Action Research in the Classroom: Assisting a Linguistically Different Learner with Special Needs

By Schoen, Sharon Faith; Schoen, Alexis Ann | Teaching Exceptional Children, January/February 2003 | Go to article overview

Action Research in the Classroom: Assisting a Linguistically Different Learner with Special Needs


Schoen, Sharon Faith, Schoen, Alexis Ann, Teaching Exceptional Children


In this article enter the world of Andy, a 10-year-old boy with learning disabilities. His first language is Korean, and he is having great difficulty learning English. His teacher has decided to participate in an action research project to find ways to encourage Andy's learning, as well as boost the achievement of the whole class.

How did Andy do? Read on to find out-and to learn how to support other learners of English as a second language

Teachers who have a disposition toward analytic examination and continuous refinement of the teaching/learning process naturally engage in action research. By definition, action research is founded on a commitment to improve the quality of life of others through critical reflection and inquiry (Archer, Holly, & Kasten, 2001; Mills, 2000). The process occurs as teachers gather information about and reflect on their students' needs, abilities, and learning styles to enhance instructional outcomes. Assessing, exploring, researching, discussing, documenting, evaluating, monitoring, analyzing, refining, and revising become cyclical actions.

Studying How to Improve English Language Skills

In the process of improving the language skills of a student studying English as a second language (ESL), we conducted this action research study within the context of a special education, learning support classroom during general education group instruction and individual tutoring sessions. We took several actions-as part of the action research cycle-to improve the student's functioning in this area.

Step 1: Framing the Question

Understanding the process that a child goes through to learn a second language is an increasingly necessary task for teachers to assume. This process is confounded when the child has a learning disability. As the number of students receiving ESL instruction increases, educators must address the particular needs of this diverse population. Their successful acclimation into the community of learners demands additional support.

Andy is a 10-year-old fourth grader whose native land is Korea. He lives with two parents and a sister. The parents' English-speaking skills are limited. Andy has been labeled learning disabled and has been placed into a segregated learning support classroom for his basic instruction. He receives ESL instruction during a daily, half-hour pullout program. There are 14 third- and fourth-grade students with learning disabilities in this learning community. The students are supported by a lead teacher and two instructional aides.

"This classroom is located in a suburban school that services 681 students. It is reported that 21.4 % of these students come from low-income families. The school has 130 computers available for student use; and the library claims an estimated 11,900 titles for books, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, videotapes, films, software, and other electronic media. In addition to material resources, the school employs 36 classroom teachers, 1 principal, 1 counselor, 1 librarian, and 3 other service coordinators.

Even with this level of support, Andy poses a considerable challenge. During instruction, Andy loses his focus. He will drift off frequently. Routine redirection, eye contact, and hands-on activities are required to re-engage him. When asked a question, Andy will sometimes defer to a joke. He often asks for the question to be repeated. Mimicking peers frequently substitutes for original responses. He appears to be sensitive about his language limitation.

At the onset of the action research, Andy was administered the Botel and Dolch Sight Word Tests. On the Botel test, Andy received 95 % accuracy at the pre-primer level and 65% at the primer level. The level of accuracy decreased to 50% at the first-grade level. On the Dolch test, Andy scored 82% at the primer level and 71 % at the first-grade level, respectively.

Informal assessments revealed functioning in phonetic, comprehension, and writing skills. …

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