World Languages Learning and Special Ed

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Research from CAL
Assisting Students with Foreign Language Learning Difficulties in School
Foreign Language Teacher's Guide to Learning Disabilities
Teaching students experiencing difficulties in learning: Information for teachers of Languages:
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Which instructional methods are beneficial for at-risk foreign language learners?

Research findings indicate that students at-risk for failing to learn a foreign language can benefit from multisensory structured, explicit language instruction(Ganschow & Sparks, 2005a,b; Schneider,1999; Schneider & Crombie, 2003;Sparks, Artzer, et al., 1998). A multisensory structured language (MSL) approach in the foreign language is similar toinstruction in English. (For a discussion of MSL principles in English, see Birsch,2005.) Below are a few specific suggestions for foreign language teachers, basedon eight MSL principles. The suggestions are versatile strategies that can be effective in inclusive foreign language classrooms(see Ganschow & Sparks,2005a,b; Schneider & Crombie, 2003).

Multisensory

  • Teach the language using multiple input/output strategies — visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic.
  • Use several learning channels simultaneously (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and mnemonic devices for memory). Research findings suggest that hearing, seeing, and saying a word (concept) simultaneously enhances memory.
  • When teaching new sounds and symbols, teach only one or two at a time. In teaching a new or unfamiliar sound, ask the student to imitate the teacher's modeling of mouth movements and to trace the letter pattern while saying and spelling the sound. (For a comprehensive description of the approach, see Sparks, Ganschow, Kenneweg, & Miller, 1991; Sparks & Miller, 2000.)
  • Use visual aids when appropriate. Examples are picture clues for words, hand and mouth movements to illustrate a sound, or color coded endings to illustrate gender and subject/verb agreement.

Repetitive

  • Provide opportunities for the student to practice and review a concept frequently to assure automaticity. Examples might include practicing forming letters correctly, spelling non-phonetic words, and reviewing spelling patterns.
  • Provide guided pair work activities to practice and reinforce a concept, pairing a strong student with a weaker student.
  • For reinforcement, provide ample time to discover, practice, and use meaningful mnemonic devices, such as songs with specified grammatical sentence structures or special rhythms; reinforce concepts by using acronyms (for example, USA = United States of America), drawings, and gestures.

Structured

  • Teach language concepts in a logical progression and help the student categorize concepts.
  • Provide structured, explicit overviews of the material covered. Examples include study guides of the day's activities, summary sheets, graphic representations, and semantic maps.
  • Directly and explicitly teach grammatical, syntactic, and morphological patterns engaging all learning channels for maximum outcomes.

Sequential

  • Organize language concepts from simple to complex. For example, consonant+vowel+consonant patterns with three letters should be taught before using blends or digraphs for four- and five-letter words.

Cumulative

  • Directly teach the student the sounds of the language and the letter(s) those sounds/sound sequences represent. Progress from most frequently to least frequently appearing letter-sound patterns so that students can experience success as quickly as possible.

Alphabetic/Phonetic

  • Directly teach the student the sounds of the language and the letter(s) those sounds/sound sequences represent. Progress from most frequently to least frequently appearing letter-sound patterns so that students can experience success as quickly as possible.

Metacognitive

  • Help the student think about the language concept to be learned and to explain the concept in his/her own words. This process helps the student understand why certain rules or procedures occur in the language of study. Knowing why assists the student in learning to develop self-confidence in identifying and correcting his/her own errors.

Analytic/Synthetic

  • Show the student how to break apart words, especially words with more than one syllable, and then show him/her how to put the parts back together again. This approach will help students self-correct and improve their decoding and spelling. Oftentimes the MSL principles are combined.
  • Conduct a task analysis of the concept to be learned. Break the concept or skill into small working steps and model for the student how to think through a concept. Repeat this procedure as often as necessary.