I shudder, thinking back to my differentiation for EAL students at the start. I Google translated the whole PowerPoint, brimming with pride at my achievement. It was sadly, as the kids would say, an epic fail. It didn’t make sense. The students were grateful for the effort that I had gone to, but pushed the paper to one side as it was no help at all returning to use the English one.
This article was originally published in the December 2015 Edition of our UKEdMagazine
Fast forward to the present – The demographics of the school I teach in has changed and a large proportion of my students are now EAL. The first battle was to win the students over to Religious Education by overcoming the barrier of a view of irrelevance to the subject. A lesson on rites of passage saw the lightbulb moment, the one where finally the penny hit, and they made a connection to their own lives, when we looked at baptism about pouring water over the baby’s head! The schemes of work are relevant to the students’ lives and set a foundation of understanding and engagement to build upon for GCSE.
More success came when they shared their own experiences, talking about their faith and making comparisons to the experience of others, reinforcing the importance of their voice in the classroom. The current year 11 students have taught me a few phrases in their own language, but I am sure my accent is terrible. They are now my language helpers, who double check my use of Google translate. It has made them proud and given them value whilst celebrating their culture.
Currently all of the EAL students I teach in year 11 are working at or above target. I use their work to showcase good practice, which has been used across my classes, across the department and through the local RE network. This is a tribute to their hard work and determination in working upon the feedback I have given to support their answers. They are pleased to see the work they have achieved and actively seek to improve. I am delighted with the progress they have made and their confident approach to RE.
In the future, I hope to build on the EAL resources by building up a resource bank on the other languages in school, using the critical feedback of the students using the resources. I am joining an EAL working party to share and build upon good practice across the school. Ultimately, I would like to be able to say that EAL students reach or exceed their targets without having language being a barrier.
Michelle Carrier is leader of learning for Religious Education, Citizenship and PSHE at Lyng Hall School Trust. Find her on Twitter at @mrscarrierRE.