In this blog and accompanying videoscribe, Chris Pim, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor, provides an overview of the needs of more advanced learners of English as an additional language (EAL) and identifies some ways in which schools can support this group of learners in their journey to full proficiency in their use of English across the curriculum.
Most schools have a range of children working at different stages in their learning of English as an additional language. Those schools which actively track progress using a specific EAL assessment framework will be aware that rates of progress vary enormously depending on the context of the child, their age and the specific curriculum area within which they are working at any given time.
Broadly speaking, pupils who are new to English or at an early stage of learning EAL make rapid progress with inclusive teaching and learning practices. However, research shows that more advanced learners, those who have been studying English for around two or more years, can plateau in their learning at various points in their school career. More advanced EAL learners often require specific types of literacy-based support for many years after acquiring oral proficiency.
So, who are our more advanced EAL learners? These learners, who are often but not exclusively British born, appear to speak and understand English at an age appropriate level, yet still require specific support to overcome the cognitive and academic challenges of the curriculum. Some, but by no means all, will also be literate in one or more other languages.
These pupils sometimes slip under the radar of schools, whose focus is often more on beginners; in some cases, they may not even be flagged up on the school’s data systems as EAL at all. There are obvious indicators to look out for, such as reading miscomprehension of key texts and evidence in writing of typical grammatical errors or where writing has obviously been copied from peers or indiscriminately drawn from online sources. However, a more rigorous focus on diagnostic assessment is the only sure way of identifying the specific areas that need attention for each pupil.
Practitioners need to consider the language demands of the curriculum in order to ensure that they plan to teach the specific language and literacy elements presented by each subject area. And practitioners shouldn’t underestimate the significance of the cultural context of the curriculum either. EAL learners, whether UK born or not, sometimes grow up lacking a degree of cultural capital that means they miss important nuances that inhibit understanding. That’s why the best practitioners make meaning explicit for all their learners through well-planned sequences of lessons using a range of multimodal sources; this helps to make messages abundantly clear.
Abridged texts, simple English versions of key information and translated sources, where appropriate, will aid reading comprehension. Digital texts can be made more accessible via text to speech synthesis. Pupils will also benefit from specific guidance on how to make the most of dictionaries and thesauri.
Schools which cater well for more advanced learners of EAL often have a whole school focus on developing academic oracy and talk for writing approaches; strategies which benefit all pupils. Well planned collaborative activities, drama and role-play, presentations, Dictogloss and Socratic talk activities will convert thinking and talking into better academic writing across the curriculum. Recording thoughts and conversations and replaying them prior to writing has also been shown to improve the cohesion of pupils’ writing.
Another beneficial strategy is a specific focus on pre-teaching and rehearsing the use of key vocabulary, both technical and academic, including exam terminology. A specific focus on Greek and Latin stem and root words can be helpful. Call-out games like follow-me, Bingo and vocabulary Jenga are fun ways to consolidate vocabulary knowledge. Card-based matching games are also very useful. Word clouds drawn from key texts are a great way to get children thinking about subject content, text-type and genre.
Converting thinking and talking into great writing is a perennial problem for some more advanced EAL learners. Technology has a role here - supportive word processors and in-built soft keyboards can help pupils compose digital texts – for example through speech to text, word prediction and integrated spellcheckers and thesauri. The process need scaffolding using knowledge organisers, writing frames and key word banks. And text-types like recount, persuasion and argumentation need modelling to help pupils understand the conventions most frequently required for each specific subject area.
Above all, more advanced EAL learners want approachable teachers who understand their needs, make explicit the next steps in their learning and maintain high expectations at all times.
Hampshire EMTAS Guidance Library - Advanced EAL Learners
Aide-memoire of best practice
Ensuring the attainment of more advanced learners of English as an additional language
Bell Foundation EAL Resources (search by language level)
Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Chris Pim busts popular EAL myths
Anyone who works with EAL learners, particularly those at an early stage of learning English, knows how challenging this can be. The only common factor besides varied exposure to English is that these pupils have another influencing language in their background. In all other respects they vary as much from each other as non EAL pupils. Not only do we, as practitioners, need to consider the overall aptitude of a learner but also complex issues such as proficiency in first language, cultural factors, previous learning experiences and family circumstances. This makes effective support for EAL learners particularly difficult and raises some important questions. How do we know whether our current provision is working? How do we know that an alternative intervention or set of support strategies might not produce more effective results?
