There is a commonly held notion that mathematics has a universal quality that ensures learners have a relatively equal opportunity to succeed, whatever their background. But is this generally true when it comes to pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL), or does it require qualification and a much more nuanced analysis?
It can’t have escaped your attention, whether as an educator or parent, that there is some angst nationally over standards in mathematics compared with other nations. Whether this is a genuine problem and that the root causes can be easily explained is for another article. However, it is true that the UK differs from many other countries in the amount of language that is deliberately interwoven into the mathematics curriculum. This is important as the expression of mathematics through a linguistically rich curriculum may present barriers for learners who are not working at age-related expectations in English. This approach might also present cultural inhibitors, whether because children lack a degree of cultural capital as result of their upbringing or because they and/or their parents were educated abroad.
Pupils educated abroad
Pupils educated abroad, especially older EAL learners who have had an uninterrupted education, will have studied a lot of mathematics; finding out about their mathematical experience and ability can be problematic when they first arrive. However, it is true that mathematics is one subject in which newer to English learners have some chance to demonstrate their prior learning because it is less dependent on language than many other subjects. Testing and baseline assessment of mathematics can be helpful but the results need to be treated with caution. Whilst it is tempting to assume that mathematical approaches are similar across the world, the reality is very different. Numbers are not just numbers when a learner has routinely used different numerical symbols to the Hindu-Arabic numerals used in Western society. Not only this, but symbols, like an equal sign or a multiplication symbol, can be denoted differently. The fabric of the curriculum differs widely as well. We often find children are way ahead in certain disciplines such as algebra or calculus yet have limited knowledge of others like shape or perimeter. The mechanics of solving problems are such that a child may be secure in a method which is entirely different to those taught in UK Schools. Indeed, children abroad are not necessarily routinely taught several different methods and may find it hard to consider alternative ways of approaching a problem, particularly if they are already secure in one way.
The mathematical problem
As I am sure you are aware, our mathematical problems tend to be very wordy and the way that questions are expressed, particularly in exams, can be difficult for some EAL learners. The English is stylised, particular to mathematics and quite unlike the way that we talk or even write on a daily basis. I would also argue that most mathematical questions are culturally bound, making implicit assumptions about what experiences pupils will or will not have had, whether UK born or not.
To illustrate this quandary, consider the following problem:
At yesterday’s match 650 people watched Arsenal play on the big screen. Half of these fans bought a programme at £2.50 each.
- How many fans paid out?
- How much money was spent on programmes altogether?
Firstly, this question like many you will see in examination papers, lacks a comprehensively clear context. There are no visual clues and the setting, related to a football match, is implied but not explicitly referenced. If you don’t know about ‘Arsenal’ you are at an immediate disadvantage. The problem revolves around buying and selling ‘programmes’ which may be beyond many pupil’s experience if they have never attended a football game. The use of the word ‘programme’ is problematic as it can all too easily be linked with the phrase ‘watching on the big screen’ and interpreted as a TV programme. Like the word ‘programme’, there are other homographs as well, such as ‘match’ and ‘fan’ which may cause confusion. The relevant numerical operation is bound up in words like ‘each’ and ‘altogether’; words like this that imply a specific numerical operation, and there are many, need to be explicitly taught to EAL learners. The question also features the phrasal verb ‘paid out’; this type of language is extremely hard for English beginners.
The implications for EAL learners are far reaching. If you are working with children at an early stage of English acquisition you will need to consider both the linguistic and cultural demands of the mathematics curriculum. Making the mathematics more comprehensible will require thought and preparation - whether through the use of imagery, first language explanation, mathematical glossaries or other forms of personalisation.
Written by Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea, this is the first instalment in a series of blog posts focussing on the experience of parents of pupils with EAL.
Many moons ago, when I was nearly 5, my dad decided to apply for a temporary position as plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, in East Grinstead, and was luckily appointed. So, we packed our entire house, the useful and useless (silver cutlery included because one could never ever think of dining without one's own silver fork!), loaded our blue Alfetta and embarked on the three day trip that would change our lives.
