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The Unique Challenges of Teaching English-Language Learners

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.
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The Unique Challenges of Teaching English-Language Learners

The most common problem in providing meaningful access to thecurriculum has been the practice of viewing English-languagelearners with learning difficulties as simply low-performingnative English speakers. It is critical that teachers avoid this reaction when confronted with students who do not use English proficiently. Inthinking about curriculum access, the important goal is that students understand the critical concepts being presented, rather thanknowing the correct English label for a particular concept.

One educator described what it was like to come to theUnited States knowing very little English: she suddenly changedfrom perceiving herself as a "smart" person to someone withmany academic problems. This perception remained private,because there was no opportunity to share it with anyone else.She believes it would have been enormously helpful to have heard fromother students about these same kinds of feelings – she would have understoodthat these feelings were normal and that the difficulties were anunderstandable reaction to learning in a new language and environment.

The unfortunate consequence of viewing English-languagelearners as having limited ability is the tendency to merely adoptwatered-down versions of the standard curriculum, a practice thatis in clear conflict with curriculum access. A second-rate curriculum denies English-language learners access to high-qualityinstruction and, ultimately, real academic opportunity.

In thinking about potential solutions and remedies, it is important to remember that there is no one right way, and currently there are noexperts who have precise remedies. Nevertheless, rapid advances are being made in this area, and some promising practices areemerging. At the heart of these practices is a clear recognition thatEnglish-language learners with learning difficulties face uniquelearning challenges that demand innovative practices.

Excerpted from Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

More on Teaching English-Language Learners with Learning Difficulties

CEC
Provided in partnership with The Council for Exceptional Children.

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