A Learning Disability or a Language Acquisition Issue?
This is a question that faces many classroom teachers. Is the “slower” student who just can’t seem to acquire English suffering from a learning disability (LD)? Or is this student just going at their own pace or in need of more English input and maybe differentiated instruction? How to know, how to decide?
Dinklage in a famous study, looked at this problem with students at Harvard. They were brillant students but they just were miserable failures with learning language. Why? He found that it wasn’t because of the usual suspects – motivation/time/effort/teacher/environment but rather because they were in a very real sense “learning disabled”. Specific remediation and intervention with techniques used to help the learning disabled helped them to learn language.
Here’s a nice article I wrote with lots of thoughts and recommendations for the classroom teacher. Please see the references, many can be read here. Also, find links to many valuable sites for special needs students here. It might in a way be provocative but I remain firm in my belief that in a very basic way – Language Learners are “disabled”. After the window and age of 6-9, language becomes “harder” to acquire. [ and by “harder” I don’t mean, taking more time but rather, it doesn’t enter the mind with as much facility, the unconscious processes of acquisition aren’t as available ]. Language learners are “disabled” , the brain isn’t working properly or “naturally”. Most learners are overwhelmed by the ambiguity and as Richard Lavoie is his amazing “F.A.T.” (Frustration, Anxiety, Tension) workshop points out – bewildered. Something is interfering with acquisition. The brain is overloaded with processing demands.
I think, thinking of language learners through this paradigm is invaluable for us teachers. —- it will allow us to stress and use many of the strategies special ed. teachers use every day. This kit of “modification” is truly what every English language teacher needs — WE ARE ALL SPECIAL EDUCATORS, IMO.
I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading about how the disabled and special educators use technology to help learning. Things like Communication Tablets, Text to Speech, Text Messaging, Picture Sets/Cards, Sign language, Voice Recognition and subtitling/karaoke – all offer valuable tools for use by saavy educators. More on that in future blog posts…