Touro TESOL candidate Jaclyn Kletchka reflects on English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities

As Touro TESOL Bilingual teacher candidates prepare for a career in education and to become a reflective practitioner, it is imperative that they accept responsibility and take an active role in their own learning. This is why the TESOL Program at Touro College requires to write Reflective Learning Journals.

Ten Attributes of a Reflective Practitioner (Larrivee, 2009)

  1. Reflects on and learns from experience
  2. Engages in ongoing inquiry
  3. Solicits feedback
  4. Remains open to alternative perspectives
  5. Assumes responsibility for own learning
  6. Takes action to align with new knowledge and understanding
  7. Observes self in the process of thinking
  8. Is committed to continuous improvement in practice
  9. Strives to align behaviors with values and beliefs
  10. Seeks to discover what is true

Biography

Jaclyn Kletchka is a graduate student at Touro College’s TESOL program. She has experience working for the Brentwood School District where she filled the roles of permanent substitute teacher, ENL leave replacement teacher, and summer school kindergarten teacher. Ms. Kletchka shared that “during my free time, I enjoy reading, going on hikes, and spending time with my two rescue pups!”

Description of Highlight(s) – chapter, article or event that is relevant to the EDPN 671 course.(10 pts.)    In the video titled, English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities, Dr. Cardenas Hagan, a bilingual speech pathologist discusses with a representative from colorincolorado effective instructional strategies for English language learners who are also students with disabilities. Hagan also explains strategies that encourage active parent involvement of parents of English language learners with learning disabilities. In the profession of TESOL education, this is a very important topic because it can be difficult to distinguish whether a student is struggling due to a learning disability, or due to the language barrier. The presenter of this video explains that when students first come to school, they should be screened and this can be used as an “anchor” for the teacher. The teacher then implements the use of accommodations when working with English language learners to monitor their progress. If the student is not responding to the modifications and accommodations, it is then that the teacher should begin the Response to Intervention (RTI) process (colorincolorado). An effective strategy that Hagan stated is that teachers should assess these students in both the English language, and in their native language. This is a very helpful tool when determining if an English language learner has a learning disability because educators are able to observe the students’ skills in both languages. Hagan discussed that a potential problem with the assessments being used is that they are not always culturally relevant to English language learners. Once a student is classified as an English language learner with a learning disability, it is critical that their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) includes specific goals and objectives that are measurable. Hagan emphasizes throughout the video presentation that these students must be receiving support in their native language as well as in the English language, and that teachers can help ELLs make connections between the two languages.
Initial Emotional Response (surprised, embarrassed, sad, inspired, excited, puzzled, etc.) (10 pts.)   My initial response to watching this video about English language learners who have learning disabilities was excitement. I am certified to teach both general education and special education grades birth through six, and I am soon to be a certified ENL teacher. Since I am certified to teach in these content areas, it is very likely that I will be teaching ELLs with learning disabilities throughout my educational career. I felt excitement when watching this video because there are so many resources and effective instructional strategies that teachers can utilize when reaching these learners. My initial response when watching this video was excitement also because I have worked with English language learners who have learning disabilities, and absolutely loved it. While watching this video, I felt very impressed with the strength of both educators, and students. Educators adapt their teaching and instructional strategies to meet the individual needs of their unique learners, and I find this to be truly amazing. Not only am I impressed with the teachers, but I am also impressed with the students who are both English language learners and students with disabilities. These students are learning both content, and the English language all at the same time. I feel that this is extremely difficult for any individual, and especially for students with disabilities.
Learning Process   1) Prior Assumptions or Opinions about the topic of the described highlight. (10 pts.)   My prior opinion on ENL students who have learning disabilities is that it is very difficult to identify if the academic delay is due to a learning disability, or the language barrier. I assumed that this is especially difficult when the educators do not speak the same language as their students who are English language learners. I feel that the language barrier is not only difficult for the students, but also for the teachers in the classroom. If a teacher does not speak the same language as the English language learners in his/her classroom, they have to find ways to accommodate these students’ language, social, and academic needs. I had the assumption that some of the assessments given to this population of students are not effective in determining if a student is struggling because of a learning disability, or due to the language barrier. The assessments may not be effective due to factors such as cultural and language differences. A student may not know how to accurately answer a question because they have not yet been exposed to the vocabulary terms or academic language. Before watching this video, I also had the prior assumption that English language learners who have learning disabilities require a large amount of accommodations and modifications within their learning. I felt that these students need more one-on-one instruction than their peers and that it will take them a longer time to grasp and master academic concepts, due to their learning disability, and language barrier. Prior to watching this video, I also had the assumption that English language learners should also receive academic instruction and support in their native language as well as in the English language.
2) Source of Assumption or Opinion (10 pts.)  I have the opinion that it can be difficult to confidently determine whether a student is struggling academically due to a language barrier, or because of a learning disability. The source of this assumption are conversations I have had with several ENL teachers. For the past year, I have worked at East Elementary School in Brentwood, New York. The population of students that attend East Elementary is largely composed of bilingual and ENL students. When speaking with experienced ENL teachers, they explained to me how difficult it can be to determine if a student is struggling due to a language barrier, or due to a learning disability. I have learned from ENL teachers in my school that this is an especially difficult task when working with young children, as East Elementary is a kindergarten building. I also feel that English language learners who have a learning disability require more academic support and accommodations than their general education peers. I have these opinions regarding this content area because I just recently completed a leave of absence position where I filled the role of a kindergarten ENL teacher. During this leave replacement position, I worked in small groups, and one-on-one with English language learners who are also students with disabilities to teach them the basic skills of reading and writing. While planning lessons and materials, I followed a literacy curriculum, as well as, my students’ IEP goals. I have experienced first hand that this population of students require more one-on-one attention and instruction than their general education peers. Throughout this leave replacement position, I have also gained experience in developing accommodations and modifications to meet the needs of my students. For example, I observed that a large majority of my students were struggling with identifying the letters and the letter sounds. In an attempt to strengthen this skill, I created an alphabet book for each of my students. The book consisted of the uppercase and lowercase letters, and a picture of an object that represents the sound that letter makes. I practiced the alphabet and alphabet sounds for a few minutes each day with my students. I also created interactive and engaging games to play with my students. One game that I created is called “alphabet soup”. I placed letters in a bowl and the students “scooped” up the letters using a spoon, and I would ask the students educational questions such as “what does this letter say?” and “can you think of a word that begins with that letter?”. I also have the assumption that English language learners should be receiving instruction in their native language based on my experiences as an ENL kindergarten teacher.     