As a specialist teacher adviser, working for an established ethnic minority achievement team, I have come to an understanding about what I believe works best with EAL learners at different stages of acquiring English. My assumptions have been informed by looking at findings from more than 40 years of research, as well as observation and personal experience over many years working in this sector. Yet sometimes there would appear to be a mismatch between what happens on a practical level in schools and my understanding of best practice. So why would this be the case?
On one level it is my belief that effective provision for EAL learners can, at times, seem counter- intuitive. Take the issue of whether new arrivals should have acquired a basic level of English before entering mainstream provision. This is still a perpetuating myth, as it seems pretty clear that pupils would have a better chance of engaging with the curriculum if they had a good grasp of colloquial English, than if they didn’t. Whilst at face value that is undoubtedly true, the alternatives on offer in terms of offering a bespoke curriculum outside of the mainstream do most pupils no favours, either in terms of accelerating their development of academic English or enabling them to acquire curriculum-specific skills and knowledge. In addition, it has been shown to knock self- esteem and is a very expensive form of intervention. Except in rare circumstances most pupils simply do not need this level of intervention so long as they are being taught well in the mainstream.
It may be that an English first approach persists as an idea and a practice because it makes us as practitioners feel more comfortable; we project our feelings of inadequacy as we see new to English learners struggling with the undoubtedly challenging demands of learning new knowledge in an unfamiliar language. It is the same fear as restricting pupils’ use of their own first language as a tool for learning. We don’t understand what children might be saying, don’t know what bilingual sources to use and can’t mark their work if they write in an unfamiliar language. Therefore, some believe these types of approaches are to be avoided, despite unequivocal evidence that this benefits most learners who are orally fluent and literate in one or more other languages.
One widely held belief goes like this: Our early stage learners of English would do better if we reduce the cognitive challenge in the work, perhaps grouping them with ‘less able’ pupils where there is often an additional adult available to offer support to the whole group. In some cases, this belief extends to withdrawing pupils for an intervention session, either 1:1 with an adult or in a small group guided session. To be clear, grouping EAL learners with less able pupils and significant amounts of withdrawal intervention are not effective approaches for all sorts of reasons. Guided sessions also tend to limit the quality of peer-to-peer dialogue which is generally unhelpful for very early stage learners of EAL.
What I find interesting is that pupils often say they like this approach, possibly because they are receiving more attention from an adult than normal and therefore feel they must be learning something. But is it enough to implement a strategy simply because children enjoy it? Withdrawal intervention for early stage EAL learners is also popular with some practitioners who believe that their pupils make good progress in this setting. Yet it is my belief that this is a pedagogical placebo. By this I mean that any reasonable intervention from an adult is likely to help a pupil make progress. But will this be more successful than what the pupil would have received if they had remained in a well-taught mainstream lesson with the class teacher?
My advice is to keep early beginner EAL learners in the classroom as much as possible. Provide these pupils with the same curriculum and experiences as their peers, support access with sound EAL pedagogy and offer them alternative ways of demonstrating their learning.
Explore the following links for guidance around good practice teaching and learning for early stage learners of EAL:
One question often asked is ‘What are the differences between teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL) and teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL)? They’re practically the same thing, aren’t they?’ Lynne Chinnery, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor on the Isle of Wight clarifies how these approaches to English language learning are distinctively different from each other.
Who are EFL and EAL learners?
English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is used to refer to both adults and children learning English in a non-English speaking country or in the UK for a limited period of time, such as a summer course. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) mainly refers to adult learners of English in the UK attending English language classes. English as an Additional Language (EAL) is usually used to refer to children who are living and attending school in the UK and whose first language is not English.
Practitioners should remember however that ‘pupils with English as an additional language are not a homogeneous group’ (Naldic, 2012a); their age, background, previous education and previous experience of language learning will all play a part in shaping the way they learn English. Practitioners will therefore need a variety of EAL specific approaches to help each individual along his or her learning path.
What difference does it make?
One of the main differences between EAL and EFL is that because EFL is mostly taught in non-English-speaking countries, EFL students have limited exposure to English. They may have between one and five English lessons a week (the majority from my experience having only one to three lessons) and for many students, this time in the classroom will be the only time that they are immersed in English. They will usually be given English homework and, depending on their level, may even watch English TV programmes or listen to English songs outside the classroom, but on the whole, they will not have extended periods of communication in English, apart from their time inside the classroom.
