The changing demographics within the United States point to the
need for preparing teachers who have the knowledge and competencies
for developing and designing education programs for the rapidly
increasing population of English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)
show a dramatic increase in the population of (ESL) students. During
the 1999-2000 school year, 4.4 million students were identified
as English language learners (ELLs) in pre-K through 12 public schools
(Kindler, 2002). Most teachers realize a need for education that
recognizes ESL students’ learning differences and allows ESL
students to have access to the same information and experiences
as their native speaking peers. However, according to a report by
the U.S. Department of Education (1999), only 20% of teachers who
taught ELLs felt well prepared to meet the needs of their students.
ESL students are mainstreamed before they achieve proficiency, particularly
in academic English. This is mainly because as soon as an ESL student
can converse fluently with classmates and adults, he/she is considered
ready to be mainstreamed. However, Cummins (1980) makes a distinction
between language used for basic social interaction (BICS) and language
used for academic purposes (CALP) and shows how BICS is not sufficient
to ensure a student's success in content courses. In order to perform
more cognitively demanding tasks, e.g., comprehending and participating
in classroom discussion, reading textbooks and other curriculum
materials, writing competently at the appropriate grade level, students
also need to have CALP. Research shows that students may acquire
Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) in a second language
within six to two years after arrival in a new country. However,
it may take ESL students five years or more to acquire academic
competence in the new language at a level equal to that of their
native-speaking peers (Cummins, 1979; Thomas & Collier, 1995).
there is a time limit on the total number of years a student may
remain in the ESL classes, thus requiring students to meet institutional
standards for English language reading and writing proficiency even
more rapidly than ever before. Moreover, there are recent efforts
at the national, state, and local levels to increase the participation
of limited English students in large-scale assessments. (National
Center for Education Statistics website) No Child Left Behind Act
mandates that the students who have attended school in the United
States for at least three consecutive years must be tested in reading
and language arts in the English language. For these reasons, it
is becoming ever more incumbent upon mainstream teachers to develop
awareness about the learning differences and accommodate ESL students
in the mainstream classrooms.
is very important to train mainstream teachers in the principles
and procedures of Universal Design in Learning and provide them
with strategies in development and implementation of the UDL principles
into their instruction. This paper intends to help mainstream teachers
turn the challenges posed by high standards and increasing learner
diversity into opportunities to maximize learning for every student.
What is Universal Design in Learning?
Universal Design in Learning can be defined as planning and developing
curricula in ways that improve instruction and promote student learning.
This enhanced instruction is not only for students with disabilities,
but for “all” students including ESL students, and other
diverse populations of students. In this paper, I will try to provide
some guidelines that mainstream teachers can use to assist ESL students
have access to the same information and experiences as their native
speaking peers and help students function with greater independence.
Universal Design can empower ESL students by (a) providing multiple
representations of content, (b) helping students have access to
the course materials, and by (c) providing multiple options for
Providing Multiple Representations of Content
ESL students, high vocabulary density in academic content materials
can become an obstacle to comprehension and enjoyment. Moreover,
ESL students may have limited background knowledge than U.S.-educated
students have--knowledge that helps them transfer concepts to a
new setting. For example, ESL students may have little or no knowledge
about the U.S. history. Even if they have had social studies instruction,
the content will have been very different. Therefore, mainstream
teachers who have ESL students in their classrooms need to provide
multiple representations of the content to help their students develop
background knowledge and have access to the content. This can be
achieved by providing hands-on and performance-based activities,
using graphic organizers, and incorporating cooperative learning
activities where ESL students can practice the language of the content
of the strategies to provide multiple representations of content
are listed below:
Field trips: Field trips help expand the students’ knowledge
through hands-on learning. They provide opportunities for students
to apply what they have learned in the real world. For example,
a field trip to historical sites such as Gaithersburg in Maryland
or Mouth Vermont in Virginia would help the ESL students develop
background knowledge about the U.S. history or a visit to a park
when studying types of trees would give them opportunities to observe
and analyze types of trees.
