ERIC Identifier: ED355834
Publication Date: 1993-04-00
Author: Barr, Vickie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Foreign Language Requirements and Students with Learning Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
At the April 1992 Foreign Language Learning and Learning Disabilities
Conference held at the American University in Washington, DC, the following
issues emerged related to the dilemma of foreign language requirements for
college students with learning disabilities.
* Recent findings show that students with learning disabilities have basic
native language difficulties--written and/or oral, receptive and/or expressive
(Sparks & Ganschow, 1991).
* Increasing numbers of students with identified learning disabilities are
now entering U.S. colleges and universities.
* Expectations are emerging across the country for students to study a
foreign language in elementary, junior high, or high school.
* More and more colleges and universities expect proficiency in a foreign
language upon college entry or prior to college graduation.
* Recent findings show that most students with learning disabilities have
inordinate difficulties in foreign language classes.
Many students and professionals question the reasonableness of foreign
language requirements for students with learning disabilities. However,
according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, colleges and
universities are not obligated to waive foreign language requirements for
students with learning disabilities, nor are they required to provide course
substitutions. Thus, colleges and universities that do provide waivers or
substitutions do so on a voluntary basis.
WAIVERS AND COURSE SUBSTITUTIONS
To gather information on
the provision of waivers and course substitutions, Ganschow, Sparks, and Miller
surveyed colleges and universities that provide support services for students
with learning disabilities (Ganschow, Myer, & Roeger, 1989; Ganschow,
Sparks, & Miller, 1992). Of the 166 colleges and universities that responded
to the 1987 survey, 30% required some number of years of foreign language study
as a pre-university entrance requirement, and 78% required some number of years
of foreign language as a requirement for graduation in at least one program
area. Only 6% of the colleges and universities that responded stated that they
allowed students with learning disabilities to waive the foreign language
requirement; another 6% offered the student a choice between a waiver and a
course substitution; 24% had no standard procedure; and the rest provided
The survey also yielded information on the types of courses that colleges and
universities offer as substitutions for foreign language study. Foreign culture
and civilization courses were mentioned by 81% of the survey respondents;
foreign language courses taught in English were mentioned by 25%; and sign
language classes were mentioned by 25%. (For information about foreign language
course substitution and waiver procedures, see Philips, Ganschow, &
ALTERNATIVES TO WAIVERS AND COURSE
"Accommodative Services." Under Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act, colleges and universities that receive federal financial
assistance are required to provide accommodative services to students with
disabilities. Accommodative services are services that help to ensure that all
components of an academic program (such as foreign language courses) are
accessible to students with disabilities. A student must first be identified as
having a disability and provide the Office of Disability Support Services (ODSS)
with appropriate documentation of the disability. Then, appropriate aids or
services can be selected in consultation with the student. Examples of
accommodative services that students with learning disabilities may be able to
benefit from in foreign language courses include notetakers; extra time to
complete examinations; permitting examinations to be read orally, dictated, or
typed; and alternate test formats.
Many colleges and universities now go "above and beyond" the letter of the
law and have established separate and distinct programs for students with
learning disabilities. Such programs offer services that go beyond the Section
504 requirement of making an academic program accessible. Examples of such
services include tutoring by a learning disabilities specialist, basic skills
remediation, and special skill development courses. For information on such
programs, see Kravets & Max, 1991; Lipkin, 1991; and Mangrum &
"A Modified Latin Program for Students with Learning Disabilities." Another
alternative is to modify an existing foreign language program to meet the
special needs of students with learning disabilities. The University of Colorado
at Boulder offers an experimental "controlled environment" foreign language
program for students with learning disabilities. Latin was chosen as the focus
by program creator Dr. Doris Downey, because it is non-oral/non-auditory and
because the grammar can be limited.
The program covers three semesters, the first two of which involve courses in
a controlled environment; that is, the courses are designed for and are only
open to students with learning disabilities. Instruction in these courses is
modified to accommodate the students' needs: New materials are introduced at a
slower pace, there is reduced reading, and each class has a predictable
structure. Planned repetition and review are incorporated into each class
period, and students are given an unlimited amount of time on tests.
In the third semester, students from the previously modified program are
joined in a Caesar translation class by students who have been taking the
regularly offered Latin classes. At this level, modifications for the students
with learning disabilities are made primarily on examinations and include the
provision of basic vocabulary to assist in the translation of review passages; a
noun and adjective endings chart to assist with translation; unlimited time; and
flexibility in exam scheduling.
