ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
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Knowledge of Word Meanings  Vocabulary is the foundation of reading for understanding. ELL/CLD students have their vocabulary knowledge in the process of development at the same time that they are attempting to learn how to read or read to learn. Children’s vocabulary may vary from knowing the meaning of a word in one language, but not in the other, to knowing the meaning of words only in English regardless of how limited their English may be.

The distinction between fluency and proficiency in vocabulary is really important. Students sound fluent with 1,500 words. However, to be able to read with understanding, students need to have the vocabulary necessary to fully understand the message. Native English speakers arrive at school at age six with at least 6,000 words. On the other hand, ELL/CLD students who have become fluent in English may have only 1,500 words. They may sound equally fluent but are different in their levels of English vocabulary proficiency.

Educators need to become very strategic in uncovering what students already know in both languages, to determine the entry points for instruction. The following classification has been found very helpful in assessing vocabulary knowledge in the classroom.

Types of Words Descriptors Classroom Implications
Type 1

Words that the student owns with understanding. The meaning of the these words "is already present in students’ speaking-listening vocabularies.”

An example of a Type 1 word could be table. The student knows the word and its meaning. This includes academic cognates.

Educators need to use consistently the student's Type 1 words to teach "learning to read" as a bridge from oral to written language.

Assessment and instruction of the pre-literate student’s phonemic awareness and phonics in English with the word that the student does not already own, may give the impression that the student has problem.

Type 2

Words with multiple meanings are those like book, which may be in the students’ vocabularies but with only one meaning and are now being used with a new meaning.

An example of a type 2 word could be book. The student may know book as something one reads but not know that you may book a flight on an airline.
This includes false friends.

Type 3

Words which are not yet in the students’ vocabularies but may be easily explained (usually with a synonym or a translation).

An example of a Type 3 word is large which can be explained by the synonym big or with a translation grande ( in Portuguese).

Type 4

Words considered “the real trouble spots". These are words not easily explained through existing or related schemata. Schemata must be ‘built from the ground up.

An example of type 4 words could be words used in academic content. The word fraction for a student that does know its meaning needs to be taught from the ground up.

Adapted from: Graves’ (1984) By Prof Maria de Lourdes Serpa (1985, 2000).

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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