It was early 80s, and a very exciting time to be at Queen Victoria Hospital with many other people from all over the world: Australians, French, Israeli, Egyptians, Irish, Italians, just to name a few. And, obviously, some Brits as well! It was also very exciting for us children, all attending the same primary school.
This is the background of my personal experience as an EAL child. I will not say that it was easy at the very beginning - name it the first month. The sense of deep isolation for not having a child to talk to and who understood me was overwhelming and my mum, who did not speak a single word of English, had to do everything in her powers to keep me entertained.
Then I started going to school in Year 1 and it was a blessing. My mum felt relieved (and we all know that a happy mum has happy children) as I picked up the language very quickly and made many friends, making her juggling skills no longer needed.
Besides taking me out of my linguistic isolation, the school gave me much more: thanks to the empiric approach of the British scholastic system, I developed strong observational skills and a genuine curiosity towards what I was being taught, which have been my main features through all my years at school and university. It taught me to challenge what I was learning to prove it right. It helped me develop a very rational approach to everything and the ability to analyse. Should it not be clear enough, I am still very grateful to the system. Also, the environment was amazing: massive playground with forts and a field at the back which had no boundaries. My classroom was big enough to host 30 children, plus a play-pretend corner, a big carpet, loads of toys and walls covered with pictures and resources to support our learning.
Unfortunately, my EAL experience came abruptly to its end after just one year because my dad's contract expired and we repacked all our house plus some other souvenirs, loaded again our Alfetta and headed south. Back to Naples, Southern Italy. I could have never imagined, at the time, that my own daughter would follow my steps.
We packed our house, with all its useful and useless clutter, shipped it to the UK - how smart! - and moved in February 2015, my daughter being nearly 6 and halfway through Year 1. Strong from my personal experience, I moved quite light-heartedly. At the end of the day, how hard could it be?? This is when I learnt that every child is different, despite genetics. It also made me understand that I had always seen the whole issue of moving from a happy child's perspective, not from a sensible adult's one. I was not prepared. Not at all.
Fortunately, school started one week after we arrived, and with a school trip to the HMS Victory on day 1. What a great start! A. was very impressed and this put her in a good disposition towards her new school. As soon as her teacher introduced her to the class, a girl came and took her to line up. An unexpected act of kindness that changed one of my most dreaded days into a lovely and very informative school trip - did you know that when Admiral Nelson died he was put in a barrel of rum to be preserved for his funeral?
But the linguistic isolation struck her quite soon, so we had the before-going-to-school tantrum and the after-school one. The "I want to go back to Italy right now" desperate cry and the unintelligible sobs that showed all her frustration at not being able to function as well as she was used to in Italy.
But I was not prepared to give up. Nor to let her do so.
To be continued… Come back soon to read the next chapter of this unique parent diary, using the tags to help you.
Visit the Hampshire EMTAS website for information and guidance on how to help settle a newly arrived pupil into school.
Written by: Claire Barker, Specialist Teacher Advisor, Hampshire EMTAS and Sam Wilson, Education Advisor, Hampshire EMTAS with thanks to Alex Clark and Dianne Gair, Greenfields Junior School, Hartley Wintney.
Some Traveller girls find themselves growing up and facing body changes without any idea about what is happening to them. Claire Barker and Sam Wilson, Hampshire EMTAS GRT experts, discuss how this state of ignorance is due to cultural taboos widely held within the Traveller communities.
Tackling taboos without causing offence
It is often scary as a classroom practitioner to raise sensitive issues with parents when you are unsure if you are going to cause offence or not. In our work with the Traveller communities we are aware of some of the subjects that Traveller families find hard to discuss amongst themselves and impossible to discuss with people outside their communities. Schools are under increasing pressure to ensure all children are educated in Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) and from 2019 parental choice will be removed and SRE will be made compulsory. This will pose a challenge for schools that have Traveller students on roll.
