High School Students Struggling with Language Difficulties

high school language difficulties help

Is it too late to help struggling students with receptive language difficulties in the High School Years?

There is always a lot of emphasis placed on early intervention. However, this can lead to the widely accepted misperception that the benefits of support are less important in high school than in the early years. The concept of a “critical Language Period” indicates that language learning is potentially easier in preschool years, however it in not impossible in the high school years.

Academic success in the High School years is largely dependent on language ability and with the right learning supports students with receptive language difficulties can meet their full potential. The interaction between talking skills and written language becomes even further apparent in the high school years.

Many students do well in the primary school years, however find the escalating social and academic demands in Grades 8 and above are especially trying for students with language-based learning problems. Many have in fact undetected language problems that do not present themselves until the early adolescence period (e.g., when simple social scripts are not enough and students are expected to read, research and write assignments with less support than early schooling years required.)

high school language difficulties help
​There are general good teaching strategies that can be implemented within a classroom as well as when interaction or explaining things to a high school student with receptive language difficulties.

Contact SpeechNet for assessments and screens for high school students that can help tailor suggestions to your student specifically. General ideas include:

Ask students if they are really following the content and the speed with which instructions and new material is being presented. Remember high school students with receptive language difficulties might be embarrassed that they need help. It is important to frequently ask in a non-judgemental way.

​Remind students that everyone has things they do not understand. Ask them to write down one thing they do not understand each week.

​Ask them:

  • What was easy about a subject before asking what was hard?
  • ​To tell you in one or two sentences what was the main idea learnt in the lesson/ subject/ day.

​Repeat all instructions and say the same thing in more than one way. This will assist with understanding skills

​Encourage memory skills such as getting them to repeat back key steps or items 2-3 times to lay it down into their memories.

Reward those that seek appropriate help or ask appropriate clarification questions.

Recognise that inattention or avoidance may be masking reduced comprehension of what is expected of them.

Provide steps or information in chunks and feed the next step as one is completed rather than giving lengthy and complex instructions.

If new vocabulary is given ensure written definitions are provided and the words are overtly discussed.

Use visual as much as possible – diagrams, lists, picture prompts, dot points on white board, flow charts, screen shot steps,

​Be aware that abstract ideas and language may be difficult. Link the ideas where possible to ideas they students may already know or that are concrete links /examples of the abstract ideas.

Use direct rather than indirect instructions and avoid inferencing e.g. Stop talking rather than I didn't hear Johnny because everyone one is chatting!

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Sandra McMahon

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