Students with Cognitive Difficulties
Cognitive difficulties "are considered to be the most prevalent type of disability" and can include emotional disabilities, learning differences, or intellectual disabilities (Roblyer 410). Since learning foreign language involves activating all academic skills (reading comprehension, writing, speaking, auditory comprehension, etc., cognitive disabilities commonly effect the learning of foreign language. By varying our teaching techniques, FL teachers can help students with mild cognitive disabilities by providing them with "multiple means of representation." Another technique many FL teachers employ is to vary the assessment, therefore giving students the ability to showcase their knowledge via "multiple means of expression" (Roblyer 409).
- Emotional Difficulties - One emotional difficulty that commonly arises in FL classrooms is anxiety to speak in the target language. One way teachers can support students suffering from anxiety is to offer an alternative to speaking in public. Tools like Showbie allow teachers to provide an audio prompt that students can record their answer to, all directly in the app.
- Auditory Processing Difficulties - One common mild cognitive disability that often appears in FL classes is the student's difficulty in understanding the target language. One way teachers can support students with slow auditory processing is to give the students the audio file and let them play the audio as many times as they need in order to understand the material. Another accommodation teachers can make to support these students, especially at the beginning of their career in that language, is to provide the student with transcripts of the audio. An online tool that provides transcripts and gives students the power to control the audio on their own is PodcastsinSpanish.org.
Students with Physical Difficulties
Students with physical disabilities are relatively well supported by accessibility software that comes standard with most computers and mobile devices. On the iPad and other mobile devices, for example, the keyboard can be switched to Spanish and students who have difficulty typing can use the dictation feature. This feature allows students to speak in Spanish instead of typing. Screenshots below show the Spanish keyboard function and the dictation function on an iPad.
Using a dictionary can also be difficult for students with physical disabilities. The Google Translate app for Android has a great voice dictation function that works well for students who have difficulty typing and/or reading the dictionary entry. Screenshots of this app are below.
Students with Sensory Difficulties
Since sign language and Braille differ for each language, it is nearly impossible to teach students who are blind or deaf in a traditional foreign language classroom. However, students with partial sight or hearing impairments can absolutely be integrated into traditional classrooms, especially when teachers provide resources and accommodations for students with some hearing or vision impairment.
- Hearing Difficulties - Pronunciation is very important in foreign language and can be difficult for students who have some hearing difficulties. The website Phonetics: Sounds of Spanish from the University of Iowa is a great tool for these students since it provides videos and illustrations that show how to form the sounds necessary for Spanish.
- Other Hearing Impairments - Listening to audio, songs, or videos is a key part of learning a foreign language. For students with hearing impairments, especially students who can only hear out of one ear, this can be difficult when the device provides stereo-style audio. A tech tool to support these students is the "Mono Audio" function (iPad function linked) available through many mobile devices' accessibility features.
Connecting with at-risk students is difficult in any subject. Motivating at-risk students requires connecting with them on a more personal level with the things they enjoy. One way teachers can connect to ask-risk students is through games. Games "hide" learning in a fun, competitive context and take the focus away from academic achievement and onto the focus of the game. One game that works really well in FL classrooms is Kahoot. Another classic game for the language classroom is Lotería, which has been made into an app that works beautifully in Spanish classrooms.
Gifted and Talented Students
Students with an extraordinary ability in language should be encouraged to interact with the language outside of class and challenge their own language abilities by reading, listening, speaking, and learning new vocabulary. Two great ways teachers can support gifted students is by providing them with tools to enhance their learning outside of class. One way students can pursue their own learning of language outside of class is by reading books. Using a Kindle, students can download books or short stories in Spanish and using one of many downloadable Spanish-English dictionaries available on Kindle, to learn new vocabulary students just press on a new word. The Kindle dictionary saves all of the words and provides a list of all of the vocabulary the student has identified. Another tool that teachers can use with gifted students is Duolingo. This app gives students an individualized curriculum as a method of independent study to increase their fluency.