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 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 on 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 understand the task. Native English speakers arrive at school at age six with at least 6,000 words. On the other hand, ELLs who have become fluent 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, meaning words "already present in students’ speaking-listening vocabularies.”

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

Educators need to use consistently the students Type 1 words in English as a bridge to learning to read in English or any other language. Assessment and instruction of the student’s phonemic awareness and phonics in English needs to be done with the words that the child already owns, otherwise the student may look like s/he has a problem.
Type 2

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

For example, book may mean something one reads or one may book a flight on an airline. This includes false friends.

Type 3

Words which are not in the students’ vocabularies but which may be easily explained (usually with synonyms, 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 Spanish.

Type 4 Words may be considered “the real trouble spots. They are words which cannot be easily explained through existing, related schemata. For them, schemata must be ‘built 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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