HomeLearning DifficultiesLearning Disabilities & ADHDDiagnosing ADHD

Helping English Language Learners Who Struggle in School

Page 3 of 4

By Linda Broatch, M.A.

Type 2 Difficulties: How Can Early Intervention Services Help ELL Students Overcome Learning Difficulties?

Some children, even if they receive high-quality instruction in their regular classroom and in their ESL or bilingual classroom, will have problems learning to read, write, spell, understand what they hear or read, solve math problems or use reasoning skills. Most of these children do not have a learning disability; they can catch up with their classmates if they're given more intensive instruction in problem areas, as soon as possible. Most schools have a plan in place to provide help, in the regular classroom, for a student having difficulties learning. Here are some important steps a school may take:

  • A team of school professionals with different qualifications is formed to identify and address the student's specific learning problems. For example, the team might include the classroom teacher, the ESL teacher, a reading specialist or the school psychologist. These pre-referral teams have various names, such as "student study team," "teacher assistance team," and others.
  • Members of the school team gather documentation on the student's academic performance, including: specific learning problems they've observed; what interventions they've used to help the student, and dates and length of time the interventions were used; samples of the student's schoolwork and assessments that show his current level of performance; the student's complete school record, for a history of problems and interventions.

The school team talks with parents or family members to better understand why the student is having learning difficulties. For example, they may ask questions about:

  • Specific behaviors the parent has noticed that may indicate a learning problem
  • What languages are spoken at home
  • At what age the child began to speak the home language(s)
  • Whether the student attended school before coming to the United States
  • Any health or medical problems that could affect learning
  • At what age the student began learning English

After the team has met to review all the information about the student, they make a plan of action to improve the student's performance. The plan includes:

  • What research-based interventions the teacher (or others) will use in the classroom; how often, and for how many hours per week, interventions will occur
  • What changes will be made to the classroom or instruction, for example, 20 minutes of extra reading instruction daily
  • How often the student's progress will be monitored and how it will be measured
  • When the team will meet again to review how well the plan is working
  • When and how to inform parents of the student's progress

Ask your child's teacher or principal if the school has provided extra instructional help for your child and what the results were. Work with school staff to determine what next steps to take to help your child learn.

Linda Broatch has worked for many years in nonprofit organizations that serve the health and education needs of children. She has an M.A. in education, with a focus in child development.

Comments from readers

"Hi. I am hispanic woman and I have 2 children my oldest is 6 and attends first grade now, since Kindergarten she has been recognized as a 'kinesthetic learner' but the teacher also implied that she has some attention issues. The pediatrician told us to wait since she was only 5 years old. She was placed in an ELL program though she speaks english most of the time she does have knowlegde of spanish but is not as fluent as she is in english. My husband only speaks english. I do speak both at home but mostly english. So now the ELL teacher suggested that we should take her to the doctor again because even though she is not 'struggling' she fears that she might fall behind because it seems that she has a hard time staying focused and finishes her tasks poorly. Now, last year she learned to read really fast,she is a hands on learner and was at the end of first grade level reading at the end of kindergarten, this year at the first parents teacher conference,her teacher said that ! she is ok. What should we do? She is very active so her pediatrician told us that she is just an active child. We are considering getting an specialist to asses her but the ELL teacher told us to get the forms from the doctor's office which I did but honestly those forms come from the pharmaceutical offices,like seriously??? Don't get me wrong, I know there are children that need medication and those meds have helped children through decades but is there any other way to help my child besides considering drugs??? Because I have the sense that it will go down that road with us. What are the goals by the end of this year on the ELL program for first graders? She reads ,writes and speaks english, I would like to know the standars for her age. Plus she and other children from different ethnicities have been placed in the same classroom so it kind of puzzles me ,if they want them to learn the language properly wouldn't be fair for them to be mixed with the rest of the english sp! eakers??? "
" It's extremely critical to a student's academic success to define their early learning needs. There's no two ways about it, Hispanic students have different values, different parenting, and come from a culture where boys are favored and are excused from the menial tasks that girls are expected to do. It'll take time for the lives of these students to assimilate American traditions and their parents, most likely, never will. "