Spearheaded by Sara Kangas, assistant professor of Lehigh’s College of Education, the study included classroom observations, teachers and administrators’ interviews, and the collection of classroom documents from a dual-language charter school in the northeastern United States. Dr. Kangas’ accumulated data revealed that many educators have low expectations for ELLs with disabilities and consider most of these students to be semilingual, or neither proficient in their home language nor their secondary language. To this point, Dr. Kangas concludes that, “If teachers working in the capacity of language believe ELLs are semilinguals, then the possibility of high expectations for academic and linguistic development of these students is grim.”
This research is not limited to charter schools, however. As Mitchell references in his article, many states are ill-equipped to handle this population; for example, “…in 2016, a 20-state review from the federal Institute of Education Sciences and written by the Regional Laboratory West found that many states don't have well-defined processes for identifying ELLs with disabilities.” And yet, as many multilingual educators know, exposure to bilingual education can foster academic and linguistic growth for all students. According to the article, “Research has shown that English-learners with disabilities have higher academic performance and linguistic development when exposed to both languages, even for more severe disabilities such as developmental delay.”
So, how can we support ELLs with disabilities in the classroom? We cannot assume that these students are semilinguals. To subjugate these students to a limiting terminology, we are assuming that these students cannot benefit from a bilingual education. However, as research has shown us, bilingual education can result in higher academic performance and enhance linguistic development. As members of TWIN-CS, we must keep conversations such as these open to discussion. As educators, we are constantly learning and improving our methods in the classroom. Please feel free to share any of your classroom stories in the comments, we’d be delighted to hear!
Continue to follow the blog for more enlightening research!
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher