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Memorandum

 

To:            Donna Shea, Instructor, et all

From:        Philip Fournier

Date:        Friday, August 26, 2005

Subject:   WR8: Assess and accommodate needs of ESL, elderly, and disabled adults

In my eighteen years of teaching, I have had a few, though not very many, of the adults addressed in this assignment.I have written in past assignments about some of them, but in this assignment will address them somewhat comprehensively.

As far as the needs of non-native speakers of English, I have actually had more experience as a fellow student than as an instructor in this area.Back in the mid 1970ís when I attended Santa Ana college, there was a very large influx to the area of Vietnamese ďboat peopleĒ that had escaped the chaos in Vietnam and made it to America.I remember distinctly some of the results of communication problems within the automotive curriculum.A large number of young Vietnamese men were interested in the profession and so entered the automotive program with very few English skills.I remember one fellow in the engine rebuilding class who failed to understand the operation of the cylinder hone and so completely destroyed the piece of equipment.His standard response to a goof-up or other failure to understand was a huge grin.One could not fail to like the enthusiasm displayed, but the communications barriers were evident and had their effect.The instructor did his best, but mostly relied on demonstration and some primitive sign language to try to communicate with these students.At the time it didnít look very successful, but subsequently many of the Vietnamese were quite prosperous in the auto repair business and still are even today.

In my own case I have only had Spanish speakers with limited skills in English to deal with.Since I speak fluent Spanish, I have made it a point to address their needs in their own language when appropriate.One thing that I have tried to avoid, however, is to casually speak Spanish with my Latin students in front of the non-Spanish speaking students.It is one thing to translate the lesson into the studentís own language; it is quite another to insult anyone by purposely chatting in front of them in a language they cannot understand.It tends to create suspicion and mistrust.

One often-repeated experience has been that of the older adult, and these experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.Perhaps it was helpful that my own upbringing taught me respect of the older ones.But as an instructor, I found myself in the strange position of being an authority figure in front of those who were my betters in both life experience and age.Nevertheless, I held a certain advantage because I had kept up with technology.I remember one class in which I spotted an older man in the back of the room who looked familiar.The reason, it turns out, that he looked familiar was because he had been the automotive department head at Santa Ana college when I attended there from 1976-1978.Now, here he was, as a student in my class!

I appreciated the maturity and natural leadership that the older adults brought with them to class and attempted to capitalize on it for the good of all.Often they were technologically challenged.Computers seem in a certain sense to be like a foreign language.Their use comes very easily to children, yet they are very intimidating to older adults.I notice even now how older adults tend to struggle with the manual dexterity of running a mouse.I try to teach the use of key strokes when possible because of this handicap, though Windows doesnít make it very easy for me.I have been reasonably successful in helping older adults to prosper in my classes by respecting their life experience and showing that respect in front of the younger students by making them leaders in the lab.Often, though they were less knowledgeable technically speaking than others, their natural sense of leadership would lend order to the group and make for a very positive learning experience in the lab. I think the increased awareness I have gained in this class will help me to improve.

As far as physical disabilities, I have experience only with one deaf person.He was extremely deaf, but had learned lip reading rather than sign language, so a signing interpreter was not of use to me.I had to teach myself to look directly at my students, particularly to direct my face toward him, and not to talk with my back turned while writing on the board, a habit that was very hard to overcome.One change I will make in the future is to ensure that handicapped students get their doctorís certification taken care of early on, so they can register as disabled persons with the SSD office and therefore both the student and myself can take advantage of whatever help may be available.I have mentioned before in WR7 how I was force to eliminate video tapes from my instruction due to this one deaf person, since there were no captions on the tape.Video tape instruction can be very helpful to the visual learner with its animated graphics; but without captions it was just a frustration to my deaf student.

I have heard of blind people learning to overhaul transmissions.I think it would take a very specially trained instructor to conquer that kind of a challenge.But the worst I have had to deal with is older adults with poor eyesight and the only accommodation necessary was to move them to the front of the classroom.Since driving is almost guaranteed to be a prerequisite for any auto repair technician, there is little incentive for sight impaired persons to enter the field.

The only other physical disabilities I have experienced was a student with only one arm.He could do almost anything, but one thing he could not do is wash his hand, being as he had only one.It seems obvious once you consider it, but it is not a problem that leaps right into your mind when you think of the difficulties facing someone who has lost a limb.His other shortcomings were easily accommodated with the help of the other students.But washing somebody elseís hand is a bit up close and personal.Fortunately, the student had a personal friend in the class who was accustomed to helping him with this particular chore.I have often wondered since then how I would handle it if another such student should attend my class, but I presume I would just have to be up front about it, and ask the student what he or she would be comfortable with.We also now have the benefit of latex or vinyl gloves that helps to reduce the chore of hand washing for any technician who can get used to using them.

As far as learning disabilities, I fear I have had many of these over the years and simply not realized it.After all, they may not have even known themselves not so many years ago.But now, if they donít inform me early on, the first test will probably tell me that they are having trouble assimilating the information, or at least putting it down on a test.What I need to do in the future is start in early with learning how to best meet the learning style of the handicapped person.Already I have a better understanding of the need for using a variety of methods to address the needs of the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learner.The school has a learning center with staff on hand trained in the varied needs of the learning handicapped.If I can identify such early on, the learning center can help me custom tailor at least part of my lesson plan to meet their peculiar needs.Obviously I canít be all things to all people, and the school has a mandate that we instructors must address critical thinking skills.Iím still not convinced that it is possible to teach critical thinking to each and every student, but I certainly make the effort, and I believe this class has taught me more ways to make sure I am effective at doing just that.