Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Seeing troubling behaviors in an ELL?

It's important to consider if there is an ELL explanation for these behaviors.   Communication with the family is also key to determine if the same behaviors are observed at home or in the home language.
This list is not exhaustive, nor are the reasons correct in every situation, especially since many of these behaviors can at times reflect a learning disability.  This list gives potential explanations for common ELL behaviors.  Also, other strategies may also be more appropriate depending on the child, the family or the context.  Many behaviors are typically seen mainly in newcomers or beginners, though all ELLs' have unique experiences in language learning and cultural transition and adaptation, depending on their backgrounds.
Compiled by Lauren Harrison, ELL Teacher, Early Steps Preschool and Hosmer Elementary, Watertown Public Schools
*Portions taken from Special Education Considerations for English Language Learners by Else Hamayan, et al, 2007
Patton Tabors references come from One Child, Two Languages, 2008

Common ELL Behaviors
Potential Explanations
Potential Strategies
Affects of culture shock and not being able to communicate can cause great frustration
Visuals or “Social Story” to show how to respond, directly teach needed phrases or provide nonverbal or visuals a child can use in situations
Affects of English language immersion / saturation
As appropriate, allow student to take frequent breaks, spend time in a quiet space alone, look at books, and have more gross motor activity…Family communication about child’s level of fatigue at home.
Lack of Participation
Cannot understand, has language fatigue
Provide Comprehensible Input by using language that is just above student’s level of English proficiency
Lack of Interest
Culture shock, language fatigue, no background knowledge
Comprehensible input, visuals, materials from child’s culture/ background, let child point to pictures or find pictures in a read aloud
Low frustration tolerance.  Gives up easily or explodes.*
Culture shock, language fatigue, tired, doesn’t understand, doesn’t feel successful
Provide models, encouragement, visuals, routine, picture schedule, learning in chunks
Doesn’t transfer learning from one lesson to another.  Has to relearn each concept from scratch.*
Forgets English words learned orally with no context.  Is not using background knowledge.  Task may not be scaffolded enough for student’s current level of English proficiency
Activate background knowledge through pictures or real things, saying, “Remember when we _________.”  Keep new teaching highly contextual – in the here and now.
Lack of academic progress
Affective filter (see Stephen Krashen, 1982) If affective filter is high, it can keep student from receiving input and making “normal” progress. Lack of English, lack of modeling or direct instruction, family background/experiences at home
Low pressure environment, ESL supports like visuals, modeling, direct instruction, varied groupings, peer teaching, Total Physical Response (TPR) – whole body movement, re-teaching, repetition.  Ask family how child learns concepts in home language when taught at home.
Use of jargon or gibberish
Trying out the rhythms and sounds of the new language.  (See Patton Tabors, 2008)
Show enthusiasm that the child is speaking.  Say it “for” the child / narrate.
Mimicking Teachers or Peers
Trying out the rhythms and sounds of the new language; wanting to say something
(See Patton Tabors, 2008)
Allow child to mimic as possible and provide encouragement.  As developmentally appropriate, encourage child to produce original words / phrases.  Use music, chants, poems, and multiple readings to teach new language.
Talking to Self
Rehearsing language  (see Patton Tabors, 2008)
Take note of what child says and help them know when to use it in situations
Repetition of Words/Phrases
Rehearsing language.  Generalizing.
(See Patton Tabors, 2008)
Encourage child for practicing the new language. 
Language fatigue, culture shock, cultural considerations – some kids may be used to corporal punishment, for example
Positive reinforcement, star charts, routines, picture schedules, communicates with parents and possibly give parents guidance on any misbehavior at home.
Poor fluency, grammatical mistakes, mispronunciation, omission of words, etc.
Level of English Proficiency
Provide ELL supports, but also ask family if they notice the same difficulties in the home language.  If difficulties are present there, then further support (S&L) may be needed.
“Spaced out”
Language Fatigue and Culture Shock
Give child a place to take a break or get moving.  Provide culturally relevant materials or provide some connection with their culture.  Use music and movement.
Not sociable
Lack of English, culture shock, emotional considerations
(See Patton Tabors’ “Omega Child”, 2008)
Buddies, teach language needed for play and standing up for oneself, teach English proficient students how to play with Non English speaking peers.
Unresponsive – verbally
Lack of English, cultural considerations
Child could be in the nonverbal stage and should not be pushed to speak before he/she is ready.  Varied groupings – small group, one-on-one, etc.  Visuals, model, sentence starters, “I want _____.”  Low-pressure environment.  Allow for nonverbal responses – pointing, etc.  Provide other ways to communicate.  Use songs and movement.  Young ELLs (early childhood) often spend longer in the nonverbal stage than older ELLs.  Document specific language you hear the student use in various contexts to show what the child CAN say.
Unresponsive - nonverbally
Student may not be familiar with common nonverbal behavior in the US.  Some gestures are not common or not used in other cultures (e.g. pointing, raising hands)
Explicitly teach the student nonverbal communication (i.e. raising hand, high five, shrugging shoulders, waving, pointing, etc.)
Has trouble following directions*
Doesn’t understand, no demonstrations or context given for directions/procedure
Provide visuals, explicit modeling, start with simple, one step directions and build on as child is able to understand.  Ask parents if child has trouble following directions in home language.  If so, child may need further support.
Speaking in Home Language
The first stage of second language acquisition is use of home language
(see Patton Tabors, 2008)
Show excitement that the student is making efforts to communicate, encourage use of home language in the classroom and at home, use Google Translate apps or peers that speak the same language, learn key words in the students’ language and let them teach peers
“Reading” books backwards
Child may come from a language system where books are read from right to left (e.g. Arabic)
Acknowledge to child that in his/her language, books are read from right to left.  Then show how we read books in English.
Writing backwards
Child may come from a language system where writing is done right to left
Acknowledge to child that in his/her language, writing is done from right to left, then explicitly teach left to right orientation.  Some students need a dot or smiley face to help them remember where to start.
Very literal; misses inferences, subtleties, nuances and innuendoes.*
Difficult to express/represent abstract concepts (teacher and child)
Keep communication and learning concrete and scaffold for more abstract tasks.
Easily distracted*
Doesn’t understand, no visual/concrete support, mental exhaustion
Visuals, redirection, frequent breaks, routines, picture schedule, timers, culturally relevant materials, preview materials, build background knowledge


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