As teachers we know that our classes have become a tremendous mosaic of different cultures and languages. Just as an example, I know a secondary school where 47 languages and dialects are used by students. Does that sound huge to you? Well, it’s not uncommon now. When I was Head of languages and in charge of the ESL department I did quite a few researches about ESL learners and I was quite fortunate to be able to develop some projects to help these students reach their full potential. Working with students whose first language is not English is extremely rewarding, though daunting at first.
What are the main strategies to be used to teach ESL students on a daily basis in the classroom? First of all ESL students need to feel that they are part of the group. They shouldn’t be left alone or isolated from the group. Depending on their history some of them may also suffer from huge trauma. Many students are now coming from the Middle-East and from Africa and many of them are refugees and they may have seen terrible things for their young age. That is a factor to take into account. While some will be ready to engage and take part in classes other may be defiant or withdrawn.
That sounds quite obvious but you need to get in touch with their closest parents. You will find out that most of the time parents don’t speak English and this can lead to awkward situations. I remember that little Chinese girl who didn’t speak a word of English at her arrival. She was my student for French and I also helped her with her English twice a week. Within a couple of weeks she became the best student in French and her English had improved dramatically. When I met her parents at the parents’ evening, they really looked worried and I reassured them by showing them data and using all my range of facial expressions to tell them how well their daughter was doing. They simply hugged me and thank me for my help. That may sound a bit cheesy but I will never forget that moment. Keeping in touch with the parents and creating a link with the family is vital when you teach ESL learners.
Then I would say that a complete immersion in English is beneficial to students and there are many ways to keep you instructions clear and simple so that everyone can understand. Don’t forget to model what you are expecting of the students and use your facial expressions and body language to make things easier. The use of English Language Development is therefore very important. ELD is the systematic use of instructional strategies to promote the acquisition of English by students whose mothertongueis not English. ELD consists of five levels: Beginning, pre-intermediate, intermediate, early advanced and advanced. We generally consider that six to seven years are necessary to master a language. Four skills are assessed in ELD: listening, speaking, reading, and writing and these skills are linked to four main areas (function, fluency, form and vocabulary.Students need to be taught at their proficiency level for each skill. Saying that students will acquire English the same way as they learned their first language would be irrational but the best to learn for them is for sure to interact with their peers who are native speakers and to be immerged into the language as much as possible. This approach is what we call the Natural Approach. Students will develop basic communication and social skills through a collaborative work with their peers and they don’t have to bear the pressure. They should be allowed at that stage to learn at their own pace.
Here are some other tips you may find useful. In your classroom, on top of gestures, use visuals to support your teaching. Do not rush when delivering instructions. Take your time, speak slowly and articulate. Uses pauses and adapt your speech, you may also need to create greater emphasis on intonation. Keep your enthusiasm high; it will help release the pressure from your students. Last but not least I would suggest the building of a profile for your ESL learners where you will keep all their data regarding their progress. This will help you define their needs and help them to further their knowledge.
What are learning disabilities?
As adults we are quick to categorize people according to their skills or intelligence. As teachers we must be cautious about categorizing our students. What some may perceive as laziness or lack of intelligence may be instead explained by professionals as a learning disability. A learning disability has nothing to do with intelligence or motivation and people with learning disabilities may be as smart as anybody else. What makes the difference is that people with a learning disability will learn things differently simply because their brains work differently.
The range of learning disabilities that can affect students is wide. It can affect their reading, writing, communication, understanding skills etc. The earlier we spot our students’ difficulties the easier it will be for us to help them and find appropriate strategies to support them in their learning. However it’s not always easy to identify children with learning disabilities as it can vary a lot from one student to the other. Nevertheless there are some signs that should raise some concerns. For example here’s a list of signals that should help use diagnose some possible learning disabilities: the difficulty in pronouncing words, trouble finding the right word, difficulties with learning simple items, issues with directions, troubles with simple motor skills, inability to make connections between sounds and letters, confusion when reading, difficulty in memory skills, trouble with numbers, poor organizational skills, difficulty in understanding and following a discussion, poor handwriting etc. If some of your students present these signs it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a learning disability but it should alert you.
