Serving Culturally and Linguistically
Diverse Learners:
Strategies for the School Psychologist
Duration: 7.5 hours
Participants will identify ways to
strengthen collaboration between the
school and family.
Participants will determine
appropriate forms of collaboration,
instruction, intervention and
assessment for ELLs.
Participants will distinguish and
compare the backgrounds of ELLs. 2
I know
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I want to know
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Language Acquisition Anticipation Guide
Read the following statements about Language Acquisition, then mark
Agree or Disagree
________Children learn a language by imitation and repetition.
________The process by which a student learns a second language is
very different to how the first language was learned.
________A controlled language environment is the best place for
language acquisition/learning to occur, an uncontrolled environment is
non-conducive to language learning.
________Oral language proficiency (speaking ability) is a good
predictor of academic success.
________Research shows that it takes 1-4 years to achieve sufficient
fluency in academic English.
Answer #1
Children learn a language by imitation and
Disagree. Children seldom use imitation or
repetition, generally only to acquire isolated words.
Children are unconsciously acting as “little
scientist,” taking in a large quantity of language and
organizing it into patterns and categories. Two
types of evidence illustrate this process:
overgeneralizations of rules, such as when a child
says “go-ed” for “went” shows that the child is
unconsciously constructing rules for the past tense,
but has not yet learned the exceptions; and
children’s unique utterances, in which children
generate sentences that they have never heard,
show that they are constructing meaning on
patterns and rules, not imitation or repetition.
Answer #2 The process by which a student learns a
second language is very different to how the first
language was learned.
Disagree. The processes are similar, which suggest
that especially for young learners, a language-rich
classroom where ELLs are exposed to natural
language use and good language models will
facilitate acquisition. Older children and adults also
acquire language, but in addition, they can
supplement this process with conscious learning
and cognitive faculties.
Answer #3 A controlled language environment is
the best place for language acquisition/learning to
occur, an uncontrolled environment is nonconducive to language learning.
Disagree. Naturally –occurring language acquisition
takes place in an uncontrolled environment; placing
a child in an artificially-controlled language
environment may actually impede natural
acquisition. For example, ELLs taught to read using
highly adapted texts have difficulty transitioning to
mainstream texts because the clues that they have
learned to attend to are not the same.
Answer #4 Oral language proficiency (speaking
ability) is a good predictor of academic success.
Disagree. Oral language proficiency, especially
for non-academic communication, is not a good
predictor of academic success. Saville-Troike
(1984) found that knowledge of academic,
content-vocabulary was the best predictor; other
predictors included opportunities to discuss
academic concepts in their native language, to
use language in academic tasks including,
writing, with study skills, and literacy skills in the
native language.
Answers #5 Research shows that it takes 1-4
years to achieve sufficient fluency in academic
Disagree. Research shows that it often takes as
long as five to seven years to achieve sufficiently
fluency in academic English to compete on par
with native-speaking students. It is more difficult
for students with poor prior schooling, high mobility,
less exposure to rich language and literacy
experience in their native language or in English,
and in schools which are less supportive of
bilingualism and biculturalism.
ELL Placement Process
Home Language Survey
Social History Inventory
CultureGrams or Ciafactbook
Planned Instruction in Academic content areas (content area classes)
The language instructional program must also provide ELLs with meaningful,
comprehensible access to instruction in all content areas.
The academic standards and must be incorporated in planned instruction for
ELLs by all teachers.
Students with LEP must receive instruction the same as they would receive
instruction for other curricular areas. ESL classes must be part of the daily
schedule and thoughtfully.
planned from the administrative level so that students are not removed from
other content classes to receive ESL instruction.
Guidelines to consider when planning direct instruction of ESL:
– Entering (level 1) / Beginning (level 2) students: 2 hours
– Developing (level 3): 1-2 hours
– Expanding (level 4): 1 hour
– Bridging (level 5): up to 1 hour or support dictated by student need
Useful Website
My Five Values- Refugee Simulation Activity
Have participants write 5 of things that they value most in life on 5 separate squares of paper. Each Square will hold a value.
