UKEdMag: A beginner’s guide to EAL learners by @dileed

From the May 2016 UKEdMagazine

One of the most stimulating aspects of teaching EAL learners is that, whatever your experience and acquired expertise with one particular EAL pupil group or context, any one of us can quickly feel like a rookie again in relation to a different EAL pupil demographic or individual EAL pupil situation. So although this guide may seem aimed at new teachers or those teaching EAL children for the first time, it could equally be relevant for readers who are encountering EAL learners with different languages and/or ethnicities and/or fluencies or someone taking up leadership responsibility for EAL and needing to think more strategically.

This article originally appeared in the free UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.

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Step One: Recognise the unbearable lightness of labels – EAL learners are not all the same.

What do you need to know about an EAL learner in your class?

  • Current fluency in English and individual language targets appropriate for fluency stage. For an absolute beginner these may relate to speaking and listening only.
  • How long they have been learning English (remember it takes 5+ years to reach age related fluency for most).
  • L1 fluency/fluencies and L1 literacy/literacies. This helps you judge when L1 will support learning English or be a pragmatic choice to capture curriculum understanding ahead of current expressive English fluency
  • Prior education and in what context. No point translating something a child has never studied and you don’t want to miss the chance to velcro learning in English onto what they have already achieved in another language.
  • Context : ethnicity, cultural background, socio economic factors, social emotional factors, any additional needs – just as varied as any monolingual learner.

EAL as a pupil descriptor incorporates a very broad pupil group. Each of the areas above will vary across individual learner profiles and impact on both the provision needed at any one time and progress – though it’s important to remember that if an EAL learner does not make faster progress than monolingual peers they will never catch up long term. The most effective EAL assessment captures the essentials from a more detailed profile for mainstream teachers and ensures they are provided with individual English fluency targets suitable for their teaching subject. This helps identify differentiation needed. It’s a challenge for EAL leadership to make sure individual teachers are not trying to second guess these details at the same time as teaching.

Step Two: Establish big picture priorities for curriculum planning and delivery.

Don’t be a top tips junkie without relating strategies to a rationale for EAL differentiation. EAL Learners need the following three things but different EAL learners will need adjustments according to the fluency of their receptive and expressive English and their prior experience of education.

  • comprehensible input: make the curriculum content as understandable as you can via key visuals, diagrams, concrete objects and experience.
  • appropriate cognitive challenge : create opportunities for EAL learners to show what they know and understand ahead of their expressive English fluency.

These will be most important when English is least fluent. It’s when collaborative learning and the use of images and activities like card sorts are so essential.

  • Language Development: EAL learners need to learn English via your subject content with models and scaffolding matched to their current English fluency. Learning new vocabulary is an important part of this process but not enough without consideration of the collocations, idioms and language structures used.

The EAL Nexus site models practical approaches and resources for all three aspects of differentiation for different fluencies and contexts. Look out for their Great Ideas pages. It’s important to collaborate as much as you can. There is no need to plan a different lesson for every EAL child but collective conversations about the language demands of your current SoW and a divvy up production of adaptable templates and key visuals saves individual teachers time and stress. It also means that you can liaise more effectively with any available support to prep ahead of the lesson and consolidate after.

Step Three: Draw upon external resources and support networks.

Not many schools have EAL support available via LAs any more but do explore what is available via your local and regional school networks. Try not to just download uncritically but discuss theory and practice in your school context and advocate for targeted CPD when necessary.

NALDIC is the EAL Subject Association and the site links to an associated Google group community where you can post questions.

EAL MESH collates strategies in relation to research.

NASSEA has one example of a very accessible approach to EAL assessment.

Supplementary Schools and local community groups can be very helpful with insights about language, culture and overseas curriculum as well as possible bilingual support for translation and interpretation.

Diane Leedham @dileed is an independent teacher, consultant, trainer and writer, specialising in English, Literacy and EAL and multilingualism. She has more than 30 years experience in teaching, teacher development/ training and subject/school leadership, EYFS to KS5. Read her blog

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