Over the past decades, acronyms to talk about learning disabilities have flourished and it’s sometimes difficult to get to know which acronyms refer to which learning disabilities. Here’s a simplified list where you should find the most common acronyms with a brief definition:
ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder. Students find it hard to focus in lessons
ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
ASD- Autistic Spectrum Disorder
AS- Asperger Syndrome
BESD – Behavioural, Emotional, Social Difficulties
Dyscalculia inability in maths reasoning
Dyslexia inability to read properly
HI – Hearing Impaired
IEP – Individual Education Plan
LSA – Learning Support Assistant
MLD – Moderate Learning Difficulties
PMLD – Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties
PRU – Pupil Referral Unit (short stay school)
SA – School action
SA+ – School Action+
SEN – Special Educational Needs
SENCO – Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator
SLD – Severe Learning Difficulties
SpLD – Specific Learning Difficulties
TA – Teaching Assistant
VI – Visually Impaired
When it comes to learning in the classroom you will find that students with learning disabilities are quite unable to manage their time efficiently, therefore they don’t work at the same pace as the group and they tend to finish their assignments late. They may also have issues copying from the board and writing in general and it may take them more time to understand instructions. They can get confused with numbers, spelling etc. The consequence of this is that their learning is affected but also their motivation and self-esteem. Students with learning disabilities are aware of the fact that they learn differently and realizing their inabilities often results in low self-esteem and this usually affects their social skills and behaviors.
Providing efficient support to students with learning disabilities is challenging for all teachers. Despite our trainings we may often feel overwhelmed by some situations with Special Education Needs students. It does take time to understand how to adapt lessons for the benefits of each student but it’s worth trying. You won’t operate miracles in the first weeks but with perseverance and the help of your Learning Assistant you should see some improvements in the learning of students with learning disabilities but also in your lesson planning in general. The strategies that you will use for your students with learning disabilities will have a positive impact on your teaching in general as you will acquire some automatism. Here are just some key strategies that work for teaching students with learning disabilities: First remember to use short and clear instructions. Second, have them to repeat the instruction in their own words. Then, outline the progression of the lesson on the board and tick every time you have completed a task. Adapt the work to their needs and abilities (change the font for VI students), vary the types of activities to suit their styles (for e.g. ADHD students will learn better with kinesthetic activities). Last but not least, pay a visit to your SEN departments, review the IEPs and get in touch with the parents. They will be able to give your some valuable hints for your teaching.
What is Asperger Syndrome? Methods to support AS students
Here are some hints that should help you deal with students with Asperger. First and quite obvious tip is to liaise with their parents. They are the ones who know their child best and they will give you important information about their child’s behaviors. Starting from this you can then propose in agreement with the parents some activities and routines that will help their child. Having a meeting at the beginning of the school year is therefore crucial but you will have to keep in touch with them during the whole year to discuss any challenges and progress.
Once you have a better idea of what this child will need then you will have to adapt the learning environment for a better learning. The physical and verbal aspects of the classroom have to be adapted. I would suggest a seating plan where the child with Asperger would be next to a quiet helpful student. Remember that any child has to be included so even if he or she has some difficulties with social behaviors and social commonly agreed rules he or she needs to be taught how to deal with that in a classroom. Don’t isolate the AS students but provide them with a clear defined space to organize themselves and avoid any source of stress. Students with Asperger are the main targets for bullying so keep them away as far as you can from troublemakers to avoid any burst or meltdown.
Educate their peers. Children will notice that students with AS don’t interact the same way as they do. It is extremely difficult for students with AS to build friendship and therefore they may quickly be isolated. It’s our role as teachers to explain what the Asperger Syndrome is about. You don’t have to explain things in details but you need to raise students’ awareness about the syndrome. Some researches tend to show that children who have been explained the behaviors of students with AS are more likely o show a positive attitude towards them and a greater understanding.