For Example: Health, Education, Spirituality, Family, etc.
Have participants place the squares on a surface in front of them, writing side facing up.
You wake up on a typical Monday morning and brew a pot of coffee. As you are sitting down to eat breakfast you turn on
the television. The television is broadcasting that your government has been toppled. You are upset, but are reassured
by the government that some changes will occur, but things are expected to go on as “normal”.
As few weeks pass and your government announces again through the media that all individuals will be losing one of their
rights. PLEASE TEAR UP ONE OF YOUR VALUES. You are surprised, but you are able to continue on with relative
success. Little changes are starting to be noticed….
A couple of nights later, you are woken by pounding at your door. Four military soldiers break down your door and order
you to hand over two of your values- immediately! PLEASE QUICKLY TAKE AWAY TWO OF YOUR VALUES, YOU
Now you are on the move you have left your house, your town, to seek safety. You are fleeing. You travel on foot,
seeking refuge with family and friends. Food and shelter is limited. Along the way you have to trade in another one of
You finally reach the entrance of the refugee camp. Others who have had similar experiences are also lining up to enter
the camp. You register and walk through the gate, in your hand is your last remaining value. It is battered and worn, but
you clench to it tightly… it is the only remaining reminder of what life used to be….
(Closing statement) So now you know what many of our families (students) feel when they walk through our doors, they have
many times had experienced tremendous loss and are very resilient people. Empathy is key to the building of a positive and
successful relationship.
Ask group to share what they have remaining. Inquire on what it felt like to make the decision to take away values, to have to
select and choose. How did it feel to have someone choose for you?
What did they gain from this experience?
Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills
Experts such as Jim Cummins differentiate between
social and academic language acquisition. Basic
Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) are
language skills needed in social situations. It is the
day-to-day language needed to interact socially with
other people. English language learners (ELLs)
employ BIC skills when they are on the playground, in
the lunch room, on the school bus, at parties, playing
sports and talking on the telephone. Social
interactions are usually context embedded. They occur
in a meaningful social context. They are not very
demanding cognitively. The language required is not
specialized. These language skills usually develop
within six months to two years after arrival in the U.S.
Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency
CALP refers to formal academic learning. This includes
listening, speaking, reading, and writing about subject area
content material. This level of language learning is
essential for students to succeed in school. Students need
time and support to become proficient in academic areas.
This usually takes from five to seven years. Recent
research (Thomas & Collier, 1995) has shown that if a
child has no prior schooling or has no support in native
language development, it may take seven to ten years for
ELLs to catch up to their peers.
Academic language acquisition isn't just the understanding of
content area vocabulary. It includes skills such as
comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and
inferring. Academic language tasks are context reduced.
Information is read from a textbook or presented by the
teacher. As a student gets older the context of academic
tasks becomes more and more reduced.
What Are Accommodations?
An accommodation to the curriculum do not
change the content (i.e., social studies) nor
the concept difficulty (i.e., compare and
contrast the causes of the Revolutionary
Instead, an accommodation changes the
input and/or output method used by the
teacher and/or student related to the
instructional outcome (Friend & Bursuck,
2009; King-Sears, M., 2001).
Important Clarification
Adaptations are always relative to the
outcome specified for typical students,
so teachers must first be clear on the
outcome before deciding on an
adaption of it.
Student Scenarios
“Wait and See”
“Watch and See” active monitoring, data
collection, and sharing of information.
“Act Now” step allows for immediate referral
when there are clear health related issues,
obvious disabilities, or educators trained in
language acquisition are significantly
Student Scenarios
What are your initial impressions?
What are your initial concerns?
What follow-up questions do you have?
At a glance, is it a language or learning
Buki, a native Albanian-speaker, arrived to your school, as a 6th
grader, with a Level 1 ESL proficiency. Currently, she is a 7th
grader. She has had little formal education in her native country and
is semi-literate in Albanian. She needs intensive English instruction,
particularly instruction that addresses the basic concepts,
background knowledge, and language needed to participate in the
general education program. Her lack of prior education would seem
to explain some of her lack of academic progress and limited English,
but it did not explain her irregular behaviors. Throughout the year,
she was unable to pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues (using the
pencil sharpener and scissors, sitting down, taking notes), school
norms (shouting, running, being on time, using a locker) and socially
appropriate behaviors (personal grooming, touching, using the
restroom), and her progress in school actually deteriorated during the
course of the school year. Her legal guardian, her aunt, and previous
school records indicated that she had never advanced beyond the
fourth grade in her native country.
