Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Language in the English as a Second Language and General Education Classrooms: A Tutorial

Academic journal article Communication Disorders Quarterly

Language in the English as a Second Language and General Education Classrooms: A Tutorial

Article excerpt

As the culturally and linguistically diverse population of the United States continues to increase dramatically, speech--language pathologists (SLPs) and special education teachers in particular face the challenge of how best to assess and teach those students whose primary language is not English. The changing U.S. demographics are driving a need for a more comprehensive understanding of students learning English as a second language and the effect upon their education of learning English as a second language. A substantial number of English language learner (ELL) students, with and without disabilities, may not possess the requisite classroom discourse or pragmatic skills, may face difficulties, and may be incapable of fully benefiting in their learning. This tutorial will discuss factors related to describing classroom discourse in the context of five ethnographic studies, with particular attention paid to pragmatic language skills for ELL students with and without disabilities. This article will also discuss strategies for what these students need to know regarding pragmatic language skills and which strategies school professionals need to implement for bilingual ELL students (i.e., regarding planning and communication in delivering instruction). This knowledge should assist school professionals in making more appropriate decisions in assessment and instruction for these students.

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School professionals today repeatedly face the challenge of how best to provide instruction for students who are English language learners (ELL). The issue is compounded when speech--language pathologists (SLPs) and special educators must provide instruction to ELL students from bilingual homes. The need for a more comprehensive understanding of students learning English as a second language and the effect upon their education of learning English as a second language is warranted by the changing U.S. demographics (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001, 2003). This was noted by Whitworth (2000):

   Not only is there a continuing need for special
   education teachers, but there is a need for teachers
   appropriately trained in, and equipped with,
   the skills that special education teachers are
   going to need in the new century. As our student
   population becomes more diverse [italics
   added] ... we must prepare special education
   teachers who are capable of being successful in
   the school of tomorrow. (p. 3)

Bilingual students do not come to school with the same degree of English language skills and academic preparedness that monolingual, English-speaking children possess (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Steifel, Schwartz, & Congel, 2003). In addition, bilingual students may be provided with less than optimal instruction due to language and cultural differences (Banks, 2006; Cummins, 1984; Donovan & Cross, 2002). Therefore, the issue of adequate instruction is a serious dilemma that needs to be addressed by educators today.

PROBLEMS WITH COMMUNICATION

For ELL students, the problems with communication may be acute and exacerbated by the dual demands of learning to speak English and concurrent academic learning (Baca & Cervantes, 1998; Cummins, 2000; Krashen, 2000). A substantial number of students who are ELL may not possess the requisite classroom discourse or pragmatic skills, face difficulties, and be incapable of fully benefiting from their learning (A. Brice, 2002; A. Brice & Montgomery, 1996; Ortiz & Yates, 2002, 2003). By the time children reach school, they should exhibit a wide range of language abilities (e.g., speaking English fluently) that are critical to their school success in accessing the general curriculum (e.g., learning to read) (R. G. Brice, 2004a, 2004b). A. Brice, Mastin, and Perkins (1997a) suggested that how teachers use language in classrooms has an effect on how students interact, and consequently learn. This point was also mentioned by Guthrie and Guthrie (1987) when they stated that

   how teachers and students use language [i. … 
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