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ECU offers foreign language for learning-disabled

(Apr. 25, 2005)   —   Learning-disabled students are benefiting from a modified foreign language program offered at East Carolina University.

Developed in 2000 by ECU foreign language faculty Carol Christian and Ann Borisoff-Rodgers, the program provides learning-disabled students an opportunity to fulfill the foreign language requirement to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“ECU will no longer grant foreign language waivers for learning-disabled students on the humanities track. So in order to geta B.A., learning a foreign language is essential,” Borisoff-Rogers said.

While the final test and textbook are the same for the modified classes as those in the mainstream classes, the classroom format is very different. Capped at 12 students, the class meets three times a week,with an additional half-hour of individual tutoring. The classroom offers a windowless, distraction-free environment. Students enter into the modified program at the same time and remain together for the entire two or four-semester requirement. There are about 50 students in the program.

“It’s wonderful for the students because they form a learning community,” said Christian, who coordinates the program. “They are aware of their needs and they are very open about it. They become peer tutors in and of themselves.”

ECU’s modified foreign language program is the first in North Carolina and one of only a few offered nationwide. In crafting ECU’s program,Christian visited programs at the University of Colorado and the University of Charleston to learn about their programs.

Christian and Borisoff-Rogers teach a workshop at the Hill Center in Durham that caters to foreign language educators who work with learning-disabled students. ECU’s program has sparked interest recently from other academic institutions, including private schools and universities. UNC-Greensboro, for example, recently developed a similar program, based on ECU’s model. Earlier this month, Christian and Borisoff-Rogers were invited to William Patterson University to discuss ECU’s program.

As more students are diagnosed with learning disabilities, said Christian, schools will have to figure out strategies to become more accommodating to this growing population.

In the classroom, students engage in multi-sensory avenues of learning. Some are asked to use Spanish language web sites to plan a trip and others have visited Mexican restaurants and converse entirely in Spanish.

“What we have found is, if you can’t link more than one sense, they’ll have a hard time with it. So when we bring in the saltshaker, and say sel, they can hear and see and taste and touch sel. All the senses get involved,” Borisoff-Rogers said.

Greg Lubin, a junior communications major, said the modified class has helped him to do well in a subject he finds challenging.

“It’s helped me a lot,” he said. “Mrs. Christian gives us a pace appropriate for everyone and without it, I think all of us would have to change our major, or maybe not do so well.”


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481