is officially over.  If you need to contact me outside the list, I think you can ask Rochelle to forward your message to me. 

Thank you for your kind comments, great questions, and interest in my work and in helping the more challenged learners!   Robin 

 

 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Lauren,

Teacher observation is such an effective form of informal assessment.

I liked your idea of the winter learning center.  How clever!

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi to Robin, Alicia, and Lauren,

I can't express how much I am enjoying and learning from your discussion.  I hope that our group members feel the same way.

After reading Robin's last message, I realized why I have been so attuned to what you all have to say.  Having been an LD teacher, all of Robin's activities, approaches, and methods harken back to the "tried and true" special education methodology.  The commonalities are so easy to see.  Our philosophies about working harder and spending extra time individualizing instruction to all students mirror what you do with your low literate ELLs.

I invite members of the Disabilities group to join in and add to this discussion.  What similarities do you see?

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Rochelle-- I am glad you see the strong overlap in what I advocate and what happens in special education.  I absolutely would NOT be the teacher I am had I not had the enormous amount of time not only being trained as but working as a special education teacher.   As I have said several times,  the biggest lesson was that all students can learn, and many need to learn in very idiosyncratic ways- but you, the teacher need to help the student find the best way to learn.   And the equally important lesson I learned is that learning literacy skills and content does not have to happen the traditional, book-and-paper way.  The Lab School, where I taught for many years, was founded so students could learn through the arts and other non-traditional learning methods.  Students learn reading and math through wood-working, cooking, film-making, painting and sculpture, dance, theater and anything else creative the teachers can come up with.  It was a powerful message--though I didn't fully transfer it to ESL until I had to find ways for teachers to really engage and accommodate ALL learners.  

In ESOL, individualizing comes as much from making sure the student's personal need for English or interests are being directly addressed as from creating individual learning plans.  That may need to happen more for the student who is more educated and learns faster than for the one that is lagging behind. 

One of the many things I advocate for in adult ESOL is to give the more highly educated students FAR more responsibility for their own learning, just as students are responsible for learning in college foreign language classes.   Knowing a student is sitting there bored and unchallenged is, to me, more stressful that figuring out what to do with the lower educated or lagging ones!!

Robin 

 

Pamela's picture
Ten

First, thanks to all of the guest discussion leaders for offering your various points of view.  I have learned a lot.

Initially, I wondered, as Miriam had, about the difference in extra teacher preparation time teaching ELLS could possibly take.   But I was enlightened by Dr. Robin's response.  It is true that making the materials accessible to all students, despite their level of English proficiency, is what is ultimately important. An instructor viewing them as a separate sub-group within their class, can prove detrimental long term. Kudos on the concept of "learning centers. '  This approach seems to encourage student accountability which also can lead to self-advocacy.

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

Pamela, your comment about self advocacy and accountability hits the nail right on the head!  I use the learning centers in my classroom at the beginning of class.  The centers are each kept in boxes on a shelf in the back of the room.  Students can choose a box when they come into the classroom.  If they arrive early, they can take a box as soon as they arrive, but they know that by the official start time of class, they all need to be working with a learning center of their choice.  Without fail, when I enter the room, they are all working diligently.  Seeing a group of students, many of whom have very little prior education, take control of their learning and make choices in the classroom is inspiring.  As students have moved on from my class into upper levels, I hear from other teachers about how independent and motivated they are.  I believe it is because they have been given the power of choice and seen that their choices lead to more learning and understanding.

Dr. Robin's picture
One hundred

Thank you Pamela and Lauren for these comments of aspects of learning that are crucial to students being able to proceed in education AFTER adult ed.

I want to underscore Lauren's comments about how inspiring it is to see low-literate students take control of their learning.  This was one of the early lessons from learning centers-- and I wish I were a talented enough writer to REALLY express the awe and inspiration I feel when I walk into a well-managed center-based classroom and see ALL students working productively on activities THEY have chosen.   It is a rare sight in adult ESOL to see ALL students engaged at this level-- AND there is NO prohibition about moving around the classroom or talking to other students, since center activities require that.   (This, by the way, was a BIG obstacle for students in my study.  They just couldn't get used to being allowed to do that-- this makes me grind my teeth, because they ARE adults after all and are too often treated as children in the classrooms I visit).   It takes a while with working with centers for students to really get the hang of making choices, but they do catch on . Similarly, they are often uncomfortable at being in charge of checking their own work, but once they do, off they go.  I use wall pockets a lot-- students place cards with words on them in correct sentence order.  The cards are highly coded so only one group is used in a sentence, and there is an answer sheet to check with.  I remember a wonderful scene in one of my study classrooms of two women-- one from Peru who was a highly educated special education teacher--but a professed lover of traditional foreign language learning ( memorizing verb forms) and the other from Mexico, well educated but not college. The two were working on a set of sentences at the wall pocket, and they argued and talked and tried out all different things, and then would look at the answer sheet and discuss the reason for their errors.   It was delightful to watch.  They worked really hard at it and by that time had accepted that they didn't need ME to tell them whether the sentences were correct or not.   

