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Archive for August, 2015

Support for ESL Learners

Word Count: 492

I am currently an ESL teacher and have just recently taught a class today in which involved 6 students. The lesson topic was on using the modal “should” and “shouldn’t.” The topic was culture and customs around the world. The name of the textbook that we used was English in Mind which is published by Cambridge.

The types of learners in my class included the following four students at the four stages of language acquisition highlighted on the Teach Now website: Yoyo (Speech Emergent), Vera (Beginning Fluency), Eason (Intermediate Fluency), and Destiny (Advanced Fluency). All of the students are ELL learners. Destiny might be considered an exception in this class as she is almost perfectly bilingual (Chinese L1, English L2), though the existence of some minor, but persistent grammar errors in her academic work, means that she has to attend my English class.
During this lesson, the following strategies were undertaken for the learners:

Speech Emergent
For students like Yoyo, who need active support in their speech and to engage in role plays, special attention is given. When I introduce the flashcards, I make sure to scaffold the lesson by introducing detailed Powerpoints with pictures of the new words, parts of speech, example sentences as well extra visuals to elicit understanding and recall of vocabulary words.

Beginning Fluency
For students who are beginning to speak more confidently, I make sure to include some roleplays in my lesson and gap fills. These types of structured support help the students who are beginning to speak more. In today’s lesson, I paired up Yoyo and Vera to do a role play where one had to invite the other to her house but the catch was that they had to tell each other the rules of what they should and shouldn’t do (i.e. the rules).

Intermediate Fluency
For students like Eason, it is important to give them the opportunity to speak in an impromptu manner and also use their language ability in more of a leadership role in the classroom. For example, in today’s lesson, I chose Eason to answer some of the key questions that came before reading the main text. Also, to build Eason’s confidence, he sometimes has the responsibility of helping to translate for the lower ability students in the classroom. When I check his written work, I sometimes stress the use of connectives and transition words to make his sentences longer.

Advanced Fluency
For advanced students like Destiny, I try to incorporate cultural knowledge into the lesson to deepen these students understanding of the topic. For example, today we focused on different taboos in other countries to practice the grammar point “You shouldn’t…” We talked about how you shouldn’t give gifts made of cow leather in India or clocks as gifts in China is a bad idea as it is ominous. Such topics keep students like Destiny motivated and on task and also helps them deepen their cultural knowledge of the language.

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Categories of Disabilities

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Interview and Reflection: Students with disabilities

After interviewing a counselor and a teacher about the referral process for students with disabilities, I realized that there is still a long way to go in terms of developing a comprehensive system. Currently, there is no systematic way of referring students with disabilities for extra help if they should need it.

The following are from the two interviews that took place at Meiying Training Centre. I interviewed the school counselor and a primary school teacher at the school. Both of those who I’ve interviewed were non-native speakers from the local city. Although both had very good English and displayed excellent listening and receptive skills, they did respond at length to most of my questions. Despite this, their feedback was substantial.

School counselor: Lei

Q1: How many parents do you usually inform that their child or children have learning disabilities?

Lei: It’s rare. There have been about 3 to 4 students whose parents we have contacted.

Q2: What tests do you use at your school to discover disabilities that students have?

Lei: We do not give tests but we observe how students are in the classroom and we let the parents know as soon as possible.

Q3: Which technique is preferred: pull the student out of class for extra help or give extra help in the classroom?

Lei: We prefer to give students extra help in the classroom because this will let them stay in the classroom and learn with the other students. So they can keep focusing on what they are learning and they won’t fall behind the others.

Q4: What are some challenges that you have faced?

Lei: It’s hard to see the results sometimes. After we agree with parents on some strategies to help the students, but then there is no result. Sometimes, we do help students. There was a little girl. She was not doing well. She had behavior problem (sic). We talked to the parents about strategies they could use at home. Then we had an assistant teacher in the classroom to support the main teacher. That was very good and the little girl made a lot of improvement. Now, she is okay.  For most students, it’s not easy.

Primary School English Teacher: Charlene

Q1: How do you identify students with learning disabilities?

Charlene: Students who find it difficult to catch up with new things even though they try much harder than others are considered as those who have a learning disability.

Q2: How do you know when a student is struggling?

They are unable to focus on the lesson (keep talking, easily distracted), participate little in the class, and easily get conceited (sic) but not learn very well.

Q3: How do you teach students with learning disabilities?

I encourage those who are not confident in the presence of other students and talk with students and their parents.

Q4: How do you inform parents about the student’s learning disability?

I’ll talk with them face to face and try to let them cooperate with teachers more after class.

Q5: How do parents respond when they get feedback from you?

Most parents take it serious when they get the feedback from teachers.

The method in which students are referred doesn’t necessarily lead to a successful intervention in my opinion. There is no system for following up or ensuring that any intervention took place or was successful. It would be useful if there were some sort of method of testing  or assessing students for disabilities and then coming up with a method of prevention similar to those guidelines embodied in the special education law (IDEA). This would then make it possible to clearly know what issues special needs students were struggling with.

The lack of a systematic approach to referring and intervening on behalf of students with disabilities goes back to the historical rationale for how disabilities are dealt with in my current teaching context. In this country, mental disabilities are seen as a sign of emotional weakness and carries a lot of stigma. Oftentimes, as my interview results show, teachers will hesitate to inform parents when their child has a learning difficulties. When a teacher does inform a parent about this, the parent may become accusatory, blaming the teacher for whatever problem that may have occurred and even going as far as to seek revenge for “stigmatizing” the child by using the parent support group as a platform to voice “criticism” against the “antagonistic” teacher and thus setting the stage to have the teacher reprimanded for his or her actions.

The aforementioned may seem like an extreme or exaggerated statement but there is increasing evidence to suggest that it is not and that education about learning disabilities is necessary in order to make progress.

The following comes from an article on the subject from Bloomberg:

“Of the approximately 173 million people…estimated to suffer from “a diagnosable psychiatric disorder,” only about 15 million have ever received medical treatment, according to a 2012 paper in the British medical journal Lancet. The country of 1.4 billion people has only about 20,000 psychiatrists, just 4,000 of whom are adequately trained and qualified, according to the journal.” (http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-09-25/mental-illness-in-china-still-a-stigma)

The key to success in this environment is to education parents about mental disorder and to help them understand that by diagnosing and proposing a systematic form of intervention, that their children will perform better in the classroom and be better off in the long run.

The question is how can we help parents accept intervention in a high stakes test taking environment where disability is stigmatized, ignored, and goes largely unassisted? I believe the answer lies in technology.

My reflection from a previous post:

In tomorrow’s world, I see the future of personalized learning for special needs students becoming more and more manifest in the form of ICT. These future ICT systems will enable those students to cope in their immediate environment as well as providing key information in the form of feedback (how learners are progressing), knowledge (what will and needs to be learned to make progress), and reflection (upon the use of the ICT support systems). In other words, I see ICT becoming more amenable and integral to the user’s short-term need for immediate support and long-term goals of achieving equitable and respectful position within society (p. 76).

Currently, the most popular mobile social networking tool used here called WeChat. It is similar to the application called What’s App but it is used across all age groups here. Parents and teachers create groups and teachers often post homework in the parent groups and students can ask teachers questions about homework. What makes this app interesting is that individuals can share articles, pictures and other information in a manner similar to Facebook. The good thing is that people who you’ve share your updates with can also forward information for others in their groups to view and reflect on.

One way that we can target parents and help them understand more about disabilities would be to share a variety of different sources of information on disabilities and learning challenges. I am thinking the following would be a good start:

  • videos (case studies and informational)
  • infographics
  • personal stories
  • statistics

This would be the first step in creating a good referral process at my current school. The next step would be to become a member of a board that specializes in the development of a framework for determining how help the student (similar to the IEP) to train parents about how to identify learning disabilities and inform them about where they could go to seek assistance, advice and counseling when necessary for their children. The final step would be to begin the process of identifying students internally and then seeking support from the school counselor in terms of organizing school resources. The school could decide on which disabilities would require students to be pulled out of the classroom for extra support and learning and which would require learners to receive help in class. Then, I think as suggested by IEP, we could give students a long term learning goal along with a list of all of the resources necessary to help students with disabilities be successful in the long term.

This is a tall order however and not necessarily one that I see coming to fruition in the next year. This could easily be a five year project; however, at the moment of publishing this post, I’ve just started sharing information over WeChat about learning disabilities.

Works Cited

UNESCO (2013). UNESCO Global Report, Opening New Avenues for E), mpowerment: ICTs to Access Information and Knowledge for Persons with Disabilities. Paris: UNESCO

“Mental illness in China still a stigma.” (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-09-25/mental-illness-in-china-still-a-stigma)

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