Many Traveller families do not believe that any sex and relationships information should be shared with their children and these should be learned through experience as they mature and marry. This can seem short sighted to people outside the Traveller communities and difficult for many people to understand in this day and age. It is very important for many Traveller parents to ensure that their girls are kept pure in body and mind and this means no information relating to sex or relationships is discussed within the family. Many Traveller parents withdraw their children from all Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) as they are afraid of what their children may learn. Words like ‘periods’, ‘ menstruation’ and ‘pregnancy’ are taboo in many families and may be replaced by terms such as ‘monthlies’ and when a Traveller woman is pregnant, the pregnancy is not acknowledged by the children.
How do I deal with this as a classroom practitioner?
For a classroom practitioner who has to deliver the advised PSHE curriculum it can be a minefield of taboos and potential to offend if you have Traveller children in your setting. It may sometimes even lead to Traveller children being withdrawn to be Electively Home Educated (EHE). Traveller parents seek to protect their children from outside influences they feel may be damaging to their child. There are sensitive issues that can sometimes be difficult for the non-Traveller population to understand but in our diverse society in the 21st century we as professionals need to be aware of the issues and to have considered ways of dealing with them in order to avoid offending the GRT communities and contributing to the rise in EHE statistics.
Taking the first step
The first step in tackling the taboos is to speak to the community involved so you gain a better understanding of why something may be considered offensive or forbidden and the rationale behind the thinking. It is important not to be judgemental as often cultural beliefs may not mirror our own but we must look at ways to work together to reach a common ground and understanding to benefit the children.
To this end myself, an EMTAS colleague and two school based colleagues met with some Mums from Traveller communities to ask them what they knew about PSHE and what it was that worried them. We did this in an informal coffee event and it generated a great discussion with both sides learning lots. The Traveller Mums agreed that when they heard PSHE they withdrew their children and kept them off for the whole day. They were surprised by some of the topics covered by PSHE and agreed their children would really benefit from sessions on topics like Stranger Danger and Road Safety.
We invited the Mums back to see all the resources used from Years 3 to 6 and to look at power points and schemes of work. They loved bits of it, hated bits of it and were totally shocked by bits of it.
We then discussed how their girls found out about their body changes and they said they didn’t – it just happened. Sometimes if they have an older sister or a close cousin they may have told them but it wasn’t a Mum’s place to talk about it. We asked if they would consider us doing it without mentioning sex or relationships just what to expect from their bodies. The Mums were thrilled with this idea providing we taught them the lesson first.
Our school based colleagues thought about how to tackle this and came up with the idea of a ‘Girl’s Bag’. They made up a lovely drawstring bag in a pretty print filled with everything a pre-teenager may use. It had dry shampoo, deodorant, false nails, nail varnish, shower gel, a razor, hair remover, a trainer bra and a packet of sanitary towels.
We invited the Traveller Mums back in and told them how the Traveller girls and any other girls who had been withdrawn from SRE/PSHE for what ever reason would be invited to the session with parental permission when we delivered it in school. The Mums then did the lesson with us, it is important to note that this was done with only female staff present as this topic is totally taboo for GRT men. We each drew out an object and we discussed if we used it and what we used it for and if we liked the colour, smell etc. When the sanitary towels were taken out of the bag, the packet was opened and the teacher explained what it was used for and why every girl would need them. It was talked about in generic, practical terms with no mention of why this happens to your body apart from it being part of becoming a woman. The Traveller Mums loved the lesson and said how they wished someone had done this for them.
However in another school the Traveller Mums felt it was too late for their girls and in their family older sisters had helped their younger siblings. They asked what we were doing for boys and to be honest, the answer was nothing. So we decided to go with the same idea and create a bag to explain to the boys what they needed to do to be sweet smelling and hygienic. The Traveller Mums liked this but said they wanted some information included about self examination and testicular cancer which could happen to a teenage boy.
