ERIC Identifier: ED333623
Publication Date: 1991-05-00
Author: Duran, Elva
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Functional Language Instruction for Linguistically
Different Students with Moderate to Severe Disabilities. ERIC Digest #E501.
This digest explains how functional language instruction can be made
useful for persons with moderate to severe disabilities who are also culturally
and linguistically different. It further explains how vocabulary and cultural
information of the Spanish-speaking student can be included in functional
language instruction for students who are from different cultural groups.
WHAT IS FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION?
In functional language instruction, the student is taught material that
he or she can use in everyday life. In order for the material to be functional
it must be useful to the student in many different environments (Brown
et al., 1984). Thus, the words students learn at school must be useful
at home and in other settings. One way to discover useful words is by using
an ecological inventory.
USING AN ECOLOGICAL INVENTORY TO DETERMINE LANGUAGE NEEDS
Brown and colleagues (1984) noted that an ecological inventory can determine
the words children need to know for more effective functioning at home,
at school, and in the community. An ecological inventory is a detailed
listing by parents or caregivers of activities the student enjoys participating
in. The ecological inventory will reveal the vocabulary that the teacher
and parents should include in instructional activities. By getting information
regularly from the home environment, the teacher can better decide what
to emphasize in the classroom. Too often parents are left out of the student's
instruction because teachers and other caregivers do not take the time
to ask them what they feel their children need to learn.
The ecological inventory should include a section that seeks information
about important cultural events that the family enjoys together. Often
children who come to school from culturally and linguistically different
families do not participate as fully as they might because the families
have not been encouraged to explain what matters to them and their children
culturally. Parents can be asked to share traditional legends, stories,
and songs that are enjoyed by their children. These materials can then
be incorporated into the language instruction program. In addition, parents
may be invited to come to school to share in a wide variety of cultural
A CLASSROOM EXAMPLE
Songs can provide functional language activities for students in a variety
of settings. If students have some verbal skills, they can sing some of
the words or phrases from songs. If they are nonverbal, they can participate
by pointing to photographs or pictures of some of the key words as they
listen to other children sing. Students can also be helped to follow what
is being said by learning to "sign" the important concepts or vocabulary
from stories and songs. Another example might be a class discussion of
holidays in which each child brings a item pertaining to a personally important
holiday or event. A section of the room might be set aside for a holiday
"museum," with each item labeled in English and the home language.
It is important to share what is being done in the classroom with parents
so that they can carry over the activities at home. If this is not done,
students will not learn to generalize information from one setting to another
and language acquisition will be slower. Generalization training in language
instruction is crucial if information taught in one environment is to be
used functionally (Sailor & Guess, 1983).
CHOOSING VOCABULARY FOR FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
When determining what particular vocabulary should be taught to students
who are from culturally or linguistically different groups, it is important
to ask parents and other caregivers what words the student needs to know.
Vocabulary related to particular foods, celebrations, or other culturally
unique events are particularly good choices. The ecological inventory can
be used to list appropriate vocabulary to incorporate into individualized
language instruction programs. For example, in many Hispanic homes the
student may eat "tortillas," "fajitas," and "enchiladas." These vocabulary
words can be added to a list containing English words for other familiar
foods such as chicken and bananas. Matching vocabulary to actual foods
or pictures of food can be an effective way of helping children learn words
that are familiar to their experience. Cueing can be done in both English
and the home language. It is most effective to use both languages with
students whose home language is different from the primary language of
instruction used at school (Duran & Heiry, 1986).
CONTINUING PARENT-SCHOOL COMMUNICATION
It is desirable to ask parents for additional vocabulary to add to the
language program periodically. Regularly scheduled parent conferences provide
ideal occasions for gathering this input. It is important to add new vocabulary
that is timely and relevant to the student's day-to-day activities.
EFFECTIVENESS OF FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION
Children who receive functional and context-embedded language instruction
are more likely to have a positive attitude about learning and a heightened
self-concept. There is a positive correlation between self-concept and
academic achievement (Gay, 1966; Lumpkin, 1959). Furthermore, by using
elements of students' cultures to teach language, practitioners assist
students in valuing and preserving their family heritage.
Brown, L. et al. (1984). The discrepancy analysis technique in programs
for students with severe handicaps. (Manuscript written in cooperation
with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Metropolitan School
Brown, L. et al. (1984). Ecological inventory of strategies for students
with severe handicaps. (Manuscript written in cooperation with University
of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison Metropolitan School District).
Duran, E., & Heiry, T. J. (1986). Comparison of Spanish only, Spanish
and English and English only cues with handicapped students. Reading Improvement,
Gay, C. (1966). Academic achievement and intelligence among Negro eighth
grade students as a function of the self-concept. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, North Texas State University, Denton.
Lumpkin, D. (1959). The relationship of self-concept to achievement
in reading. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California,
Sailor, W., & Guess, D. (1983). Severely handicapped: An instructional
design. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
This digest is based on an article by Elva Duran, "Functional Language
Instruction for the Handicapped or Linguistically Different Students,"
Journal of Reading Improvement, Vol. 25, no. 4, (1988): 265-268. A publication
of Project Innovation, 1362 Santa Cruz Court, Chula Vista, CA 91910.