Many great comments today-- I will respond more this evening-- must go tutor for a couple of hours.  Robin 

 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Pamela,

Thank you for participating in this discussion and sharing your thoughts.

To repeat something that Dr. Robin and I have shared, the learning center concept is also an integral one in teaching students with disabilities.  The objectives are the similar for both groups of students.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello group members,

Welcome back to the guest speakers for the 3rd day of our guest discussion.

The content outline for today will be as follows:
 

            I    Finishing discussion about non-literate
                     a.     Visual perception of 2-D info is different
                     b.     Hold off on focus on literacy for low/non literate until oral skills are much stronger
           

           II   Helping students who learn differently-
                     a.     Attitude of teacher—presumption of success
                     b.     Finding out what is holding things up
                     c.     Figuring out what is relevant and important to learner
                     d.     Imagining a differentiated classroom

               
         III    Following up on questions or comments 
 
Thanks, in advance to those members who post and read the messages.
 
Rochelle Kenyon, SME
 
 
RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello all,

Welcome to Day 4 of our guest discussion.  Here is the guest speakers' outline for today.

 

     I   Learning Centers

            a.     Robin—definition and some examples, purpose for using

            b.     Lauren—how you have adapted them, used in your classrooms

            c.     Alicia—how your practice changed—How LC’s worked with defined curriculum ( EL Civics)   

 

As always, your questions and comments are always welcomed.

 

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

I have two classes in which I use learning centers, and I use them in very different ways.  The first class is a literacy class for relatively new refugees (they have all arrived within the past 9 months).  The second class is what we call a level 1 class.  The level number comes from the textbook series we use, the Future series from Pearson.  In the literacy class, I have a lot of flexibility with the material we are covering in class because it is a pure survival class.  They are just beginning with English and with reading and writing, so I can get creative with the learning centers.  In the level 1 class, students are expected to (at some point) progress through the class and on to the next level, so I do have to follow the curriculum set forth in the book.  I use the learning centers to enhance this material and add other important information.  Because I was unable to paste pictures into this post, click here for a link to a mini-grant I did about learning centers for the state of New Hampshire.  It includes pictures of many of the activities I mention.

First, I will talk about the learning centers in the literacy class.  As Dr. Robin has mentioned before, the most important elements of learning centers are choice and self correction.  While the self-correction piece can be challenging in a literacy class, it can be as simple as a spelling activity where there students have a card with a word spelled out and have to find the correct letters to spell the word.  This is one of my students' favorite activities!  When I start with the literacy class, I give them a card with the word (in all caps because my letters are in caps) and the letters in mixed order so they can rearrange it in the right order.  As they get more comfortable, I leave the pile of letters in the middle of the table and let two students work together to spell.  This is a great activity because as higher students are incorporated in the class, they can speak the words to each other rather than look at the cards. 

Another popular learning center for the literacy class is the food matching.  We have a set of fake food that was donated.  I found photographs of the same food, printed color drawings, black and white drawings, and words that matched the food.  We start with the food and photographs to match the real thing (well...the food is fake, but very life-like...one student almost took a bite out of the apple once!) to the photographs.  I also teach them the words orally and we practice those.  Once the students are comfortable with the photographs, I introduce the drawings and eventually words to get students to recognize the different representations of the food. 

Other centers for the literacy class include many sets of flashcards: days of the week, months of the year, numbers, alphabet, etc.  Once students have started learning the words and writing a bit, the flashcards are left on the table and students can choose the ones they want to work with.  They can use the flashcards by arranging them in order or showing them to a partner and having them say or spell the word aloud.  I started slowly with the class and only introduced a couple learning centers at a time.  I also used my wonderful teacher's aide to demonstrate the learning centers to the students.  We tend to use centers off and on throughout the class because the students have a hard time focusing and sitting through me teaching a lesson (after all, they are just learning to be students!).  So, by alternating between teaching, learning centers, and small group or independent activities, they get time to relax and learn in a low stress environment.

