What are the differences between past goals and current practices in communication and language instruction? What are differences as they relate to service provision for students with severe...

What are the differences between past goals and current practices in communication and language instruction? What are differences as they relate to service provision for students with severe disabilities?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Current goals for communication development may be known by many boards of education as the English Language Development Standards. The standards break English language development down into four learning domains: "Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing" ("English Language Development Standards--WIDA"). The standards also break language development into 5 basic levels of learning, and these levels range from "novice to proficient" ("English Language"). The language development standards also group together the two learning domains of listening and reading and the two domains of speaking and writing. For both pairs of domains, the standards also take into consideration learning at the word or phrase level, learning at the sentence level, and learning at the "Discourse Level."

When it comes to the learning domains of listening and reading, based on the standards, a novice, or level 1 learner should be able to socially engage using everyday language and be able to recognize words based on content; the same will be true of the level 1 learner with respect to the learning domains of speaking and writing. In terms of sentence-level learning, a level 1 learner should be able to hear and speak "simple grammatical constructions," such as being able to recognize "Wh- questions" ("WIDA Performance Definitions--Listening and Reading Grades K-12"). In terms of "Discourse Level" language development, the level 1 learner should be able to read and speak "single statements or questions" and understand "an idea within words, phrases, or chunks of language" ("Listening and Reading"). The level 5, or proficient, learner should, on a word level, be able to understand technical and abstract language as well as multiple meanings of words. On a sentence level, the level 5 learner should be able to understand, through reading and listening, both compound and complex sentence structures and be able to recognize a "broad range of sentence patterns" ("Listening and Reading").  Finally, on a discourse level, through both reading and listening, the level 5 learner should be able to understand rich, descriptive detail and complex sentences. The level 5 learner should also be able to understand the organization of "related ideas" ("Listening and Reading"). All of the above will hold true for the level 5 learner's ability to both write and speak. When it comes to the learning domains of speaking and writing, on a sentence level, the level 1 learner should be able to write and speak common phrases used in "social and instructional situations" and be able to write and speak phrases as grammatical structures ("WIDA Performance Definitions--Speaking and Writing"). At the discourse level, the level 1 learner should be able to write and speak large "chunks of language" such as large phrases and groups of words ("Speaking and Writing").

When it comes to teaching language development to students who have severe language learning disabilities, the goals would be to help the students overcome the facets of reading, writing, listening, and speaking that they are struggling with. One example is that if students have a hard time understanding details, then one learning goal would be to focus on reading comprehension (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, "What treatments are available for people with a language-based learning disability?"). For some students, difficulties in being able to write may be overcome by encouraging them to speak their answers first. If students have difficulty pronouncing words, then more practice in pronunciation may overcome this as well as help further develop reading skills (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association).

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