Supporting Special Student Populations
- How are students with special learning needs identified?
- How can teachers support students with special learning needs in the TWI program?
- How are special education services integrated with the TWI program?
- How can teachers support new students who enter the program in the upper elementary grades and do not have grade-level language skills in one or both program languages? How can teachers help them to participate in activities that require grade-level language skills?
- How can the programs support students whose native language is not one or both of the program languages (i.e., third language speakers)?
- On what basis are children retained in TWI programs? What if a student is only having trouble in one language? How can you be sure that students are retained for academic difficulties and not limited second language proficiency?
4. How can teachers support new students who enter the program in the upper elementary grades and do not have grade-level language skills in one or both program languages? How can teachers help them to participate in activities that require grade-level language skills?
To our knowledge, there have been no studies that directly address the issue of academic performance of late-entering students, most likely because it is a low frequency phenomenon as it is generally discouraged unless students can demonstrate grade-level appropriate language and literacy skills in both program languages. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that English language learners who enter TWI programs with previous instruction through their first language often achieve at similar levels as their peers. The difficulty is for English language learners who enter TWI, or any educational program, with little academic preparation. These students typically lag behind their peers in achievement in both languages. However, the TWI program still may be the most appropriate placement for these students if there are no other bilingual or newcomer programs available in the district. With respect to native English speakers, most programs do not allow these students to enter the program after first or second grade, unless they can demonstrate grade-level appropriate language and literacy skills in the second language that would enable them to keep pace academically.
Since ESL teachers and mainstream classroom teachers have been dealing for years with immigrant students with little English proficiency, much can be learned from the techniques that have been found to be appropriate in these situations. Specifically, teachers need to shelter their instruction by following the strategies suggested in the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004; Short, Hudec, & Echevarria, 2002). This would involve, among other things, teachers differentiating their instruction by giving students with beginning levels of proficiency opportunities to learn new material in ways that do not rely on language. One great advantage of a TWI program is that children who arrive in upper elementary school with a limited educational background can have immediate access to the educational system because part of the day is taught in their first language.
At Nestor Elementary School, native English speakers are only accepted into the 90/10 TWI program until the end of first grade, so the issue of accommodating late-entering students only affects native Spanish speakers entering the program in the upper elementary grades. For late-entering students with strong oral language and literacy skills in Spanish, but with little or no English, the primary need is for vocabulary development. The school may provide these students with a pullout program that offers English language development at their targeted level. Assigning another student to be a language buddy is also helpful. This buddy can translate for the newcomer since the teacher does not translate the lessons.
Late-entering students highlight the need for the continued use of sheltered instruction strategies at the upper elementary level. For students with limited L2 skills, the structures within cooperative learning offer support and a small group environment where students can take risks and receive feedback from an intimate group.
In the particularly challenging case of students who enter school without second language proficiency and with little or no school experience in their home countries, differentiated instruction is essential, and small group or one-on-one instruction may be required. This can present a logistical challenge, as it is hard for even the best teacher to find the time to provide a child with individual instruction. One solution is to call on a resource teacher for extra support, if such a teacher is available.
During whole class instruction, the teacher can help the student by providing him or her with some of the accommodations recommended by experts in this publication (see Response #2 in this section). The student will need opportunities to engage in conversations in a non-threatening learning environment. Show and tell, sharing a favorite story, and similar strategies provide excellent opportunities for the student to practice his or her language skills. Speaking slowly and paraphrasing are invaluable when working with second language learners. Labeling things around the classroom and posting short sentences the new student can use to get through the day will also help. The teacher must make sure there is reading materials at the child's reading level and in the child's native language as well. Frequent references across languages will help the student transfer vocabulary and knowledge from one language to another. Worksheets and textbooks all need to be adapted to the child's language level.