10 Questions to Consider (Summary from a Course PowerPoint)
1. How have I honoured the referring teacher’s concern?
2. Do we have a clear pre-referral process in place?
3. Who is the gatekeeper within the ELL program who is contacted for every pre-referral?
4. To what extent does everyone understand language development?
5. Is the ELL exhibiting atypical performance?
6. To whom is the ELL being compared?
7. What data should I look at for the peer comparison?
8. What role does Response-To-Intervention (RTI) play in the pre-referral process?
9. To what extent are parents involved?
10. To what extent are district ELL/Special Ed trends being scrutinized?
My Questions and Concerns
Question 1: “To whom is the ELL student being compared?”
• A peer analysis is critical in determining if the student’s performance is atypical.
• The ideal peer group are English Language Learners, with the same language background, same time in the program, and same grade of entry in school.
• Scour district longitudinal data and find as large a peer group as possible.
Although I think that while yes, it might be useful to compare a student with their peers when deciding to make a referral to special education, schools should base recommendations on observable data over an iterative and collaborative process. In my experience, students informally compare themselves and teachers unconsciously make comparisons between past and current students. As in any situation, our judgment is clouded by anecdotes of student behavior and our personal interpretations of those anecdotes. The word “scour” even indicates a lack of available information, a lack of awareness of our students, and a lack of discussion about their backgrounds. Why do we need to scour to find information about our students? We should be engaging them in these conversations as they become interwoven in classwork. In my experiences, parents can often only offer anecdotal data in explanation of their children’s actions, and these stories aren’t heard and acted on by administrators or teachers. A student’s ability to read, write, speak, listen, socialize, problem-solve, organize, and inquire impacts their ability to communicate. This makes it critical to remember a student’s performance, in any setting, might really be measuring facets of these communication skills not intended for that specific evaluation. Since I’ve seen this problem in educational research papers, it’s on my mind when discussing the potentially biased recommendations of English Language Learners to special needs testing.
Question 2: “Interventions that are Culturally Responsive…”
…are the interventions that consider each students’ home language, their cultural background and experiences, their preferred ways of interacting and learning. Culturally responsive practices are ones that identify home literacy practices and integrate these unique sets of knowledge and skills into the curricular materials, instructional methods, educational environment, participation of families, quality of teaching, and results from both formative and summative progress monitoring. Interventions for students, especially those who are culturally and linguistically diverse, should be informed by “cultural brokers” who are part of “collaborative teams of educators who design interventions for struggling students,” and examine their own practice for cultural responsiveness (speaker notes).
Question 3: “Progress Monitoring in Culturally Responsive RTI Frameworks Helps Educators…”
There are many benefits to the use of systematic progress monitoring in the classroom. Progress monitoring assists educators in determining expected outcomes for the quality and rate of student progress that are informed by students’ language, proficiency, and other relevant student factors, such as time as a student in that particular school. Progress monitoring also helps teachers determined whether and which students are benefitting from curriculum and instruction provided, and to consider patterns of different performance or progress across gender, race, ethnicity, or language.
Question 4: “To what extent are parents involved?”
For example, in my time teaching abroad in independent schools, I learned the access to testing varies according to financial and cultural access, and mental health is rarely a part of the conversation. Recently, this is changing. In 2014, I observed a teacher’s dilemma with whether to tell his sixth grader’s parents whether he believed the student had a learning disorder, based on year-long observational data, or whether to just tell their concerns to the principle with no procedure or guarantee of follow-up. Eventually, another colleague held a meeting with the student’s parents—they denied their child had issues, claimed it was issues with his English, although the teachers explained they had gone through as many methods of eliminating this as possible, and stormed out.
Not all parents will be receptive to discussing their child’s issues in school. Hopefully, teachers can create organic relationships with students’ parents that allows for a dialogue about difficult issues. The role of “educator to the immigrants” is problematic is viewed as a synonym for imposing Western ideals. A child’s reluctance to look a person in the eye, for example, can stem from multiple causes, but I have seen teachers interpret mannerisms and actions, along the cultural to idiosyncratic spectrum, as learning disabilities. It is important to consult a range of professionals and community members to avoid this, so I think explicitly discussing this with new teachers will be crucial to avoiding instances of ignorance.
I’m learning the best way to gain knowledge is by listening to people’s stories different from what I know, rather than mindlessly absorbing alternates of stories I know and experience. I have a book to recommend for those interested in learning about Hmong culture, which got me interested enough to backpack in Sapa, Vietnam and meet local Hmong woman to talk about what we both experienced. I think that teachers can use literature to explore cultures “safely” if they are uncomfortable talking to community members, and build their awareness of others. The book is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.
I am an enthusiastic and conscientious educator. I use my blog to connect my personal experiences and adventures to my pedagogy.