2. Virtual field trips: Students can also take virtual field trips
on the Web that can serve as educational expeditions for students.
3. Drama: Drama is a very powerful tool for students to develop
background knowledge. Simulations can be created where students
role-play an event/process such as discovery of the American continent,
slavery or the stages in a life cycle of a frog.
4. Pictures, diagrams, and graphic organizers: In order to help
students develop vocabulary, mainstream teachers can illustrate
meanings with pictures, diagrams or graphic organizers as much as
possible. ESL students can refer to these pictures, diagrams or
graphic organizers during the rest of the lesson/unit.
(b) Helping Students Have Access to
the Course Materials
1. Class notes: Mainstream teaches can make his or her class notes
available to the ESL students or ask 1-2 students to volunteer to
take notes that will assist in providing accommodations to ESL students
in the class.
2. Mainstream teachers can read class handouts, assignments to be
distributed out loud to make sure that all the learners understand
the handout or the assignment. This is also helpful for those who
have a preference for the auditory modality.
3. Resources: Having resources such as a library, dictionaries,
thesauruses, online dictionaries, thesauruses readily available
in the classroom will allow all students to be more independent
during in-class assignments and activities.
4. Tapes from class: Making audiotapes of classes for students would
allow ESL students to review the course material when they go home.
Tapes can also be provided to students with disabilities and students
who have missed class for legitimate reasons.
5. Books on tape: Books on tape or on CD are available for people
with visual impairments, people who are physically disabled or learning
disabled. ESL students can make use of these resources to facilitate
their comprehension of the course material.
Providing Multiple Options For Expression
Providing multiple options for expression is a key way to increase
student success. Most of the mathematics, science and social studies
classes assume a high degree of literacy and assess the students
accordingly. However, ESL students often have not have developed
enough academic language proficiency to be able to complete reading
and writing assignments given to them. Even if ESL students know
the content, because of limited English skills, they are not able
to express what they know. They may not respond to a question unless
they are encouraged and given time to answer. When students do not
speak up, many teachers think that they do not understand what is
being taught. Research suggests that a native English-speaking university
freshman acquires vocabulary at the rate of at least 1,000 words
per year throughout childhood and knows 20,000 to 25,000 words upon
college entrance. (Nagy & Anderson, 1984; Nation, 1990) This
puts ESL students who begin acquiring English after childhood at
a great disadvantage since they have a great deal to learn, even
if they are able to learn at the rate they learned their first language
once they begin. For all these reasons, ESL students must be given
every opportunity to express their full abilities and achieve their
full potential. For example, if the class is involved in a biology
experiment such as observing the stages that a butterfly goes through
to complete its life cycle, ESL students can be allowed to record
their observation by drawing in addition to writing. Students can
also choose to express new ideas through drama and dance rather
than through another literary form.
ESL students also need to be assessed both formally and informally.
In addition to formal assessment, teachers can use informal, authentic
assessment to evaluate ESL students. Ongoing classroom assessment
provides opportunities for teachers to observe ESL students accomplish
tasks in a variety of contexts and situations. In the content area
courses, quality of the students’ questions, their understanding
of the content knowledge, their critical-mindedness and their initiative
in exploring questions, not their language skills, must be taken
into account when assessing ESL students.
Many of the suggestions listed in this paper are widely used by
some teachers without knowing that they are implementing Universal
Design techniques. These teachers are aware of the importance of
implementing teaching techniques that allow more access to the information
being taught. However, more teachers need to become familiar with
Universal Design techniques in order to embrace and use it so that
they can instruct and support ESL students in an inclusionary setting.
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W. & Anderson, R. C. (1984). How many words are there in printed
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Students in Large-Scale Assessments: A Summary of Recent Progress
from the National Center for Education Statistics http://nces.ed.gov/pubs97/97482.html
retrieved on Oct 12, 2003.