Thaku, a native Karen-speaker from Burma/Thailand, is now in
9th grade and has an overall Level 2 ESL proficiency. He
arrived to the US in 6th grade, as a Level 1. His lack of
academic progress after three years resulted in his repeating
the Level 1 ESL curriculum twice. His first year in high school
his teachers were alerted that his progress might be slow and
he would probably have problems with reading, writing and
other academic skills. Besides having poor grades, Thaku
would “zone out” during class and was easily distracted by his
peers. He had difficulty working independently, copied all
assignments from other students, and rarely turned in
homework. His penmanship was so poor he had difficulty
reading his own writing. His oral communication improved over
the three years, but his reading and writing remained at a Level
1. His parent informed the school that he had experienced
some emotional traumas in his native country and refugee
Shoti, a native Nepali-speaker, is a Level 2 proficiency
level student with approximately six months of US high
school instruction. She is currently in the 10th grade.
Her behavior was an issue immediately. She was
chronically tardy, disruptive, disorganized, unable to sit
still, and very needy for attention. Her grades were
poor, but her teachers did not believe this reflected her
ability. She rarely turned in homework and she lacked
the focus needed to complete written work thoroughly.
She was competitive in the classroom and was quick
to answer questions orally. Unfortunately, her
impulsive and disruptive behaviors led to disciplinary
action. Her parents revealed that Shoti had similar
discipline problems in her home country.
At his first school, Peter entered an early
childhood special education program with a
speech and language IEP that specified he was
non-verbal, speech and language impaired.
Peter had just turned four years old. His mom
and sister spoke only Thai in the home. This IEP
showed hours of testing and evaluations
conducted primarily in English with some words
translated into Thai. Now at age five, Peter is
now in your school district. Upon fully screening
the new student, the ESL teacher informed the
Early Childhood Special Education team that
she did not feel this was a learning disability.
Ivana arrives at your school as a seventh grader. She did
not have her prior records, but the home language survey
revealed Ivana spoke English only when at school. The ESL
teacher screened Ivana and determined she was a Level 3
English proficiency. A few weeks later an IEP arrived from
Ivana’s previous school. According to this school, in another
state, Ivana was a special education student with an
identification of EMR- Educable Mental Retardation. She
was in a self-contained classroom 75% of her day. She was
also about to be remanded to an alternative special
education school for fighting, disrespectful behavior, and
poor attendance. The EMR identification was made when
Ivana was nine years old when she arrived from war-torn
Bosnia via Germany and had been extended without further
assessment. Although Ivana was in ESL at the time of her
first assessment, she never returned to an ESL class until
her arrival at your school four years later.
ELL Resources
On-line ELL Resources for Content Area Teachers
Professional Organizations for Teachers of English
Education Law Center (ELC) ELC is a non-profit legal advocacy and educational
organization, dedicated to ensuring that all of PA’s children have access to a quality public
PA Refugee Resettlement Program provides a continuum of employment, educational,
case management, health, and financial support services to newly arrived refugees in the
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) is a global professional
community of teachers of English to speakers of other languages.
The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) features research and practice in
applied language issues. AAAL is the U.S. affiliate of the International Association of
Applied Linguistics (AILA).
The Center for Applied Linguistics is dedicated to providing a comprehensive range of
research-based information, tools, and resources related to language and culture. CAL is a
private, nonprofit organization working to improve communication through better
understanding of language and culture. Established in 1959, CAL is headquartered in
Washington, DC.
Translation Services
3 “Big Ideas” about supporting ELLs.
2 “Innovative Ideas” you have for supporting ELLs.
1 Question you still have about supporting ELLs

Pennsylvania Department of Education Special Education