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)
this blog, Ranvilles Infant School’s Deputy Head Teacher Stacey Barnes
discusses her school’s journey from a general reading scheme with bands and
guided reading to non-colour banding books and close reading. This blog
follows a workshop she presented at the 2019 Hampshire EMTAS conference where
she talked about using close reading of texts to support an integrated and
creative curriculum which benefits all pupils, including learners with EAL.
The rationale for using a different approach to reading that is vocabulary specific for EAL learners is supported by research which shows that many children with EAL in England and elsewhere have less vocabulary knowledge than non-EAL peers (Murphy, 2015; Hutchinson et al, 2003). Even EAL children with well-developed oral language skills and above average reading comprehension skills have been shown to have less productive vocabulary knowledge than non-EAL peers (McKendry 2013). We also know that vocabulary is a strong predictor of reading comprehension and with children starting primary learning to read but finishing primary reading to learn it is crucial to address problems with reading comprehension which may exacerbate the achievement gap between EAL and non-EAL peers in specific sub-groups.
What is close reading?
Here is a definition:
Close reading is the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of a text. A close reading emphasizes the single and the particular over the general, effected by close attention to individual words, the syntax, the order in which the sentences unfold ideas, as well as formal structures (Wikipedia).
It also uses language in context and is key to exploring language, playing and having fun. We have found it benefits a wide range of children including EAL learners and is useful for all children.
Some examples of close read we have used are instructions for making sushi, instructions for making puppets, passages from a fictional text based on the Titanic and basically anything that supports our integrated curriculum and can provide a cross curricular link to reading. In this video example, the children revisited the theme of 3D shapes and reinforced their understanding of different shapes through a short poem.
Close read is distinct from guided reading as one text is used with one mixed ability group. This benefits EAL pupils as children should not be denied access to texts because of their current proficiency in English and this method exposes EAL pupils to a wide variety of reading materials. Close read links to the whole curriculum really well, including subjects like Maths/DT/Art, helping to develop reading in every subject. Close read is not specific to English. Close read also capitalises on practitioner:peer relationships, using peers and adults as a positive model of talk. We have also found the practice to be very inclusive.
Practically we manage close reading by creating mixed ability groups of up to 6 children with an adult, usually within the mainstream classroom. This obviously aligns to best practice for EAL pupils. Close read also allows for pre and post learning for a topic; this can be vital for an EAL pupil. Working with parents may also be something to capitalise on, by sending home close reads or putting them on Tapestry or other learning platforms for parents to access. Explanation in a home language and preparing and talking around the specific text for the child may be extremely beneficial prior to the actual close read.
Above all, a close read allows for exploring language and vocabulary and this is essential – the whole reading and writing flow on a sea of talk analogy. It allows for message abundancy (Gibbons, 2008) and explicit content learning.
Around a close read many activities could be undertaken such as pre talk in the first language, drama activities exploring the language or Directed Activities Related to Texts (DARTs), such as vocabulary matching activities. Many of our close reads lead to an outcome in art, design technology and maths.
The impact of close read has been that our age-related expectation reading results increased by 4% to 93% (2018/19). Results were also favourable for our EAL pupils. Close reads have also helped to increase our results in writing. The overall impact of close reading is that the children are enjoying the close read sessions and making the links in learning to our integrated curriculum and this has been wonderful to see.
Gibbons, P. (2008) Challenging Pedagogies: More than just good practice? NALDIC Quarterly, 6(2), 4-14.
Hutchinson, J. M., Whiteley, H. E., Smith, C. D., & Connors, L. (2003) The developmental progression of comprehension‐related skills in children learning EAL. Journal of Research in Reading, 26(1), 19-32.
McKendry, M. (2013) Investigating the relationship between reading comprehension and semantic skill in children with English as an additional language: A focus on idiom comprehension. Unpublished DPhil thesis. University of Oxford.
Murphy, V. (2015) Assessing vocabulary knowledge in
learners with EAL: What’s in a word? NALDIC Conference.
Wikipedia - Close reading
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