Never deterred by a challenge, we acquired prosthesis testes that had been created with a lump so the boys could feel what they were looking for. The sample lesson with the Traveller Mums had to be carried out by me as a woman but the session for the Traveller boys had to be carried out by a man as it wouldn’t be acceptable for a woman to discuss anything sexual or body related with boys. Again it was a great success.
It is still quite an innovative idea; there is a lot of work and relationships to be build with the Traveller communities to make this part of the SRE curriculum in schools. Will it ever truly take off and be acceptable? This is doubtful as schools need to be culturally aware and the GRT communities are slower moving with regards to education and their children but it is a step in the right direction of offering support whilst fully respecting the culture. The continuing work has to be the building up of trust between schools and the GRT communities so a relationship can be established to allow taboo subjects to be discussed in the interest of the GRT children while staying within the boundaries of cultural acceptance.
Written by Hamish Chalmers, Doctoral Researcher at Oxford Brookes University
I run the NALDIC Oxfordshire Regional Interest Group (RIG) which is a forum for teachers, researchers and others interested in the education of EAL learners. Despite the very rich and diverse linguistic characteristic of Oxford and its surrounds, the Local Authority no longer has an EAL department and therefore no longer provides peripatetic support for EAL learners and their teachers. This means that it can be very difficult for individual teachers and schools to access training that would help them to keep up to date with developments in policy and practice relating to EAL, and ensure that they follow best principles in their teaching. Our RIG meets once a term. At each meeting teachers share their expertise, we invite guest speakers to talk about research and practice and we run workshops as a component of teachers’ continuing professional development.
We were delighted, therefore, to be given an opportunity to try out the Hampshire EMTAS EAL Conversation Cards with the RIG this autumn. The conversation cards are an excellent way to stimulate thoughtful discussion around provision for EAL learners in our schools. Each card poses a question related to a typical scenario. For example one cards asks ‘At your school, pupils who are relatively new to English are withdrawn from language classes for extra English. What would be your opinion of this policy?’ The question is designed to prompt discussion about this authentic scenario, with a view to the discussion helping teachers to understand their own practice and policy. Each question is then answered on the reverse of the card, providing evidence-informed guidance for teachers on how best to respond. For example, the answer to the question above reiterates the right of all children to have a broad and balanced curriculum. It then explains that EAL learners are often already competent language learners, so withdrawing them for classes that build on this foundation of skills to develop English is unlikely to be in their best interests. The card then goes on to suggest things that schools should take into account when setting related policy.
The cards are organised into eight themes, each addressing a different aspect of EAL education. These include management, teaching and learning, parents and community, bilingualism, and so on. Working with a group of 30 teachers, I divided the cards into sets that included examples from each section and asked small groups to appoint a questioner who would lead the discussion with two or three colleagues. The room was abuzz with discussion and debate as colleagues engaged with the cards and considered their responses. Eavesdropping on the conversations was fascinating as it revealed a great breadth of knowledge among colleagues, but also some very typical misunderstandings which allowed for some timely myth busting by the cards.
One colleague commented on how useful the cards were for schools like hers, which do not have an appointed EAL coordinator. Here, like many schools, EAL expertise is largely down to the experience of individual teachers. In the absence of teachers who have taught in schools with large numbers of EAL learners and with good ongoing professional development, knowledge and guidance is rather hit and miss. Because the conversation cards provide evidence informed guidance for real-world scenarios, it means that anyone can lead CPD sessions regardless of their level of experience. While this might not be the ideal situation, it does mean that teachers can be confident that they are getting good advice, especially in the light of the many myths about language learning that get reinforced when expertise is lacking.
We also looked at the online version of the cards. Here, the same information is presented but can be shared using a projector, so that discussions about the same question can be held in larger groups. Our RIG members were impressed that the online version provides links to other online content that expands and reinforces the messages provided in the answers.