Use visual support in your room in clear strategic places- board, door, desk. Use your room as a giant reminder for students with Asperger. Stick the planned activities on the board. Tick once the activities have been completed. Students with AS usually respond well to visual support. Have also ready-made cards for the students where their feelings and emotions are expressed. For example: “I don’t feel good now because I don’t understand what to do.” The student can show you the card so that you know you will have to make the activity clearer.
Be ready to accommodate the time and space for them. Children with AS will need more time to complete activities because for example writing is a fine-motor skill and it’s a complex skill to acquire for students with Asperger Syndrome but it doesn’t mean they don’t have to be challenged. Their organization skills are usually low as well so try to help them by providing them the material they will need in advance, at the beginning of the lesson. You will need to be twice as much organized as you usually are.
Students with AS need very short and clear instructions expressed in a calm voice. Avoid multiple instructions as they may be lost. Your instructions have to be sharp and repeated. Use a low pace and keep your calm whatever the situation. Students with Asperger will struggle explaining that they don’t understand and this may turn into frustration. Once the group is on task take the time to sit next to the student with AS and ensure he is on task. Remember as well that facial expressions and eye contact don’t make sense to them so you will have to interact verbally to give directions and to praise their work. Behaviors of AS students can be quite unpredictable and seen as completely inadapted to the situation. Tantrums and meltdowns can be frequent but they are manageable. Be ready for that. Parents and colleagues are your best allies here as they know what will work for these children. Understanding a source of stress or frustration and then finding collaborative strategies should prevent many of these situations.
What is the Asperger Syndrome?
When you have a student with Asperger Syndrome in your class it does change the way you teach. I was confronted to this only once but it really had an impact on my teaching on the long term and on my practice awareness. If you have one student with Asperger Syndrome remember that yes he or she is different in certain ways, but as any other students!
However students with Asperger Syndrome will require specific teaching strategies so that they can unlock their potential. We need as teachers to be aware that the Asperger Syndrome will present some important challenges not only for us but also for the student and for the group. If you don’t know what the Asperger Syndrome is you may not even notice it, as students with this syndrome will tend to act and look much like their mates. Don’t blame yourself but ask your colleagues and they will you give tips to handle the situation.
Most students with the Asperger Syndrome tend to perform well academically and they often surpass their peers. Students with Autism on the contrary have a range of intellectual functioning to below to above-normal. Despite their usually good performances we need to keep in mind that students with Asperger have a disorder, which makes it difficult for them to work in a classroom where adapted teaching strategies haven’t been put in place.
Well. What is the Asperger Syndrome? It’s a neurological disorder that affects people. Children and adults suffering from this find it hard to control their behaviors. It is a complex disability that affects communication, ability to socialize, sensation and cognitive skills. What makes it even more complex to diagnose is that it can differ from one person to the other. Some will have an almost obsessive rapport with some topics or objects, others will find it hard to understand social concepts and language styles, some others will have the tendency to repeat movements or words -echolalia- and some will struggle with new things that differ from their routines. The characteristics of the Asperger Syndrome are numerous and the above list is far from being exhaustive.
Students with this syndrome will generally find it hard to organize themselves and decide what is important and what is not. Their social awareness is different from what we know and therefore they may offend people without realizing it, they also find it hard to engage in conversations, they struggle with adapting to social rules. Most of them have difficulties interacting with others and many things can be a source of stress for them. For example some may need a routine to reassure them and any unplanned event can be a source of anxiety. The way these children and adults behave can be seen by some as disobedience or defiance but this is not the case, this is all part of the Asperger Syndrome.
Nowadays more and more children are diagnosed with this syndrome. I personally believe that there is also a huge confusion between students with Asperger, students with Autism, students with ADHD -Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, students with BESD – Behavioural, Emotional, Social Difficulties or students who simply misbehave. If in doubt use your professional judgment but also refer to the Special Education Needs department of your school.