3) Assumption/Opinion Check – Validation/Invalidation (20 pts.)    After viewing the video, English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities, my opinion that English language learners who are also students with disabilities require more accommodations and modifications to their learning has been validated. My assumption that it can be very difficult to determine whether a student is having a difficult time academically because of a language barrier, or due to a learning disability has also been validated. At the beginning of this video, Hagan explains that this is a current issue and that educators often struggle to make the distinction between a learning disability and a language barrier. According to the article titled, English Language Learners & Disproportionality in Special Education, English language learners are at a disadvantage due to the lack of appropriate valid and reliable assessment instruments” (Irujo, 2004). The presenter of the video, Hagan, explains that English language learners should be assessed in both their native language, and in the English language. By assessing the student in both languages, the teacher has the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the students’ academic skills. I have also gained further knowledge on my assumption that it is important for English language learners to continue developing skills in their native language. This opinion was validated when reading chapter six of the textbook titled, Affirming Diversity written by Nieto and Bode. The authors of this textbook state that “in the case of emergent bilingual students, this means that their natie language can be a strong foundation for future learning” (Nieto & Bode, 2018). In this chapter, Nieto and Bode explain how teachers can build upon the skills students have in their native language to further develop their skills when speaking the English language.        
4) Realization/Aha Moment or Epiphany (20 pts.)   Before viewing this video, I understood the difficulty of determining whether a student is struggling due to a lack of English proficiency or due to a learning disability. However, I was not fully aware of the measures that must be taken to ensure a student is placed in the correct educational setting, and is receiving the proper support and services. Before watching this video and conducting further research, I was also not aware of how educators tease out between learning difficulties and language difficulties. The “aha moment” occurred to me when watching this video and the speaker stated that “no matter what the language, and within languages, and across languages what we will find are similar patterns of difficulty” (colorincolorado). Hagan provided the audience with the example of a student with dyslexia. She explains that a student with dyslexia will very clearly display in their native language the same type of difficulties, such as having trouble with the processing of sounds, as in the English language. It was during this moment that I realized if a student has a learning disability, they are likely to show the same or similar struggles when learning in both their native language and the English language. From doing further research on the topic of English language learners with learning disabilities, I have learned that ELLs may be overrepresented in special education, due to ineffective assessments and assessment strategies. According to the article titled, English-language learners may be over-represented in the learning disabilities category, it is critical that a stable assessment tool is developed that is able to accurately identify if a student is struggling due to a lack of proficiency of the English language, or a learning disability (Krings, 2107). This article explains that the national estimates reveal that English-language learners may be over-represented in the learning disabilities category due to ineffective and inaccurate testing. Based on conducted research on this topic, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) legally requires the distinction between a learning disability and a lack of language proficiency, which can be challenging to identify.  
Implications for future teaching practice (20 pts.) What specific changes do you intend to make in your teaching or classroom environment? After watching this informative video, I plan to make several changes to my teaching methods in order to better support English Language Learners who have learning disabilities. I learned from the video titled English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities, that it is very important to get to know your students and build positive relationships with each and every one of them. In order to do so, I plan on implementing a daily check in into our morning routine. I plan on doing this daily check in by creating a “ feelings thermometer”. On the right side of this “thermometer” will be different feelings such as happy, sad, excited, angry, etc. On the left side of the “thermometer” will be a pipe cleaner with a bead. The students will move the bead each day to tell me how they are feeling that day. I also learned from this video the importance of incorporating the students’ cultures and native languages into my lesson plans. I feel that it is very important to build students’ confidence and make them feel comfortable and safe in your class. A great and effective way to do this is by learning about, and embracing their cultures and what makes them unique. I am going to include my students’ cultures and native languages into my teaching through literature, videos, and student created projects. I plan on having my students complete a project where they bring in an item from their culture. This item could be a type of food, a piece of clothing, or a family heirloom. The students will bring these items into school and will have the opportunity to share their culture with their classmates. Not only will the students be learning important information about other cultures, but they will also have the opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills. Another change I plan on implementing into my classroom environment is making a greater effort to include parents and families into their child’s learning. Throughout the video, Hagan discussed the importance of getting parents and families involved in their childrens’ learning, especially students who are English language learners with learning disabilities. I plan on taking Hagan’s advice and encouraging parents to read to their children, even if it is in their native language, and not in the English language. The presenter of this video explains how this is a great way to get children excited about learning how to read (colorincolorado). Hagan pointed out that some parents of our students may not know how to read and write, and this makes it very difficult for them to read to/with their children. If I am aware of parents not being able to read and/or write, I am going to provide them with the support and resources they need such as adult literacy courses, translation services, etc. The last change I plan on implementing into my teaching is the increased use of group learning. I feel that it is essential that students learn from each other, and group learning will help English language learners with learning disabilities to improve upon their speaking and literacy skills. I also feel that group learning will benefit this population of students greatly because it gives them the opportunity to socialize with their peers and build their confidence. I believe that all of the changes I plan to incorporate into my classroom are relevant and important to TESOL and bilingual education. The changes I am going to begin to implement are important to this field of education because they are all strategies to improve the overall academic experience for ENL and bilingual students.