Using the cards in training
Colleagues left the meeting inspired to continue their learning about EAL, and sharing this with their colleagues by using the Hampshire EMTAS EAL conversation cards. Many saw the potential for including short sessions in staff meetings, dealing with a couple of cards at a time, or for one to one personal professional development meetings. We were delighted to have been able to share this essential resource with our colleagues and hope that the cards continue to shape policy and pedagogy for Oxford’s vibrant and diverse language learners.
Where to get a set of cards
You can view a sample of the cards here where you can also find the order form.
written by Jamie Earnshaw, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
A small scale piece of research into the ‘Bangladeshi’ (ABAN) ethnic group in Eastleigh offers an insight into the experiences of Bangladeshi families in UK schools
Bangladeshi families in
Eastleigh have generally been settled in the town for many years. In fact,
Bangladeshi children going through the education system now tend to be UK born
and are often the second or third generation of their family to attend school
in the UK. However, school data for the ABAN group suggest they are behind many
other ethnic groups, particularly in the primary phase, in English and Maths.
Observations of pupils in class illustrate how settled and integrated ABAN pupils are in primary schools; ABAN pupils were seen to be actively participating in the classroom in both collaborative and independent activities, often taking the lead when presenting back to the rest of the class during group work. Discussions with school staff paint a similar picture; anecdotally, ABAN pupils are as engaged and as settled in the school environment as any other pupil. Of course, this has not happened by chance but is the direct result of quality first teaching, in which good practice strategies for supporting EAL pupils are embedded. The mismatch between the anecdotal evidence pointing to how ABAN pupils should achieve in school, compared with the factual data, is therefore quite a quandary.
At home, parents of EAL learners often battle with the decision over whether to forgo the use of first language in a pledge to support their child’s acquisition of English, despite this being the antithesis of good practice advice. With Bangladeshi families in Eastleigh, this is not so. At home, first language is used, often exclusively, between parents, their children and the wider family. The only time pupils tend to use English at home is with a sibling, normally when they are working on a piece of homework or playing a game.
For pupils, the desire to discuss homework in English is often as a result of the academic nature of the language which they have learnt and used solely in the classroom where the language domain is English; specific vocabulary for topics like Ancient Greece or the transference of forces in gears and pulleys is unlikely to be used in day-to-day family life. It is perhaps therefore understandable that pupils might choose to use English to support with the completion of homework. However, as a result, parents can often feel ostracised from their children during this time.
Unlike parents of newly arrived EAL pupils, the usual potential barriers for ABAN parents are not as prevalent. After all, ABAN parents in Eastleigh have often gone through the education system themselves. Parents tend to know what the school systems are, they understand about school events such as closures or non-uniform days and, according to school staff, frequently attend parents’ evenings. Dialogue between home and school, on the surface, is not an issue.
The unquestionable desire for parents to support their children at home, yet not feeling equipped to do so, appears to lie incongruently with the established links between home and school. Perhaps the best comparison is that of the advanced learner of English in the classroom; such pupils often do not receive the support they require due to them blending in, being able to partake in conversations, coupled with not wanting to identify themselves as being different by asking for additional support, for example. This is the dilemma parents often face. The general expectation of reinforcing at home what has been learnt in the classroom is understood, but addressing the finer details of actually being able to support in this role is often the pitfall.
The compartmentalisation of English for academic purposes and first language for family time can inhibit the identification of ways to build on what a child learns in class. Many ABAN pupils are not able to read and write in first language yet contrast this with the fact that parents are often confident when speaking conversational English but have low levels of literacy in English (coupled with low literacy levels in first language too). Consequentially, families tend not to have texts in any language they can share with their children at home. Additionally, the relative economic deprivation and lack of cultural capital in Eastleigh, exacerbated by the fact that often families do not have a car to travel out of the area, means that opportunities for learning in other contexts are rather limited.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Key, however, must be continuing to build on the established links between school and home, in order to facilitate further exploration and open dialogue of how parents can support at home. Playing on parents’ strengths is essential; whether that’s sending home key questions for parents to ask in first language in order to evaluate their child’s prior learning, or sending home dual language texts as a way of sharing the learning process between parent and child. Recorded audio instructions might also help, alongside sending home differentiated materials used in the classroom, in advance, just to give parents confidence to get involved in supporting their children at home. Additionally, help with identifying opportunities for learning in other contexts away from school might also be beneficial.
This blog may well leave schools and parents with more questions than answers. Nevertheless, it has certainly shone a light on how well integrated ABAN pupils are in schools, which is testament to the hard work of schools, families and pupils. Through encouraging further open dialogue between home and school, the trajectory for ABAN pupils in Eastleigh can only be positive.
Further reading and resources
written by Chris Pim, Hampshire
EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
How to use computer games to enrich the curriculum and raise standards in reading and writing for all pupils, including more advanced learners of English as an additional language (EAL)
Most pupils have direct experience of playing computer games, whatever their linguistic or cultural heritage. Minecraft, you may be aware, is one of the most successful games of all time. So how could you capitalise on the interest in digital gaming to engage your learners and develop approaches that can raise standards across the curriculum?
Using computer games for language learning across the curriculum – some considerations
Not all computer games are created equal – to coin a phrase. Games that are specifically designed for education, such as English language learning games, may not be that successful because pupils realise that they are no more than thinly disguised tests and don’t respond positively to them.
In an educational context the best games are immersive; the player inhabits a realistically rendered 3D world influencing a narrative- rich storyline through the actions of their character/avatar. From a learning perspective, especially for EAL pupils, professionally produced computer games contain clear graphics, authentic storylines, audio narration/music and rich texts that provide a clear context and make meaning explicit. Some also provide obvious links to the curriculum such as through historical, geographical and scientific settings and scenarios.
You also need to be aware that all marketed computer games are subject to an age rating to determine their appropriateness for children and young people (Pegi). This is an important factor in determining the type of computer game that you might choose to use with your pupils.
As you read this article you may already have ideas for suitable computer games. However you might like to consider any of the following: The Myst series, Minecraft Storymode, Syberia, The Longest Journey, Tintin - Search for the Unicorn, The Room series and Amerzone.
There are numerous opportunities for developing thinking, talking and writing around computer games. For example, there is obviously merit in allowing pupils to play the game in pairs/groups as the quality of discussion will benefit EAL learners as they work alongside supportive peers. There is also tremendous potential in playing parts of the game as a whole class, projecting game play onto a large digital display. One pupil plays the game and peers suggest where to look, which objects to interact with and generally help to decide on particular courses of action at major decision points. Pupils can also debate particular courses of action. This all helps to develop more academic types of language that will improve written outcomes.
Playing a computer game from start to finish won’t be possible. But the game can be moved on by playing video game walk-throughs sourced from the internet. Featured texts within the game can be used as the basis for EAL-friendly activities; vocabulary-building games, Directed Activities Related to Texts (DARTs) and collaborative writing tasks like Dictogloss.
When playing computer games it is immediately apparent how fruitful the medium is for developing writing within different text types - for example, encouraging descriptive writing around realistic settings and well-defined characters. The format also encourages learners to produce recounts of game play sessions. Finding solutions to puzzles and making progress through the game provides opportunities for instructional and explanation-based texts. Students can discuss/argue the relative strengths and weaknesses of any particular game or perhaps the appropriateness of its age-rating from the perspective of a player or parent. Pupils could also write computer game reviews.
Why not also challenge your pupils to create persuasive videos to advertise a chosen computer game? Using professionally produced video game adverts sourced from the internet you can demonstrate persuasive techniques, such as rhetorical questions, repetition, lists of three, hyperbole etc. Next, using images and video captured from their chosen game, encourage pupils to collaborate on the production of a promotional video using iMovie’s Trailer feature. You will find this activity is especially beneficial for more advanced EAL learners as it acts as an intermediate scaffold for writing persuasively.
As you can see there are many ideas for integrating computer games into the classroom to improve the reading and writing skills of your more advanced EAL learners alongside their peers. So, what’s stopping you? You won’t be disappointed with the outcomes!
To read a research case study focussed on using immersive games to improve the writing of more advanced EAL learners visit: https://eal.britishcouncil.org/eal-sector/eal-and-immersive-games
Pairing up new arrivals with pupils who speak the same language is a good way of alleviating the anxiety of the first few weeks when everything is new, different and sometimes overwhelming. Coping in an unknown language for academic as well as social purposes over long periods of time is extremely tiring.
Newly-arrived pupils need appropriate support as they adjust to their new surroundings and routines and it makes complete sense to allow pupils to learn school routines, meet new friends and settle in at school through a language that is familiar to them. It also makes sense for pupils to engage with their learning through first-language, as anything that is cognitively challenging can then be discussed more easily and in greater depth. In short, first-language is an asset and a useful tool for learning as well as for settling in – so much so that for some, it might appear reasonable to ask bilingual pupils to interpret in all sorts of situations.
The use of children and young people as interpreters
There is limited guidance on the use of children and young people as interpreters at school and limited research around this theme, especially in the UK. What we do know is that ‘child interpreting’ is an underestimated role. Somehow, children and young people rarely have any concept of what a fantastic skill they have. What we also know is that whilst some feel extremely proud of being able to support their family through interpreting, others may perceive this to be a burden.
This is the case particularly when children and young people are requested to interpret in situations where the language and concepts involved are too difficult or unfamiliar for them to understand and relay accurately. Research also suggests that in the context of lessons, child interpreters are comfortable interpreting for routine tasks that require everyday language but struggle to interpret for new concepts where the language is more demanding due to its academic nature.
So, is it fair to ask Kacper to translate photosynthesis into Polish for us?
Some pupils who have been to school in their home country and studied this subject already may be quite confident to do so. However, more often than not learners will rely on English keywords when discussing their work in first language. Therefore, we should be careful not to assume that children and young people can cope with the language demands of the classroom to such a degree than they can replace bilingual assistants, professional interpreters and good quality, EAL-friendly teaching and learning. This is not to say that Kacper can’t help. In fact, he would benefit from his school setting up a peer-buddying programme such as the award-winning Young Interpreter Scheme®.
Young Interpreter Scheme
The Young Interpreter Scheme® is a successful, low-cost, self-sufficient framework consisting of training for learners aged 5-16, designed to skill them up to help new arrivals with English as an Additional Language feel welcome and settled in their new school environment. It supports pupils by giving them the tools to use their qualities and language skills effectively to help other pupils. The scheme also upskills school practitioners in charge of delivering the scheme thanks to guidance informed by research, self-explanatory resources and interactive e-learning material. These resources enable Young Interpreter Coordinators to train pupils and guide them in their role whilst preventing them from being used in inappropriate scenarios. The Young Interpreter Scheme® provides very clear guidance on the situations where pupils should be operating. For example, showing non-English speaking visitors around the school, buddying with new arrivals during breaks and lunchtimes and demonstrating routines, not interpreting for concepts in the classroom.
The Young Interpreter Scheme® gives children and young people who, like Kacper, interpret on an ad hoc basis, real recognition of their skills through a high-profile role defined, by clear parameters which ensure their safeguarding. Through this, the scheme also sends positive messages about multilingualism. This impacts pupils’ sense of identity and belonging at school, their relationships with pupils from other language groups as well as their leadership skills. The Young Interpreter Scheme® also provides a stepping stone to pupils who may like to consider interpreting as a career in the future.
Astrid Dinneen is co-ordinator of the Young Interpreter Scheme.
Article first published in April 2017 by ATL https://www.atl.org.uk/latest/kacper-what%E2%80%99s-photosynthesis-polish
written by Sarah Coles, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
It is usually clear to staff in schools that there is a
support need they should address when a newly-arrived pupil from overseas
experiences a language barrier on joining their first UK school. This may be the child’s first experience of
being in an English-speaking environment, and there is much to learn in terms
of the new language. What are less
discernible – and perhaps less well-supported - are the other barriers such a
child may face – barriers that relate to differences in pedagogy, social and
cultural differences and of course the sense of dislocation and loss the
newly-arrived child may feel when they first start, having left behind all
their friends and possibly family members too.
Being placed in a situation far outside of their comfort zone, there is
a lot for a new arrival to manage in addition to the demands of having to cope
in a new language.
In the UK, pedagogical
approaches focus on children learning through experience, learning from each
other, learning through trial and error, learning through talk. From an early stage, our indigenous,
monolingual children learn how to learn in these ways and teachers, many
themselves a product of this same system, teach from an often deeply-rooted
belief that these ways are the best. We
are so immersed in the UK classroom culture that as practitioners we may forget
it’s not like this everywhere in the world.
In Poland, for example,
children do not come to sit on the carpet to learn as the carpet is perceived
to be a dirty surface that’s walked on by everyone, so a Polish child – and
possibly also their parents - may look askance when the class is directed to
come to sit there for story time.
In some countries,
children’s behaviour is managed for them,often with a stick should they step
out of line. This means they do not
learn to regulate their own behaviours right from the start of their
educational journeys as UK-born children do.
New arrivals coming from countries where corporal punishment is still
the norm may therefore struggle and fall foul of UK classroom behaviour
management approaches which they do not comprehend, getting themselves into
endless trouble as they struggle to acquire self-regulation skills with little
or no support. One teacher, dealing with
an incident involving a student from overseas who had hit another child, asked
the former “Would it be OK if I hit you?”
To her surprise, the reply came “Well yes, of course it would.” It was the matter-of-factness of the response
that caused her to realise this child really meant what he had said and that
this was not as straightforward an issue as she had at first assumed.
In other parts of the world,
pedagogical approaches may rest on the premise that children are empty buckets,
waiting to be filled with the knowledge possessed by their teachers. While the teacher teaches from the front, the
children sit at their desks in rows, their success measured by how much they
are able to repeat back in the end of year test. There is little scope for learning through
dialogue or for experimenting with ideas and hypotheses to see which ones hold
true under close examination and which do not.
A child coming from that sort of school experience may struggle to
comprehend what is going on in their lessons in their new, UK classroom. How should they engage with their education
when it looks like this? How should they
now behave and function as learners?
Parents may experience their
own difficulties as they grapple with the apparent vagaries of the UK education
system. They may have found applying
online for a school place challenging enough but that was just the start. If they were used to a system wherein their
child was taught from a textbook that came home every night so they could see
what had been covered during the day’s lesson, then how difficult must it be
for them to keep abreast of their child’s learning when there is no text book
to look at? How then should they recap at home the key points covered in class
each day? How might they help prepare their child for the school day
ahead? If they were familiar with
knowing where in the class ranking their child sat, what sense can they make of
our system where we don’t publish information about each child’s attainment in
comparison to their peers? And if in
their country of origin promotion to the next class depended on their child
passing the end-of-year tests, what must it mean to them in our system where
promotion from Year 4 to Year 5 is automatic, regardless of whether or not the
child has met the end-of-year expectations?
An awareness of the far-reaching impact of living in a new culture that goes beyond a nod and accepts that mere survival isn’t really good enough will help practitioners reflect on how they currently support their international new arrivals and what they might be able to put in place to improve current practice. It is of course still good practice to support children to access the curriculum in English through the planned, purposeful use of first language but if we are to look at the bigger picture, then there is more that can be done to help a newly-arrived child to integrate into their new UK school – not least giving thought to what might be the barriers their parents are facing, and what they can do to reduce or remove them.
Consultant (EAL) at Hampshire EMTAS
First published on the ATL blog, July 2017
Further reading and resources
http://www3.hants.gov.uk/education/emtas/culturalguidance.htm EMTAS cultural guidance sheets
behaviour management guides for parents