NOTE: This report is part of a larger article, Action Research: Reseeing Learning and Rethinking Practice in the LOTE Classroom, published by the LOTE Center for Educator Development. Please access the main page for full text and copyright information.
María Treviño, Texas Education Agency
In my first years teaching Spanish, I remember receiving a list from the counselors of students who were considered “slow learners” and being told that they needed more time to do their work. There was no special training for teachers and no meeting between all parties to discuss the students’ educational plans. Teachers would read the lists, make a notation to provide additional assistance, and move forward.
In my second year of teaching, I had a student who required more attention, more time for daily work and tests, more explanation–just more of everything. Besides regular classroom instruction, she routinely came to my classroom before or after school for additional help. We reviewed orally and in writing and used as many hands-on activities as possible. She really tried very hard, but was more than a little stressed to be successful in her classes because her mother wanted her to be a doctor. Finally, one day she put her hands on her head in desperation and said to me, “Sra. Treviño, are you sure you know how to teach Spanish?” At first I was speechless, and finally I said to her: “Yes, hijita, [Footnote: my little daughter, a term of endearment used frequently with non-relatives considered close.] I know how to teach Spanish. I just need to find a way to teach you.” She finally passed with a C+ and was so proud of it, as I was proud of her. From that very moment, I began to work with the administration and counselors to change the district rule regarding students enrolling in languages. Languages were not just for students with a B in English and who were college bound. All students could be successful if given the right opportunities in the classroom!
Thirty years later, there are even more students enrolling in languages. Most classes are heterogeneous with gifted and talented, average, and special needs students all mixed in the same class, and teachers are trying to accommodate all students so that they can be successful. Yet somehow the training to meet the needs of “special needs” students has not been available, especially for teachers of Languages Other Than English (LOTE). The question of how to address inclusion in the LOTE classroom remains unanswered.
The purpose of my study was to take a closer look at the population of students who are enrolling in LOTE classes and how teachers are dealing with modifications and accommodations to help all students succeed in learning a second language. This subject is of extreme importance to me; first, because of the personal experience that I just related (and those that followed in subsequent years), and second, because I see an ever-increasing enrollment of special needs students in foreign languages. As the former Instructional Specialist for International Languages in Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, I received requests from teachers to provide assistance in meeting the needs of these students. Frustration was evident in the classroom, and curriculum guides needed to be changed to reflect modifications. Staff development in special education was a priority as most LOTE teachers did not have a special education background. The staff development presented, however, was generic to all disciplines. Because most special education specialists are not LOTE teachers, they cannot provide much assistance specific to language instruction for special needs students.
Beginning with the 2004-2005 school year, Texas Education Code 28.025 mandates that incoming freshmen students complete the Recommended Program, which requires two years of a foreign language. Many school districts have already implemented this requirement in preparation for this law. There will be more special needs students in the LOTE classroom, and teachers will have to be prepared to develop and carry out the students’ Individualized Education Program (IEP) to provide appropriate learning experiences.
The three main questions that I wanted answered in this action research study were:
In order to obtain basic information from the teaching field, I developed a survey asking teachers a variety of questions including number of years teaching experience, the number of IEPs they deal with on a daily basis, their involvement in Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committees, etc. The other items focused on my three research questions mentioned above. The survey was published in the Languages Other Than English Center for Educator Development newsletter and in the Texas Foreign Language Association newsletter. I received 148 survey responses by the given deadline, and these were reviewed for basic information.
The 148 responses included teachers of Spanish, French, German, Latin, Japanese, and Chinese. Experience ranged from those in their first year of teaching to those with 25 years in the classroom. Initial information suggests that 62 teachers had received some staff development related to special needs students in the LOTE classroom; however, the length or depth of the staff development was not included. A surprising revelation was that a large number of teachers had IEPs for students for whom they had not participated in the ARD. This is a crucial factor since the teacher is ultimately responsible for the success of the student. I believe that the teacher should have input into what the IEP outlines for the student in order for the learner to be successful in the LOTE classroom. Obviously, in order for the teacher to provide meaningful input into the IEP, the teacher needs special training in recognizing appropriate accommodations and modifications for different special needs.
There was a tremendous range of disabilities mentioned, from hearing, visual, and speech impairments to a variety of disorders and syndromes. One shocking finding was that a couple of teachers listed “English as a Second Language (ESL)” as a disability. What was also evident from the data was that teachers are still confused as to what is a modification (change in content) and what is an accommodation (change in teaching strategy, environment, etc.). As teachers listed their modifications and accommodations on the survey, the same activities were often listed under both categories. In fact, it should be noted that these terms are not used consistently throughout the state or in the nation. It appears that some teachers are still not aware of their legal responsibilities regarding special needs students. Teachers also expressed frustration at their lack of training: “I don’t know the difference between a modification and an accommodation.” “Large class size hinders special help for any student.” “I often am at a loss. I do not understand what is expected of me for these students. Help me understand!” “I hear teachers saying such things as ‘but this is a foreign language. If the student can’t perform, he shouldn’t be here.’ We need to know what our legal responsibilities are, and how to fulfill them.”
It is clear that teachers are trying to do their job, but there needs to be support at the district level with curriculum/staff development and plenty of cooperation between the Special Education Department and LOTE teachers. At the state level, several initiatives can be implemented in collaboration with school districts, LOTE district coordinators, and LOTE teachers.
It is my desire to be able to establish specific special education training for LOTE teachers so that they can be successful in helping special needs students acquire a second language to the best of their ability. The first step was to collect the preliminary information reported above. The next step was initiated at the Texas Conference on Coordinating Languages held in Austin in April 2003 when some initial staff development on inclusion in LOTE was provided to district LOTE coordinators and lead teachers. Next, I would like to do a follow-up with a group of district LOTE coordinators, designated teachers, and special education specialists to develop a handbook of accommodations and modifications for foreign language teachers to use in developing IEPs and to use as they design appropriate lessons for their special needs students. After that, I hope to be able to establish a cadre of LOTE trainers who will be able to deliver staff development in a variety of formats. Finally, I would like to work with regional Education Service Centers so that they can offer this staff development in their service area. These are long-term projects which require funding, but the goal is to have some of them in place by the 2004-2005 school year when Texas Education Code 28.025 authorizes the implementation of the required Recommended Program for graduation.
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