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Guest Blog: Supporting an ELL – Special Education Student

Reprinted with their express permission of Catherine Trapskin
By: Catherine Trapskin, M.S. CCC-SLP
A monolingual speech-language therapist asked me how she could support a Spanish-speaking ELL student who was recently evaluated and qualified for speech-language and academic services. This speech therapist knew the importance of supporting the student’s home language. She knew to use culturally appropriate materials and knew how to utilize an interpreter to assist her to modify and/or translate some of her materials. She also managed to schedule the busy building interpreter to join her in therapy sessions once a month to assist with carry over of skills into Spanish. She was on the right track! The special education resource teacher, however, who is an experienced and talented person, appeared overwhelmed as to how to best serve this student.
As many of us realize, it’s unfortunate that we don’t have anywhere near enough special education staff who are bilingual. However, this doesn’t mean that we all can’t support our ELL students. In the case of this student, it was important to first emphasize that he should continue to receive ESL services. Just because a student is in special education doesn’t mean that their special ed status and needs “trump” their ELL status and needs. This is not only poor practice, but in most states, it’s also illegal.
If the student has been/is entitled to ESL services, he should continue receiving those services. How he would be served by ESL staff must be determined by the team. The services may remain the same or the team may decide that the student will receive modified instruction (i.e., direct/indirect/adapted services)–whatever is best for that student. Collaboration between ESL staff and special ed staff needs to be done.
That said, we understand the complexities and challenges of meeting ELL students’ special education academic needs. This is especially true if a resource teacher, for example, prefers to use a direct instruction approach for reading. Creativity and/or simple modifications of a curriculum may be all that is required to help meet the needs of an ELL student. Again, this is why including an ESL teacher on a special education team is vital.
Finally, I can’t stress enough that PARENT INVOLVEMENT AND SUPPORT are not to be underestimated or underutilized. All parents want to see their children succeed. And most, if not all, parents are eager to support their children’s learning at home. I hear this at nearly every IEP meeting. Any materials related to what the student is learning that can be sent home in the child’s home language will be greatly beneficial–no matter how small or simple.

Featured Blogger: Catherine Trapskin:

We thank Catherine Trapskin for allowing us to reprint her blog entry.
About Catherine: Catherine Trapskin is a bilingual (Spanish) SLP working for the Minneapolis Public Schools, a district which represents over 80 different languages. She currently has a caseload and also works at the district level in her special education/ELL department. This part of her job entails training other special ed staff on how to assess, use best practices to teach special ed/ELL students, work with interpreters, etc.
She came up with the idea for this blog/website because it seemed that although almost every SLP has at least one, if not several more individuals on their caseload who are English Language Learners. As she has conducted trainings around the district and state, Catherine has found that people’s knowledge and skill in this area is so varied and people are always desperate for information and ideas. She is currently working on creating a site that will allow for questions, forums, materials exchange, etc, which she hopes will be up and running sometime this fall.

PediaStaff hires pediatric and school-based professionals nationwide for contract assignments of 2 to 12 months. We also help clinics, hospitals, schools, and home health agencies to find and hire these professionals directly. We work with Speech-Language Pathologists, Occupational and Physical Therapists, School Psychologists, and others in pediatric therapy and education.


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