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Language, Expression, Symbols


Learners vary in their facility with different forms of representation – both linguistic and non-linguistic. Vocabulary that may sharpen and clarify concepts for one learner may be opaque and foreign to another. An equals sign (=) might help some learners understand that the two sides of the equation need to be balanced, but might cause confusion to a student who does not understand what it means. A graph that illustrates the relationship between two variables may be informative to one learner and inaccessible or puzzling to another. A picture or image that carries meaning for some learners may carry very different meanings for learners from differing cultural or familial backgrounds. As a result, inequalities arise when information is presented to all learners through a single form of representation.  An important instructional strategy is to ensure that alternative representations are provided not only for accessibility, but for clarity and comprehensibility across all learners.

How To:
  • Display information in a flexible format so that the following perceptual features can be varied:

    • The size of text, images, graphs, tables, or other visual content

    • The contrast between background and text or image

    • The color used for information or emphasis

    • The volume or rate of speech or sound

    • The speed or timing of video, animation, sound, simulations, etc.

    • The layout of visual or other elements

    • The font used for print materials 

    • Clarify unfamiliar syntax (in language or in math formulas) or underlying structure (in diagrams, graphs, illustrations, extended expositions or narratives) through alternatives that:

    • Highlight structural relations or make them more explicit

    • Make connections to previously learned structures

    • Make relationships between elements explicit (e.g., highlighting the transition words in an essay, links between ideas in a concept map, etc.)

    • Allow the use of Text-to-Speech

    • Use automatic voicing with digital mathematical notation (Math ML)

    • Use digital text with an accompanying human voice recording (e.g., Daisy Talking Books)

    • Allow for flexibility and easy access to multiple representations of notation where appropriate (e.g., formulas, word problems, graphs)

    • Offer clarification of notation through lists of key terms  

    • Make all key information in the dominant language (e.g., English) also available in first languages (e.g., Spanish) for learners with limited-English proficiency and in ASL for learners who are deaf

    • Link key vocabulary words to definitions and pronunciations in both dominant and heritage languages

    • Define domain-specific vocabulary (e.g., “map key” in social studies) using both domain-specific and common terms

    • Provide electronic translation tools or links to multilingual glossaries on the web 

    • Embed visual, non-linguistic supports for vocabulary clarification (pictures, videos, etc) 

Academic Tier I