ELL Behaviors That Mimic Learning Problems

Reasons for Common ELL Behaviors That Mimic
Learning Problems
1. Lack of attention to the lessons may be due to a lack
of understanding of classroom language. They don’t
know when it is necessary to pay attention or what to
attend to at specific times. (ADD, AD/HD)
2. Students may be distracted from the lesson due to a
lack of comprehension. They will look for whatever
they do understand and focus their attention there.
3. ELL students may not know classroom or school rules
or the expected norms of behavior in certain
situations, e.g., group work or free time. They may not
see the boundaries and so move around more than
expected. (AD/HD)
4. ELLs may be slow to start tasks due to a lack of
understanding of the language used by the teacher.
The student may not know when to start tasks, what to
do, and/or how to complete the tasks. (LD)
5. ELLs may be slow to finish tasks due to the time
needed to translate the instructions and work into their
primary language and then back into English. (LD)
6. Students with limited English proficiency may appear
forgetful when they are just having trouble retaining
all the language as they translate mentally. (LD)
7. ELLs sometimes appear disorganized because they do
not understand expectations for organizing materials
or arranging materials for tasks. They may not have
been taught effective school work habits but are
capable of learning them. (LD, ADD)
8. Students with a limited understanding of English may
appear disruptive in class when they attempt to get
help in understanding instructions or as a result of
their frustration in not understanding what is expected.
(Behavior problems)
9. Misbehavior without an obvious precedent may be
related to the ELLs’ frustration with the pace or depth
of understanding in the classroom.
(Emotional/behavior problems, social maladjustment)
10. Students with limited English may misbehave in
reacting to another’s comments due to
misinterpretation of peers’ or teachers’
comments/tone/nonverbal behavior/laughter due to
cultural differences. (Behavior problems, social
11. Poor language use due to normal L2 language
learning stages. (Language disorder):
a. Overgeneralization of rules (He runned home)
b. Simplification (He home)
c. Imitation
d. Avoidance
e. Use of formulas and routines
12. ELLs’ silence or refusal to talk in group setting is
commonly due to the “Silent Period.” (Language
disorder, anxiety disorder, selective mutism)
13. ELLs may not ask questions in class due to cultural
habits or lack of English proficiency. (Learning
problems, emotional issues)
14. A lack of eye contact is often due to cultural rules.
(Anxiety, interpersonal relationship issues)
15. Homework not done/completed/signed is frequently
due to a lack of help at home or no one at home to sign.
(Learning problems, motivational issues, behavior
16. More value in ELL homes may be placed on
“survival skills” than “academic skills” due to necessity
or cultural traditions. This may be temporary and may be
gender specific. (Motivation issues)
17. Inappropriate basic school behavior in ELLs could be
due to a lack of prior schooling, cultural differences, or
misunderstanding. (Cognitive problems,
emotional/behavior issues)
18. ELLs may show poor basic test-taking skills due to a
lack of prior school experience or cultural differences.
(Cognitive problems, LD)
19. Students with limited English may show poor
retention of information due to a lack of prior
experiences to which to relate new information or a
limited English vocabulary. (Cognitive/memory issues)
Jennifer Loiseau
September, 2012
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