Student E was present during my first interview lesson when I wanted to work in London schools. He had his head on the desk, in the small, hot EAL classroom and seemed generally unwell. I remember stopping the lesson and saying, ‘I might not get the job, but something is not right with this child. Should he go to medical?’ Perhaps it was prophetic. I did get the job, but something wasn’t right with this student. In the next two years, he continued to cause concern, not just for his inability to progress at all, either linguistically or academically, but for his increasingly erratic and socially risky behaviour in and out of school.
What are the three most important principles in context-embedded
planning for EAL pupils across curriculum subjects?
visuals – first the concept, then the language.
give the language you want them to use – make
the key terms explicit and require they use them from the outset.
plan activities (the context) in which the
language is embedded – start with academic concepts and processes
Why? As explained in other articles here, EAL students who have been previously educated are not suffering from native-speaker, low literacy issues. They simply do not know the English for concepts they have been introduced to in their own educational systems.
Note: Non-educated, interrupted education or refugee status pupils are a different kettle of fish. However, even they benefit from visuals to help concretise concepts and explicit language with which to label them. But they will make slower progress due to inexperience with institutional settings and learning.
The Cognitive Effect of Visuals
Pictures help them to access higher cognitive/abstract
thinking in their home language. Once they have the concept, tell them what it is
in English. They will lay that word side-by-side with their own language in a
natural process of contrastive linguistics. Science, Maths, Technology and
Geography have natural linguistic advantages here. Many key words have roots in
Greek or Latin. Both root languages have been adopted across Indo-European
languages can be recognised by students across Europe, Asia and Africa.
Embedding Context and Lesson Structure
Lesson structure is very important. This article is accompanied by two resources which you can get from my TES store for free. I discuss them here.
Student N was a casual admission, i.e., mid-year, and came to our secondary school directly into Year 9. She seemed happy, socially confident and willing to learn, but was extremely slow to acquire English. In the group of students who were all new admissions, she was making the slowest progress out of all of them.
This concerned us as, in the UK system, she was immediately forced into exam classes and needed to acquire English at an accelerated rate. Was she SEN? How would we know? What information was needed to evaluate her? How could we document our decision-making process to ensure validity of approach?
Frederickson and Cline (1991, 2015 ) suggest a comprehensive framework of information gathering when assessing whether an EAL student is experiencing curriculum difficulties due to cognitive deficiency or to a need for linguistic and socio-cultural adjustment. These are a part of a ‘hypothesis-testing approach’ (Frederickson and Cline 1991, Hall 2001) where possible variables contributing to the educational difficulty are considered and eliminated as part of the assessment of possible SEN in an EAL child.
Background: gaining a full picture of the child’s previous educational experience;
Language: conducting a first-language assessment to ascertain whether the child is working at an age-appropriate level in their own language;
Communication Skills: observations of pupil interaction in classroom and play contexts, as well as gathering observational information from community language or religious schools as part of a multi-cultural approach;
Differentiation: checking that appropriate classroom provision for EAL language learning need is effectively used;
Affective Filters: investigating emotional and psychological factors affecting achievement such as past trauma, racist bullying or other environmental stresses; (Frederickson and Cline 1991, Pim 2010)
Testing: considering raw data on national standardised tests but as a minimal part of the whole picture. See note.
Oral work before written work – always! It is in oral work that language is tried, tested and acquired. Students should always work in pairs or groups for building complex answers.
2. Visuals – carefully select these for cultural- and age-specific accessibility. Always use photos, never clip art. Clip art drawings can be very abstract and require another layer of cultural interpretation and inference before the language can be applied.
…or this? Which one would get you to produce more words?
3. Break things down into manageable chunks. Put less on a power point slide or on the page. Give one instruction. Give them take-up time. Come back. Give the next instruction or task. Little and often.
So, I promised EAL would be made easy…well…easier. EAL students have one big problem and it’s NOT learning English. It’s learning enough academic English, fast enough, to get through whatever exam is coming. Their problem is not actual language acquisition, it’s the speed of acquisition. So providing support to access the curriculum must be done in a way that allows the EAL student to put chunks of useful language to good use right away.
That is why we have to start with higher academic language. An EAL student of good cognitive ability will be able to learn ‘nevertheless’ just as well as ‘but’. Remember that they do not have the same difficulties with multi-syllabic words as native-born, low-literacy students.
Chances are, they come from a language system that uses a highly complicated set of letter strings and are very used to longer words. Many other languages agglutinate, i.e., they ‘glue’ words together, like in Spanish, German, Hungarian or Turkish, resulting in hugely long words!
Top Tip: Pair work and group work allow fluent peers to model good English and EAL students to practice saying it. Work this into your lesson as often as you can for any key stage!
Below are nine general ways to build this support into your lesson structure, including how a teaching assistant (TA) can be a second pair of eyes and ears for you in your class.
Oy vey! Where do I begin? I’m a born and bred New Yorker transplanted to small-town Essex. I became a teacher by accident. I stayed out of stubborn determination (and parenthood). I succeeded because I used my painful journey of being a foreigner in an incomprehensible and inflexible social institution to help kids who were or felt different.
I made huge mistakes. I was a nightmare for the people that managed me or worked with me. I kept going. I got better. I kept hold of my unique perspective and valued it in the face of lots of cultural static. I got on people’s nerves. I got a Masters to back up my mouth. I moved to a London school where suddenly I fit better, faced bigger challenges and began to gain some humility.
I was asked to train as a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator to do my job (and another person’s job) better. I accepted. I worked 11-hour days to be of service to a tough and complex community. I experienced things that changed me forever. I moved on to preserve my health, my marriage and my family. I face different challenges at another school now. But I am a better teacher with more perspective, more humility and a much bigger arsenal of secret weapons and effective approaches.
I’m still a New Yorker. I’m still a pain in the ass(et). BUT I am an absolute asset to any school, any classroom, any set of students or parents, anybody I train and, now, to you. Read my blog. Enjoy. Go forth. Kick butt. Conquer ignorance. ‘Nuff said.
‘Drawing on excellent subject knowledge, teachers plan astutely and set challenging tasks based on systematic, accurate assessment of pupils’ prior skills, knowledge and understanding.’ So relates the descriptor for ‘Outstanding’ teaching under the Ofsted Framework. Educationalists conscientiously tend to focus on the first part of the statement—their subject knowledge, planning and task design—to the inadvertent exclusion of the second—their students’ prior skills, knowledge and understanding.
In the larger urban areas, most of the students sitting in our classrooms will be English as an Additional Language (EAL) learners. They come with varying degrees of fluidity in the language which is being used to assess their ‘prior skills, knowledge and understanding’—English. Multi-lingual immigrants now number half of the general population in some areas of Britain, with 1 in 4 people across London and almost a million nationally not speaking English ‘at all or well’ according the Telegraph reporting on the 2011 Census; their children can comprise up to 80% of our classroom registers on a daily basis. Continue reading “Why Literacy is Different for EAL Pupils”