Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

Here is some practical information and guidelines for special education teachers, school psychologists, administrators, and program specialists.

English-language learners with learning difficulties fall into four categories:

  • Students with learning disabilities
  • Students with language disabilities
  • Those who are at risk for developing significant learning disabilities
  • Those who are receiving preferential interventions

The term English-language learners (ELL) has replaced the terms still in current use, such as Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and English as a Second Language (ESL). The term English-language learners is now preferred because it draws attention to the instructional needs of students.

Below is a cohesive collection of teaching strategies to use when working with ELL students.

What Is Comprehensible Input?
A critical concept for second-language development for students with and without learning difficulties is comprehensible input – students being able to understand the essence of what is being said or presented to them.

What Is Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum?
The purpose of providing comprehensible input to English-language learners with learning difficulties is to ensure that instruction deals with grade-appropriate content, concepts, and skills.

Problems in Trying to Provide Meaningful Access Through Comprehensible Input
The most common problem in providing meaningful access to the curriculum has been the practice of viewing English-language learners with learning difficulties as simply low-performing native English speakers.

Approaches to Increasing Meaningful Access Through Comprehensible Input
Providing curriculum access does not absolve districts of their responsibility to teach students how to read and develop other core academic skills. Below-grade material can be used if doing so better assists students in learning a core academic objective.

Teaching Academic Language
Successful educators of English-language learners with learning difficulties understand that demonstrating language proficiency depends heavily on contextual factors.

Useful Initial Teaching Strategies
These initial steps will help immensely in preparing the right kind of instructional environment for English-language learners with learning difficulties.

What Teachers Can Do to Provide Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum
A list of several key instructional principles that can be used with English-language learners with learning difficulties.

Council for Exceptional Children

Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.


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