References

          Colorincolorado. (2015). English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities. (Video). YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMJKHh1cL5I.

            Irujo, S. (2004). English Language Learners & Disproportionality in Special Education. MAEC. Retrieved from https://maec.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/English-Learners-and-Disproportionality-in-Special-Ed.pdf.

Krings, M. (2017). English-language learners may be over-represented in learning disabilities category. Psychorg. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2017-02-english-language-learners-over-represented-disabilities-category.html.

Nieto, Sonia & Bode, Patty (2018). Affirming Diversity. The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education. Seventh Edition, Pearson, New York.

Author: drcowinj

Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today,” determined Malcolm X at the O.A.A.U.’s [Organization of Afro-American Unity] founding forum at the Audubon Ballroom. (June 28, 1964). (X, n.d.) Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin a Fulbright Scholar completed the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP™) at Columbia University, Teachers College. Dr. Cowin served as the President of the Rotary Club of New York and Assistant Governor for New York State; long-term Chair of the Rotary United Nations International Breakfast meetings; and works as an Assistant Professor at Touro College, Graduate School of Education. Dr. Cowin has over twenty-five years of experience as an educator, tech innovator, entrepreneur, and institutional leader with a focus on equity and access to digital literacy and education in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Her extensive background in education, administration, not-for-profit leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and technology innovation provide her with unique skills and vertical networks locally and globally. Dr. Cowin participates fully in the larger world of TESOL academic discipline as elected Vice President and Chair-Elect for the New York State, NYS TESOL organization, for the 2021 conference. Ongoing research, expressed in scholarly contributions to the advancement of knowledge is demonstrated through publications, presentations, and participation in academic conferences, blogging, and other scholarly activities, including public performances and exhibitions at conferences and workshops. Of particular interest to her are The Blockchain of Things and its implications for Higher Education; Current Global Trends in TESOL; Developing Materials and Resources in Teaching English; E-learning; Micro and Macro-Methodologies in TESOL; E-Resources Discovery and Analysis; and Language Acquisition and the Oculus Rift in VR.

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