For my level 1 class, I have a very diverse group made up of students who were formerly non-literate all the way up to students who are extremely well educated.  The students range in age from 21 to 80 and come from 10 different countries.  Some students are in level 1 for the first time while others are repeating the class for the second or third time.  Adding learning centers to the class has been an invaluable asset.  I use the centers, or "practice activities" as we call them in class, every day at the beginning of class because students tend to trickle in.  When they come in, they select a box that contains one activity and begin.  As other students come in, they can join one of the activities in progress or grab a new one.  If a group of students finishes one activity, they can bring the box back and trade it for a new one.  All of the activities are self correcting, and I float around the room to answer questions and help as needed.

Because the learning centers are made to accompany the textbook and enhance the practice, the basic learning center structures are the sames, but the content changes depending on the material in the current unit.  There are five constant centers and one rotating box that contains a different type of activity depending on the unit or a point of interest from the students.  Here are descriptions of the learning centers (for pictures, you can click on the link in the first paragraph):

  1. Board game - I used a blank game board (from Bare Books) and created sets of cards for each unit of our textbook.  There are four different color cards: blue, orange, yellow, and green.  Although the content changes with each unit, the type of question on each card is always the same.  Yellow cards have a picture of a vocab word that the student needs to name.  Blue cards have a question that the student must answer.  Green cards have a fill in the blank sentence.  Orange cards have a mixed up sentence that the student must rearrange.  The cards are printed on card stock and cut up.  All of the answers are written on the back of the cards.  As students move around the game board, they land on spaces that tell them which color card to pick.  There is always a lot of teamwork.  Although the game has a start and finish space, many students choose to go around the board multiple times for more practice.
  2. Matching/Go Fish - There is a set of cards with pictures and words.  For lower level students, this becomes a simple matching game.  For higher level students, there are instructions for Go Fish and they can practice "Do you have?" questions and short answers along with the vocabulary.  There is a key showing all the pictures correctly labeled.
  3. Spelling - I mentioned the spelling activity before.  Students have a set of cards with vocab words from the unit and a bunch of magnetic letters.  They can choose to use the card to help spell the word, or they can work with a partner to say and spell the words.  Some students like to use the magnets on the white board and others prefer to sit at a table and lay out the letters.  Again, it is their choice.
  4. Making sentences - Individual words are written on cards that students put together to make sentences.  I have color coded the cards for extra help.  All pronouns and subjects are on blue cards.  All verbs are on red cards.  All prepositions and articles are on white cards.  All adjectives are on green cards.  And all objects are on yellow cards.  This helps students see the pattern in the sentences.  Also, they know that if there is no blue card or no red card, it is not a complete sentence.  I have a list of sample sentences that can be created from the cards.  Some students use the table to lay out their sentences while others prefer to get up and use the hanging wall pockets.  It is their choice. 
  5. Pair dictation - Each student takes a card that has 5 sentences on it.  One student reads his sentences while his partner writes what he says.  Then, they trade, and the other student reads different sentences while he writes.  It is always interesting to see the different way students approach this.  Some students will alternate sentences (one reads a sentence, then the other, and back and forth).  Other students will read their complete set then write their partner's complete set.  Amazingly, the formerly non-literate students frequently choose this activity.  My two lovely ladies will sit together and dictate each letter to each other then practice saying the sentences together.  It takes them a long time, and they work so hard at it, but you can see them both beaming with pride!
  6. Rotating material - Some examples of rotating materials I have used are: winter apparel, a large floor map (formerly a Twister game) for students to walk around on as they give directions, US citizenship question cards, city bus schedule with questions, a classroom scavenger hunt/labeling activity, and various technology learning centers (Pronunciation Power, the CR-Rom that accompanies our book, grammar activities, story writing).

My students love working together on the activities and tend to rotate the activities fairly between them.  Also, because we keep the same learning centers for a couple weeks (the class meets 2-3 times a week), the groups find different ways to approach the same activities as they become more proficient in the material.  I have seen tremendous growth in their confidence and command of the target language.  And in such a multi-level class with students from all different backgrounds, the activities give students a chance to work at their own level and progress at their own paces.

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Lauren,

Your message above is worth its weight in gold to teachers/tutors who have been reading this guest discussion to learn ideas.  Your descriptions of the learning centers you use would be easy to replicate in other programs.

