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Special Education for English Language Learners In the Visual Arts Classroom

by Lisa Doslu

Special Education Services: When are They Appropriate? More than 17% of Hispanic students are labeled learning disabled, although they account for only 12-13% of student population (Vogt, M., short, D., 2010)

When Special Education is Needed & When it is Not:

Language Differences NO Language Learning Disabilities (Special Education Needed) YES
Language patterns are unique to the student and unlike others in the students cultural community. Student demonstrates limited vocabulary even when there are rich language opportunities in the native language. Word-finding problems are evident and student substitutes with another language. Student exhibits deficits in expressive and receptive language, which impede communication. Student demonstrates difficult using and interpreting nonverbal language, often leading to social problems.

Language performance is similar to other students who have had comparable cultural & linguistic experiences. Limited vocabulary in the native language is due to lack of opportunity to use and hear the native language. Student shifts from one language to another within an utterance Communication may be impeded by an accent or dialect. Pragmatic skills such as interpreting facial expressions, appropriate physical proximity, and use and interpretation of gestures are age appropriate.

(Table Modified from Vogt, M., short, D., 2010)

What Educators Can Do For Students in the Classroom:

Focus Student Attention Limit Clutter & Excessive Visual Stimuli Repeat Key Information Allow Extra Time to Process Information Scaffold Assessments Appropriately Differentiate Curriculum Be Sensitive to Frustration

The following are steps I have taken to accommodate specific students with special education needs in the visual arts classroom: 1. Scaffold Summative Assessment.

Case Study Student A: Student A is a Hispanic male who is an English Language Learner and has been identified as needing Special Education. Action Steps Taken: Summative assessments are conducted in private and responses are paraphrased to confirm accuracy. Student is given additional time to complete the written portion of assessment. Written responses are also paraphrased to confirm accuracy.


Differentiate Curriculum.

Case Study Student B: Student B is a white female who is physically disabled and requires a motorized wheelchair and a classroom aide. Action Steps Taken: Students projects are modified as deemed appropriate by both the student and student aide. Discussions about specific modifications are made prior to each lesson or project; however, modifications are often reviewed and updated as students attention and/or energy demands. Projects are geared to be as personally relevant to student as possible and often involve a high degree of participation from student aide.

3. Repeat Key Information & Allow Extra Time to Process Information.

Case Student Student C: Student C is a white female who is terminally ill and has decreasing cognitive functioning skills. Action Steps Taken: Student often requires key information to be repeated and then requires additional time to process that information. Students frustration level is often high. Frequent check-ins are needed and key information is often repeated. (Note: student is unable to read beyond a 1st grade level, thus written directions are not as successful as verbal directions.)