EAL students, on the other hand, have a completely different experience. Not only are they immersed in English all day, five days a week, both in the classroom and in the playground, but they will also hear English outside school too. Even if they speak their first language at home or use it as a tool for learning, which we highly recommend, they will be listening to English all around them whenever they go out, and will eventually be communicating in the language outside as well as inside school.
One result of this is that EAL learners will normally acquire English much faster than learners of EFL. Even so, learning a language is a long process and EAL learners can take between 7 to 10 years to catch up with their monolingual peers. What is interesting to consider is the way in which they pick up the language. EAL students have time to listen to lots of talk, especially if they are seated with peers who can act as good language models. Being immersed in the language, they will begin to copy what they hear, experiment with it and eventually shape it for themselves. With lots of speaking opportunities in a supportive atmosphere, as well as a teacher and peers to model new language and recast it correctly, their confidence, fluency and accuracy will flourish. EFL students also need many opportunities for practice, but because their exposure to English is more limited, there will be much less time to develop the patterns and rules of language themselves in such a natural way. Because of this, they are likely to need more explicit instruction of grammar and syntax than the EAL student.
Another difference to bear in mind between EFL and EAL, is the fact that the EAL learner is usually alone or in a minority language group within the classroom, while EFL learners often share the same first language. This can make the initial stages of learning much more stressful for the EAL student. Sometimes early stage EAL learners also experience what is known as the ‘silent period’, where the learner begins to absorb the language around them but is not yet ready to speak. Although an EFL student may suffer some anxiety before their first lesson or two, this is not usually so pronounced or prolonged. Imagine how different it would feel if you were learning French in a class of English speaking peers at the same level as yourself compared with learning French in a class of French native-speakers!
EAL learners also differ from their EFL peers as, while they are learning English, they are also learning the school curriculum - in English, which means they have the difficult task of trying to learn English, access the curriculum and catch up with their peers – all at the same time! For this reason, focussing on vocabulary lists that have little or no connection with the curriculum, such as colours, pets or vegetables, is not good practice.
Are there any similarities?
While we are considering the differences between EAL and EFL learners, it is also important to remember that there are many similarities between the two disciplines and that what is good practice in one field can also be good practice in the other. Many methods that are recommended when working with EAL students are also used with EFL learners, such as the use of visuals, role play, paired activities and collaborative group tasks. In fact, these methods work well for all students, not just those learning EAL. In any English language classroom, the form and function of language will still need to be explored but the way language is taught has changed, even in the field of EFL. For example, endless exercises practising one particular grammatical structure, without context or the opportunity to experiment with it in natural conversation, will be of as little benefit to the EFL student as it is to the EAL student. Talk is creative: it is spontaneous and unpredictable and teachers should therefore not only plan activities which enable the student to apply the language they have learnt, but also to use it in real conversations in order for them to grow into independent learners (Naldic, 2012b).
The world of EFL has recognised this shift in methodology and most EFL course books now reflect modern approaches to language learning. We have torn out the language labs and have introduced many more opportunities for spontaneous conversation, that provide a platform to practise the structures and vocabulary taught, rather than an overreliance on drilled exercises with no avenues for real expressiveness. In this way EFL has become more in line with the pedagogy of EAL, where ‘The active use of language provides opportunities for learners to be more conscious of their language use, and to process language at a deeper level. It also brings home to both learner and teacher those aspects of language which will require additional attention’ (Naldic, 2012b).
Accessing the curriculum
EAL and EFL students will have very different experiences on their language journeys, not only because of the differing amounts of exposure to English, but also because of the purposes for which they are learning the language; EFL learners are learning English as a discrete subject whereas EAL learners are learning the curriculum through the medium of English. The good news is there are many useful strategies which work well for both EFL and EAL students, and have been proven to be good practice for all children, including native-speakers. However, practitioners working in the mainstream setting should remember that the curriculum provides the context for English language learning and therefore EAL strategies should be planned into lessons to support pupils’ access to the language demands of the curriculum. Check out Hampshire EMTAS and the Bell Foundation for more ideas.
Naldic (January 2012a) Pupils learning EAL [online] https://www.naldic.org.uk/eal-teaching-and-learning/outline-guidance/pupils/ (accessed 09.05.2018)
Naldic (January 2012b) The Distinctiveness of EAL Pedagogy [online] https://www.naldic.org.uk/eal-teaching-and-learning/outline-guidance/pedagogy/ (accessed 09.05.2018)
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 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