A program to improve language impairments of bilingual first grade students, initiated by UT speech-language researchers, received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
During the first year, researchers will work with 24 Georgetown students to test the effectiveness of the language intervention program, which they believe will lead to increased English literacy. Program instructors will teach bilingual children devices to help them learn the basic phonics of English.
Children who have language impairments have trouble properly structuring well-organized sentences and appropriately using words, said Lisa Bedore, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and lead researcher of the program. They also have a higher risk for difficulties in learning to read.
Bedore said the study seeks to determine whether combining two historically separated facets of English will yield better results.
“The goals of the study are to determine if greater gains in language skills can be obtained by targeting language and reading skills together,” she said. “We are also interested in exploring the extent to which children are able to transfer what they learned in one language to the other.”
Elizabeth Peña, a communication sciences and disorders professor, said the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees special academic services for all students with learning disabilities, but bilingual literacy is rarely addressed.
“IDEA provides language identification services for all children but there is a shortage of bilingual pathology, so it is also difficult to find professionals qualified in that area,” she said.
Peña said their program is more of a systematic approach to address the language impairments of bilingual students.
“We want this program to be more efficient and more effective,” she said. “It’s developed using the latest research and we are taking a theoretical approach to make improvements.”
Jennifer Hannah, a student teacher and applied learning and development senior, said there is an apparent need for improvement of bilingual students in her third grade class at Andrews Elementary.
“A little boy just transferred to my bilingual class and he is on a first-grade reading level,” she said. “I try to work on fluency when I work with him because he is learning slowly and he doesn’t understand a lot of what he reads.”
Hannah said the program sounds like something her class and classes similar to it can take advantage of.
“Any type of intervention is necessary for bilingual students because language is a barrier that really affects the classroom,” she said.