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Accommodating the needs of students with learning difficulties in the foreign language classroom

Maria Teresa Cabal-Krastel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Students with difficulties learning foreign languages typically come to the university with a history of foreign language failure and native language problems. Often, a foreign language requirement is difficult to complete and is the cause of great anxiety for the learner with linguistic difficulties. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the participating university established a one-credit modified add-on course that at-risk students could take to receive extra support in Spanish. Selection of participants was made according to Ganschow and Sparks' (1991) Foreign Language Screening Instrument. “At-risk” students were asked to participate in the study or were recommended for enrollment into a learning assistance paired course. In this class, students were exposed to a variety of techniques that attempted to accommodate a diversity of learner needs. Results from quantitative measures of change in perceptions of Spanish language tasks over time were inconclusive; on pre- and post-instruction similarities ratings, subjects weighted tasks in a uniform fashion along four interpretable dimensions. To further explore the effectiveness of a modified support course, additional qualitative data were collected on student satisfaction questionnaires and on learner reflection essays throughout the course. Final semester grades and grades on in-class performance measures in the foreign language were also examined to support the notion of inclusion in the foreign language classroom. Findings from this study revealed that such a course had positive effects on the learners, and that the learners benefited from adjustments to the foreign language pedagogy. However, it may not take an extra, learning assistance paired course to achieve these effects. Results from a survey of 27 instructors of Spanish and Portuguese revealed that the teachers are both willing and able to implement such teaching strategies so as to create an inclusive atmosphere that appeals to the needs of all learners. This study showed that incorporating such teaching strategies into the regular Spanish classroom as a part of the course design can effectively provide an alternative to the course waiver and substitution model of accommodation, and that triangulation in the research methodology provides a more complete portrait of the at-risk learner's foreign language learning experience.

Subject Area

Language arts|Teacher education|Curricula|Teaching|Special education

Recommended Citation

Cabal-Krastel, Maria Teresa, "Accommodating the needs of students with learning difficulties in the foreign language classroom" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950140.