Thanks so much for the link to your mini‐grant project, Using Learning Centers in an ESL Classroom.  What a great resource that is for the field!!

It is easy for me to see why Dr. Robin recommended you so highly to join in on this guest discussion.  You love what you do, and in turn, your students probably enjoy learning from you.

Thank you for your contributions to this discussion.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

 

alicia broggio's picture
First

The most profound change in my teaching happened when I suddenly saw my role in the classroom in a totally different light. Previously, I had seen myself in the role of "teacher"; ie, I had information that I thought they needed and wanted to teach to them. Later, I began to see myself as a "facilitator". These were adults who already knew very specifically what it was that they needed to learn. This changed my whole mindset on adult ELLs.

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Alicia,

Your comment above reflects a significant change in philosophy.  What caused you to see your role differently?

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

alicia broggio's picture
First

In multi-level classes learning centers may used to introduce new material but when working with a defined curriculum learning centers are used to enhance the material within curriculum. For example, the USCFI curriculum includes a module on housing. It includes a dialog for calling the landlord to make an appoint to fix a problem in the apartment.  their is so much material to mine here for learning centers! Days of the week, telling time, parts of a house etc. One of our teachers, working with a beginning level class, created a Go Fish game with four different ways of telling time. (4:45, quarter to 5, 15 minutes to 5 o clock, a picture of an analog clock). She also used the same materials in a Memory game. She incorporated part of the housing module's dialog into a board game.

I like the phrase Lauren used "practice activities". It is especially appropriate when working with a curriculum. The learning centers present opportunities for students to decide which element of the curriculum they was to "practice". 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Alicia,

Can you tell us what USCFI stands for, please?  Where can group members find this curriculum?  What other modules does it include beside housing?

Thanks,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Good morning group members,

After four very full days of vibrant discussion, our guest event, Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges, has come to an official close.  Earlier, Dr. Robin said that she would continue to answer questions.  Based on her work load and the amount and depth of content she and her team have already posted, she would have to make that decision.
 
If we were holding this event face-to-face, there would be the obligatory evaluation form to complete.  Since we don't have a process for evaluation, I would like to ask you for your "Reflections" on the value of this guest discussion to your practice.  Please take a few moments to answer the following question by replying directly under this message.
 
         What is the one most important lesson that you will take away from this discussion?
 
Thanks very much.
 
Rochelle Kenyon, SME
 
 
 
mindbodydave's picture
Ten

Hello, Rochelle and esteemed colleagues and experts (Robin, Lauren and Miriam),

I've been lurking vs. participating on this discussion due to a heavy workload.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this. However, I had to take a moment to say THANK YOU!  Like a traveler in a desert who has just come upon a fertile oasis, I have been one of the many teachers who has noted a dearth of practical, research-based strategies for working with our ELL students with learning challenges.  Although I have gone to several in-depth trainings and even a "boot camp" on the issue, your comments have been quite specific and helpful.  As a PD specialist in Los Angeles for adult educators, I look forward to using and sharing all that you have offered us in knowledge and activities.  

Thank you for this amazing contribution!

Dave

KarenWright's picture
First

Dave, I want to join you in expressing my gratitude for this week's discussion.  I lurked as well, but I was so grateful for the times when I was able to read and catch up on the posts.  I have been doing a lot of processing and reflection based on the comments and expertise shared.  Thanks to the moderators who organized the discussion, the experts who shared from their wealth of knowledge and experience, and for colleagues who provided great insights.  

Karen

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

HI Karen,

Thanks for adding your reflections on the guest discussion.  I am so pleased that it positively impacted your practice.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello Dave,

Thanks for posting the first "Reflection."   Lurkers play a huge part in Communities of Practice.  We know lurkers are there and are diligently reading the messages.  Having a page count data being recorded tells us the rate of readership.  For this guest discussion, we have had almost 2,000 pages read which is significant.

I am so pleased that you made the time to express your thoughts.

Thank you.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Miriamb3's picture
One hundred

Thanks so much to Robin, Lauren, and Alicia, for the wealth of information they provided us this week. To respond to Rochelle's excellent question, if I had to name one "takeaway" it would be the importance of always regarding each individual student as just that: an individual who has unique needs, goals, and ways of learning. The thing we have to do is to find the way to facilitate the journey for each individual as he or she pursues these needs and goals in his or her own way.

Thanks, too, to those community members who posted their questions  and talked about their experiences.

