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Adult ESOL Learners who Struggle: Is it REALLY Learning Disabilities? - Learning Disabilities Discussion List

Guest Speaker: Robin Lovrien Schwarz

Robin Lovrien Schwarz, M. Sp. Ed: LD Ph.D. (Candidate), has been a teacher of English to speakers of other languages for over 40 years, and a consultant, trainer and writer in the field of learning difficulties and disabilities in adult ESOL learners for more than 20 years. She is also a reading specialist for nearly as long, having been trained at the Kingsbury Center (DC) as a remedial reading tutor. Ms. Lovrien Schwarz worked with struggling readers of all ages at the Lab School of Washington for many years, and then applied her knowledge to examining the issues of reading and reading difficulties in ESOL. She recently completed a review for NIFL’s update of Bridges to Practice (Learning to Achieve) literature on testing adult ELLS for reading and learning disabilities and an article for NIFL on adult ELLS with no prior print literacy and what research tells us about these learners as they attempt to move into literacy. Ms. Lovrien Schwarz particularly loves to continue learning about what recent research in neuroscience and in reading difficulties across languages is finding that can inform us about how our learners read and why the process is not always as smooth as we expect.


  1. Resources to preview before discussion
  • Questions for subscribers to consider prior to the discussion
    • What are some of the most puzzling or frustrating behaviors you see in ESL learners that might make you think they have LD?
    • What do you see as getting in the way of student progress and learning? What do you think are the values or beliefs behind these behaviors?
    • What resources or support do you have to help you determine why a learner is struggling?
    • What do you do in the way of intake or informal evaluation/assessment to know about your students’ backgrounds, interests and needs?
    • What are some instructional strategies that have worked for learners who were struggling? In what ways have these strategies helped?
  • Questions submitted by subscribers (to be posted by subscribers)
  • Welcome, self-introduction, and invitation to ask questions and post comments
  • Content of Discussion:
    • Day 1 Content:
      • Overview of the Topic:
        • Different views of LD and how to identify
        • Why we think adult ESOL learners may have LD and what we hope for referral
        • Complexities of the adult ESOL Learner
          • How these complexities cause learners to struggle and seem to have LD
          • Implications of complexities for identification of LD in adult ESOL learner
    • Day 2 Content: 
      • Further discussion of biggest causes for Adult ESOL learner’s struggle.
        • Weak CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency)
        • Cultural differences
        • Adult language acquisition needs not recognized, met
        • Education level 

    • Day 3 Content:
      • The controversy over using current methods & tools for identification of LD in adult ESOL learners
        • The system and tools
        • What the learners bring to the testing situation
        • with the referral system
    • Day 4 Content:
      • What we can do to PREVENT learners from beginning to struggle.
        • Thorough intake/assessment of EVERYTHING
        • Careful match of learner to class/program 
        • inclusion of certain instructional elements
    • Day 5 Content:
      • What we can do in the classroom to make sure everyone learns.
        • Differentiated instruction: learning centers
        • Personalized, relevant learner-driven learning
  • Professional Development Outcomes:
    • After participating in the guest discussion, subscribers will:
      • Know how to identify Learning Disabilities
      • Understand difference between language learning problems & Learning Disabilities 
      • Explain the purpose of screening to identify Learning Disabilities
      • Understand the causes for Adult ESOL learner’s struggle 
      • Understand the effect of weak CALPs
      • List 3 strategies that would be effective in the classroom
  • Additional Resources/Websites (to be announced)
  • Follow Up