Assessing students who are English language learners (ELLs) and/or in a dual language (DL) environment can be challenging. It’s often hard to know if a student is having trouble acquiring language, or if cognitive development may be impaired. What do you do when a student isn’t making adequate progress, but you aren’t sure why?
Often, assessments and tools aren’t available in a child’s native language, or in the case of DL, the target language, to properly diagnose a problem. There may not be a trained specialist who can deliver the assessment, either.
There can be a delay in diagnosing and treating ELs with learning disabilities because it’s chalked up to a language barrier. While a child’s needs can be complex, we can better serve all students with the right resources and mindset.
Participate Learning’s DL coaches and specialists have some tips for teachers who may be encountering these challenges in their classroom and what to do next.
Assess the whole child
When you see a child isn’t making adequate progress, intervention is key. Try different teaching strategies and interventions to assess your student’s progress. In a DL environment, use manipulatives, speaking, reading, and writing activities. Try a combination of these to understand where a student may be having difficulty. Allow students to show mastery in a different way. For example, if they can’t orally produce, can they write it down or read the material? This will help you pinpoint exactly where a student may need help.
Documentation is the name of the game
Once you suspect a child may have cognitive development delays, begin documenting your observations. Keeping anecdotal notes is critical to ensure students get the help they need. Rely on colleagues to share data and thoughts about a student’s progress. This is a great way to establish patterns and confirm if a student’s abilities need to be looked into further. Providing documentation to your administrator is the best way to start a proper diagnosis for your student.
Involve the community
Teachers who don’t speak a child’s first language can still help with their student’s progress. Try to include as many visuals and objects as possible so students can associate objects, movements, and gestures with words. Go beyond oral instructions and use a variety of methods to communicate with students.
Be sure to also keep parents or guardians aware of patterns you are seeing in their child’s development. Meet with them to talk about what you are doing in the classroom and what they can do at home. Encourage parents to read to their children every night, regardless of what language they read in. Parents can also help by exposing their child to new experiences. Putting the TV on with subtitles, reading menus in another language, and going to cultural festivals can aid their learning.
Create a classroom environment of trust
Build strong relationships with your students, and ensure students build strong relationships with each other. Do group games and activities, and make sure students learn about each other. Seat students together who have different strengths so they can help each other. Don’t be afraid to regroup students throughout the year as you assess strengths and needs. Also, reinforce respectful speaking and listening skills.
Use praise and positive feedback to create a friendly environment. Reiterate that it’s okay to make mistakes and to try again. Give students opportunities to complete things in a different way. For example, if they can’t write how they solved a math problem, can they tell their friend about it? This will make students feel safe to make mistakes, ensuring deeper learning.
Assessing the needs of DL students and ELs is a complex process. With teacher, community, and school support, students can get the help they need to thrive and learn.
For more, see this post about advocating for English Language Learners.