Miriam Burt

SME, Adult ELl CoP

J Kleindienst's picture
First

I think Dave’s description sums it up!  This has been such a rich discussion to follow that it is difficult to single out just one lesson.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. I was interested in the varying definitions of learning disabled and cognitively challenged.  I have a student who, I believe, suffered brain damage from meningitis during infancy – I realize that I was using both terms interchangeably in my own mind (I come from the British tradition).  He struggles to even copy words, but is able to write letters (sometimes his own version of them) in sequence if I say them and point out an example for him to copy.  This same student is better able to learn orally and visually, given enough practice and his own interest in the topic.  He can identify certain animals, fruit and vegetables from photographs or fake-real items (to my family’s amusement, I’m a collector of fake fruit and all kinds of other items for class).  This young man would not be very good for our bottom “performance” line in terms of State objectives in adult ed funding, but the rest of the students in my group, most of them from a different culture from his, embrace his presence and participation.  He loves to be included in activities, and yes, he can learn.  I just need to find better ways to help him with this.  My biggest objective for him is that he develop enough confidence and familiarity with English to respond to basic questions about himself for the citizenship interview which he will need to try to pass at some point.  My fear is that he has been considered incapable by his family and friends for so long that he is very shy and reticent when questioned directly.
  2. I feel that Dr. Robin has completely nailed, with all the reasons she gave, the problems in trying to evaluate a non-English speaker for a learning disability.  Unless one has the resources of a large institution or school system, a diagnosis doesn’t really change anything – the student remains in the class, because there may not be an alternative for that person.
  3. About two years ago I became aware of Robin’s teaching about the use of learning centers in the classroom, and I have been very slow to act upon the idea, mainly because the initial amount of work involved has seemed daunting – my thanks to Miriam for raising the question about that – but also because it involves a mental reorganization, too.  A big thank you to Lauren for explaining how she went about developing centers and for giving practical examples of activities, and of course thank you, Robin, for all the information about the rationale for using them.  I’m inspired all over again!  What is needed is to re-purpose existing resources as well as create new activities – a lot of the flash cards / items / worksheets that one creates over the years can be adapted.  Lauren’s description of the two types of class that she teaches matches the classes we have in our program – survival English for one set of students, and a much more diverse group in terms of oral v. literacy proficiency in our civics classes.  There are different external requirements for these two groups, and I am grateful that Lauren also spelled out the development of learning centers to enhance the use of text books.
  4. The comments on self-advocacy reinforce what I learned in an excellent on-line course offered through LINCS on Self-Regulated Learning.  Helping students to organize and motivate themselves helps them develop long-term life-skills.  Time and again, the importance of making content relevant to the individual comes up in professional development, and we do keep trying to make our materials connect to students’ lives.  One very simple example was an aha moment for me:  a new immigrant came to class very excited about that fact that our work on the vocabulary of personal information had paid off – she exclaimed: “Yesterday - doctor office!  City!  State!  Zip Code!”  She saw the relevance of what we did in class.  Our challenge is to keep it relevant and make the relevance obvious to them.

Thank you so much!

Jane

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

 

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello JKleindienst,

I am so glad that you didn't limit yourself to only one reflection - -  the more, the better~

Thanks for sharing everything that you did.  The expertise that the guest speakers volunteered to deliver and share during this vibrant discussion has been much appreciated. 

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

Lauren Osowski's picture
Ten

I want to say thank you to Rochelle, Miriam, and Dr. Robin for the opportunity to be a part of this fantastic discussion this week!  I very much enjoyed having the chance to share what I have learned and discuss and share ideas with fellow educators around the country!  If anyone has any questions specifically for me, please feel free to contact me via the LINCS website.  Thanks again and happy teaching!

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hi Lauren and all,

I hope that you feel free to continue using this discussion strand for members to share their reflections and even questions on this topic.  We will all continue to learn.

Thank you,

Rochelle Kenyon, SME

 

RKenyon's picture
One hundred

Hello all,

We had such an interesting online experience last week during the guest discussion on Helping Adult English Language Learners Who Have Learning Challenges.   Thank you to our guest speakers, Dr. Robin Lovrien, Lauren Osowski, and Alicia Broggio for covering such a broad range of information within the topic.  They answered all posted questions and reached deep within their combined experiences to share ideas and best practices.  I appreciate all they have done to make this discussion so successful.

Thanks to group members for following along and posting messages.

This discussion thread will remain open for continuing messages and conversation.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME