George Lucas Educational Foundation

SEN (Special Educational Needs) and language skills

SEN (Special Educational Needs) and language skills

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I have a student who is hard of hearing (HOH), and has a good working memory. She is in Grade 12. However, her English language skills need a great boost. For that I am working with her on developing and polishing her grammar, vocabulary, writing and reading skills. When it comes to vocabulary, I have used some of the vocabulary exercises mentioned on Edutopia and additional resources on your website. Although, she has been successful in doing her own vocabulary works, finding meanings and synonyms etc, but when it comes to making sentences on her own, i.e. applying in other contexts, she fails to convey the meaning of the sentences adequately. While her grammar skills are being improved, working with words in new contexts are areas of difficulty for her.
What would you or other teachers suggest? I give her lots of examples through spoken discussion, visualizations and reading. But applying is bit difficult for her. I am a great follower of Blooms' taxonomy. I do know, earlier in her school life, teachers did not push towards HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills), most of the teachers are untrained. But I have a MA Education, so I am familiar with all those. Still when it comes to SEN, I struggle at times. I am myself HOH but fortunately, learning English language was a breeze for me. I was an avid reader. Somehow, I cannot recall how my teachers use to help us apply words in new contexts. Probably I am missing some easy tips!
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! -

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

My son had lots of ear infections as a child and it effected his language acquisition, reading and writing skills to this day (he's now a college freshman) and my grandmother went to the Rochester School for the Deaf, so I have some understanding of how this can complicate learning.
My first thought would be to see if she enjoys audio books. For my son, listening to books, ranging from assigned novels for school to text books, has allowed him to repeat and relearn information at his own speed. This has allowed him to be exposed to books that were at one point beyond his own reading level, with adding more complex language and vocabulary along the way, which is a plus.

He uses audionote in the classroom (an ipad app) where he can take some notes while recording the lecture- the notes and the audio sync, so you can just repeat the portion of the lecture you want to. For him, this means he doesn't have to use as much cognitive energy for taking dictation of class lectures, and can spend more time thinking about what the teacher is saying, and he doesn't have to worry about having incomplete notes, because he can augment them later. It can be time consuming to relisten, but it's definitely how he now processes information.
He also has had real difficulty with grammar, but has a decent vocabulary from having heard so many books- I think online tools like No Red Ink can make reinforcement of grammar and writing skills a bit more fun and angaging, and it might be worth a try.
Maybe try sentence diagramming? For some kids, seeing how sentences and vocabulary work together, like legos, can actually provide them the greater structural context to make composition easier.
It sounds like she has a decent memory, but it's the lack of context or cognitive hooks that are getting in the way of re-contextualizing things. My son also has ADHD, and when he has been on his meds, his retention picks up remarkably, where without it, it's like information washes over him and down the drain sometimes, so also look at whether there are other confounding factors ranging from time of day to alertness that are making this harder.

I know this can be painful, especially because by Grade 12, many kids can sort of give up on themselves, not seeing themselves as writers or good students. Let me know if i can provide you any additional help- I feel this personally because of my own experiences, and would be happy to do more research or help any way I can.

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