Nineteen students with learning disabilities at the University of Colorado at
Boulder enrolled in the first semester of the modified Latin program in Fall
1990. Of those 19, only three did not enroll in the third semester (Fall 1991)
of the program. One obtained a waiver, another chose not to enroll, and the
third was dropped from the program by the instructor at the end of the first
semester. Of the 16 who completed the entire three-semester program, all but two
passed the final semester. Many students received As, Bs, and Cs in all three
CONSIDERATIONS INVOLVED IN TEACHING FOREIGN LANGUAGES TO
STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES
Downey (1992) stresses several points:
* In order to be successful at the college level, many students with learning
disabilities need to have the foreign language requirement modified.
* With a controlled enrollment, a modified curriculum, concerted effort, and
a highly skilled instructor, most students with learning disabilities can
complete at least two semesters of modified foreign language study.
* The severity of a student's learning disability is less important for
success during the first semester than are the instructor's ability to modify
course requirements and the student's ability to persevere and maintain
* Students who exhibit severe language or learning disabilities with deficits
in vocabulary, syntax, and memory in addition to phonological processing
problems will probably not be successful beyond the first or second semester of
foreign language in spite of classroom modifications.
* Students with learning disabilities may experience considerable stress in
other college classes in addition to foreign language classes. Flexibility in
scheduling exams, extending time limits, allowing students to take exams out of
class, and recognizing that some days they "just can't do it" are crucial.
* Instructors must be highly explicit with expectations, such as those about
class attendance, homework, and class participation (Downey, 1992).
A SPECIAL TECHNIQUE: ORTON-GILLINGHAM
Orton-Gillingham is a
multisensory technique, requiring the simultaneous use of the visual, auditory,
and kinesthetic modalities. The technique has been received enthusiastically and
is yielding some promising results at St. Paul's School for Girls in
Brooklandville, MD (Sparks, Ganschow, Pohlman, Artzer, & Skinner, 1992),
where it is used by teacher Karen Miller, who has adapted it for Spanish
instruction. Further information about using the technique for native language
instruction in reading, writing, and spelling is available from the Orton
Dyslexia Society, Chester Building, Suite 382, 8600 LaSalle Road, Baltimore, MD
Downey, D.M. (1992, April). "Accommodating the
foreign language learning disabled student." Paper presented at the Foreign
Language and Learning Disabilities Conference, The American University,
Ganschow, L., Myer, B.J., & Roeger, K. (1989). Foreign language policies
and procedures for students with specific learning disabilities. "Learning
Disabilities Focus," 5(1), 50-58.
Ganschow, L., Sparks, R., & Miller, K. (April, 1992). "The connection
between learning disabilities and difficulties learning a foreign language:
Background, research, and teaching strategies." Paper presented at the Foreign
Language and Learning Disabilities Conference, The American University,
Kravats, M., & Max, I. (1991). "The K&W guide to colleges for the
learning disabled." Scranton, PA: Harper Collins.
Lipkin, M. (1991). "Guide to colleges with programs or services for students
with learning disabilities." Belmont, MA: Schoolsearch.
Mangrum, C.T., & Strichart, S.S. (Eds.). (1992). "Colleges with programs
for students with learning disabilities." Princeton, NJ: Peterson's Guides.
Philips, L., Ganschow, L., & Anderson, R. (1991, Spring). The college
foreign language requirement: An action plan for alternatives. "NACADA Journal,"
Sparks, R., & Ganschow, L. (1991). Foreign language learning
difficulties: Affective or native language aptitude differences? "Modern
Language Journal," 75, 3-16.
Sparks, R., Ganschow, L., Pohlman, J., Artzer, M., & Skinner, S. (1992).
The effects of a multisensory, structured language approach on the native and
foreign language aptitude skills of high-risk foreign language learners. "Annals
of Dyslexia," 42, 25-53.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
In order to learn more about the events of the Foreign Language Learning and
Learning Disabilities Conference that was held in April 1992, contact conference
coordinator, Robin Schwarz, English Language Institute, McKinley 206, The
American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20016-8031,
(202) 885-2147. Information packets from the conference, which include handouts
and articles, are available for $5.00.
This Digest has been reprinted with changes from an article that appeared in
the September-October 1992 issue of the "Information for HEATH" newsletter of
the National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with
Disabilities. The clearinghouse is operated by the HEATH Resource Center and is
a program of the American Council on Education. For more information, write to
HEATH Resource Center, One Dupont Circle, Washington, DC 20036-1193, or call
800-544-3284 (toll free) or 202-939-9320 (local).