Confused About BMLs and Special Educational Needs?
If you’re working in a state-regulated school, you will typically find all kinds of documentation related to the provisions for students with special educational needs (S.E.N./Special Ed.) and bilingual/multilingual learners.
However, if you’re working in an international or private school where there are no regulations in your region, then this can make your role particularly challenging. Policies and practises in these schools often change with the Head or the staff in charge. This means that procedures can be transient or unclear to teachers from year-to-year; leaving a great deal open to individual interpretation.
Our bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ELL, EAL students) are very vulnerable to being incorrectly labeled or referred to special education services. In fact, many of the behaviours, which teachers might typically characterise as a result of a learning disability or language processing disorder, can actually occur quite naturally in the context of BMLs’ developing language . This makes it critically important to have highly-trained teachers and leaders who have a solid understanding of these issues; since inappropriate policies or decision-making processes can actually lead to students being misdiagnosed. This, of course, can have serious repercussions.
One of the Biggest Challenges Schools Face with their Service Provisions for BMLs
One of the main questions to begin asking yourself when designing your service model for students with special educational needs is – are you qualified to do so?
This is a heavy question to begin with but it really should be. Issues surrounding special educational needs alone can be complicated at best; but extending them to bilingual and multilingual learners can add even deeper layers of complexity to the situation. For example, each and every school needs to have considerations that examine a BML’s language and medical background, if/when any concerns arise. This means that educators must know and understand whether the child in question has experienced a language switch; or whether they have had enough input in one language or another. These instances alone can play a significant role in understanding why BMLs might be experiencing particular challenges in the classroom. These kind of concerns can typically be dealt with effectively without special educational referral – simply by collecting the right information about the student and from the family on admission. Having these kinds of details (as well as other BML-specific issues) clearly written out in policies for all to follow, will ensure there are at least some basic ‘filters’ which prevent the inappropriate referral of BMLs to special educational services.
Designing the Right Service Delivery Model for your School
Another major issue we’ve seen with schools when designing their service delivery models for special educational support is that they create it as a ‘class’ that support teachers actively teach by default on the school timetable. While some of the supports teachers provide will be clearly useful, having this kind of strict model prevents specialist teachers from moving around flexibly to provide observation or guidance to teachers at the earliest stages of concern. Most specialist teachers do not have any flexible space in their timetable to move around the school or plan with colleagues. It’s actually much more advantageous for support teachers to have a flexible schedule where they can liaise with colleagues and plan a range of strategic interventions with identified students.
This kind of consultative model allows for a much faster and a broader spread of expertise to students and teachers, when they need it. However, designing an effective, wrap-around service like this needs careful planning, strategising and expertise.
What Can you Do?
If you are interested in developing a new student support service model or enhancing the existing provisions at your school, feel free to reach out to us. We have extensive experience working in this area and can provide you with everything you need to create sound policies, procedures and supports. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Schofield is an Educational Consultant and Co-Founder at the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She brings a wealth of experience from her previous roles as a behaviour therapist and disability support specialist, having worked closely with psychologists and psychiatrists. Alison has also trained as a special education teacher and worked as a Learning Support Coordinator during her time as an international educator. She brings this unique knowledge-base to her work with BMLs.