Addressing Overrepresentation of English Language Learners in Special Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Implementing six effective vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS) within the frameworks of self-regulated and multimedia learning may not only have promising effects on the language acquisition of ELLs but it may also prevent ELLs being falsely identified for special education eligibility.

Key Takeaway: In addition to implementing the best interventions for students who are qualified for learning support, providing effective learning strategies needed to avoid the misidentification of English language learners (ELLs) in special education has never been more crucial. Implementing six effective vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS) within the frameworks of self-regulated and multimedia learning may not only have promising effects on the language acquisition of ELLs but it may also prevent ELLs being falsely identified for special education eligibility. —Michael Ho

Ortogero and Ray (2021) searched, gathered, and analyzed eight research articles to examine the research question: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what recent vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS) are feasible for e-learning and effective in reducing the over-representation of ELLs in special education?

Here are the major takeaways:

  • Nearly 12% of English language learners were identified as having a disability in 2016.1 This has prompted educators to use technology effectively to teach a second language; integrate the second language into content areas; use the first language to teach the second language; and focus on other language learning strategies, such as vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS).
  • Vocabulary acquisition is essential among English language learners because they need to constantly acquire the meaning of unknown words when speaking, listening, reading, or writing. Having a strong literacy foundation is a prime indicator of academic success among English language learners.
  • “The following VAS for ELLs were found to be effective: (1) using L1 (first language) to teach L2 (second language), (2) Content and Language Integrated Learning, (3) designing culturally relevant activities in both L1 and L2, (4) pre teaching vocabulary multimodally using explicit word learning strategies, (5) multimedia use, and (6) promoting self-regulation.” Ultimately, these strategies can be taught in an online learning mode and may prevent the overrepresentation of English language learners in special education.
  • During and even after the COVID-19 pandemic, the six VAS strategies work best in the Self-Regulated Multimedia Cognitive Learning Model, which balances the use of technology and multimedia with self-regulation. It begins with pre-teaching vocabulary using explicit word learning strategies, followed by content and language integrated learning and culturally relevant learning activities. By using L1 to teach L2, the students’ vocabulary acquisition will be further enhanced. Ortogero and Ray (2021) mention “Implementing the six effective VAS within the frameworks of self-regulated and multimedia learning may have promising effects on educators continuing their efforts of effectively instructing ELs (English learners) amid an increased e-learning culture.”
  • Many stakeholders worry about the potential detrimental effects of learning through technology. In order to address this issue, self-regulation skills, such as setting goals and monitoring one’s learning, need to be emphasized during online learning.2 Ortogero and Ray (2021) refer to Huebeck’s 2020 study3 and emphasize that “teaching and promoting self-regulation skills can help curb technology’s distracting features and lead to a culture of learning English as a second language amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has driven educators to embrace technology.”

This study had some limitations. First, the search methods were only conducted by the first author, and the eight studies reviewed used self-reporting instruments only. In addition, a few studies did not indicate whether all instruments used were in the participant’s first language. Other VAS learning strategies related to the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), such as using open questions, wait time, and code-switching, were also not included.

Experimental studies examining the effects of VAS on English language learners is recommended for further research, in order to address response bias. Comparing the effects of various native languages may explain why certain VAS are more effective than others. Finally, the effects of VAS pre, during, and post COVID-19 could determine the impact the pandemic has had on English language learners.

Summarized Article:

Ortogero, S. P., & Ray, A. B. (2021). Overrepresentation of English Learners in Special Education Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Educational Media International, 1-20.

Summary by: Michael Ho — Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring a impactful and meaningful experience

Research author Shawna P. Ortogero, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). English language learner (ELL) students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, by home language, grade, and selected student characteristics: Selected years, 2008-09 through fall 2016. Institute for Education Sciences.https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_204.27.asp
  2. Pintrich, P. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 451–502). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012109890-2/50043-3
  3. Huebeck, E. (2020, June 3). How did COVID-19 change your teaching, for better or worse? See teachers’ responses. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/06/03/how-did-covid-19-change-your-teaching-for.html

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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