By Hampshire EMTAS Polish-speaking Bilingual Assistants Magdalena Raeburn and Katarzyna Tokarska.
Have you ever felt frustrated or out of your comfort zone because of communication barrier? Have you been on holiday abroad and found it tricky to explain what you need to your local shops, hotels or restaurants?
Imagine now, how much more complex and difficult a situation of an EAL child in a UK school might be. Try to put yourself in their shoes for a while… They come to the UK not for a holiday and not out of their own choice. They have to challenge themselves against a new language, new culture and a local community as well as the unknown school set of rules and regulations.
EMTAS Empathy Training will help you understand the complexity of the challenge that the EAL child faces every day. The aims of the session are:
- To increase awareness of the challenges that EAL learners face in the UK schools
- To give an insight into Polish learners’ cultural school differences
- To share ideas of how to approach the most common challenges experienced by the EAL learners.
During the training you will have a chance to become an EAL learner in a Polish classroom by taking part in a practical group activity on the geography of Poland. You will be expected to understand the teacher’s presentation, participate in a variety of activities, including group work, match the pictures, read and follow instructions as well as answer questions.
Would it be ‘only’ a language barrier…?
The training participants concluded that acquiring the language is only a part of the bigger picture. Cultural traits, local history, geography and customs are also a part of learning when they are trying to integrate into the new reality.
Our ‘students’ admitted that it ‘really made (them) consider other barriers than language’.
They also discovered that the manifested child’s behaviour in the classroom might have different roots rather than the ‘obvious’ ones… One of the participants said: ‘Very useful to understand how they would/could come across as ‘naughty’ or ‘distracted’’. It was an eye-opening experience.
Our workshop attendees revealed that their ‘survival’ strategy during the session was to answer ‘yes’ to any teacher’s attempt of communication. Have you got such EAL children in your classroom? Our workshop ‘students’ said it was their technique to use to be left alone rather than having to participate in the activity they do not feel competent or confident with. Our participants also felt ‘frustrated’, ‘confused’, ‘not very clever’ and ‘wanted to avoid being asked’. They were ‘easily disengaged’, ‘embarrassed when put on the spot’, ‘wanted to give up’ and ‘finally turned off’.
The session was an opportunity to face your own emotions as well as share the strategies, resources and ideas. Some strategies could involve researching information on the EAL child’s culture, educational system as well as taking your pupil’s personal experience into account.
When the EAL children join the UK classrooms, they need more than technicality of the language and pedagogical strategies. They need our empathy at every step of their challenging, new journey.
Take part in our empathy exercise at the Basingstoke EAL network meeting on January 28th. Limited spaces available and free to Hampshire maintained schools. For enquiries, please contact Lizzie Jenner, email@example.com.
Written by Sarah Coles, Hampshire EMTAS Deputy Team Leader
Alexander Bassano [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In the Spring 2018 edition of History Matters, a Hampshire Inspection and Advisory Service publication, a Primary Practitioner said of the subject, “…history is exciting to children when they feel immersed in their learning. The more they see the relevance history has to them, the more excited and interested they will be.” History teaching can, and should, help children see the links that exist between their cultures, traditions and religions and the present day and in order to achieve this, the history curriculum in primary phase is often worked into topics. Lots of schools include a focus on The Victorians. 20 years ago, I taught it in Year 5. More recently, I observed the topic being delivered in a school that had been experiencing a rise in its pupil diversity.
I was not surprised, on walking into the Year 4 classroom at the beginning of this topic, to see a display about The Victorians on the wall. What did cause me to do a double-take was the choice of noteworthy Victorians portrayed therein: Queen Victoria (of course), Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Florence Nightingale. What the display said to me was that the Victorian era had happened in a hermetically sealed capsule, with nothing of value contributed to human civilisation by anyone who wasn’t white or British or male, preferably all three.
Whose history was this that the children were learning about? A balanced, world view of the nineteenth century it most certainly was not. Then I started to wonder how the child from Poland, about whose progress I had come in to advise, would be enabled to make links with his own culture and heritage through this version of history. Would it help him better understand the lasting value of contributions to literature from Poles such as Józef Korzeniowski, better known by his pen name, Joseph Conrad? Or to medicine by Marie Skłodowska Curie, a Polish and naturalised-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win this coveted and prestigious award twice. But she didn’t feature on the display either.
Also notable by her absence was Mary Seacole and for me, there was no excuse for this as there are plenty of resources to support teaching about this Jamaican woman’s role in the Crimean war and her contributions to nursing. I wondered if she would still be skipping class the following year, when a couple of children of black Caribbean heritage would be learning about the (white British) Victorians. Of course, she is not the only black person who made a contribution to society during the Victorian era. Less well-known but just as important is the work of Lewis Latimer, the only black member of the Edison Pioneers, who developed the little filament in light bulbs to make it last long enough for the electric light to rapidly replace gas lighting in our homes, streets and workplaces. Or Elijah McCoy, most famous for developing lubrication systems for steam engines.
If education is really to prepare children for life in an increasingly diverse society, we are going to have to relinquish the Anglo-centric view of history that formed the diet of my own history lessons back in the 70s and 80s in favour of approaches that better represent the pupils in front of us and the communities that surround and feed our schools today. Hampshire teachers are fortunate indeed to be able to access the Rights and Diversity Education (RADE) Centre, which is situated right next door to the History Centre. Both centres contain a wealth of resources to help teachers diversify the teaching and learning experiences of Hampshire’s schools. Back to ‘History Matters’, the article to read is ‘Teaching forgotten history: the SS Mendi’, about a ship that sank off the coast of the Isle of Wight on Wednesday 21 February 1917 after colliding with another ship, blinded by thick fog. Nearly 650 people lost their lives in the tragedy, many of them black South Africans from the South African Labour Corps. Now there’s something new to find out about, and a way in which we can raise awareness of the multiplicity of histories that are interwoven into all our cultural pasts.
A small scale piece of research into the ‘Any other White background’ (WOTH) ethnic group in Basingstoke & Deane painted a fascinating picture of the experiences of Polish families in UK schools. Parental engagement and home-school communication emerged as an important area for both parents and practitioners – and an aspect of EAL practice that can be difficult to get right.
What are the challenges?
Despite schools’ best efforts, induction can be a delicate time. Parents may struggle to get to grips with school systems, such as getting uniforms right, understanding timetables, knowing how to pay for school dinners, learning about the purpose of different virtual learning environments, etc. – whilst having to fill out forms in an unfamiliar language.
Keeping up to speed with the school calendar might be another difficulty. Parents of EAL learners may struggle to understand letters concerning events such as parent evenings, trips, data collection, and other special occasions such as sports days and INSET days. In fact, the very use of acronyms such as ‘INSET’ is sometimes another hurdle for EAL parents who are new the UK system and often also new to English, especially when these acronyms can be confused for a common everyday term like ‘insect’!
Parents are very keen to support their children with homework and whilst subject knowledge may not necessarily cause them concern, instructions and key words are more problematic due to the more academic nature of the language. However most of all, parents seem to struggle with never being quite certain whether or not they are in the loop. Often, support comes in the form of an EMTAS Bilingual Assistant who is able to interpret for school systems, routines and curricula. Watch this video clip to learn about their experience.
In addition to the use of bilingual staff, parents find a simple text message is very helpful in reinforcing the content of school letters, especially when these contain a lot of information to process. Text messages offer condensed details highlighting the most important facts e.g. dates and times of meetings, things to bring to school, reminders, etc. and help parents to keep track of what is happening and when. Yet this is not always a system in place in all schools.
Other parents are another important resource for families. When unsure about any aspect of school life, EAL parents may look to other parents – EAL as well as English-only. However whilst other parents may be a source of reassurance for some, those who aren’t confident with their English to approach other parents may continue to feel lost and isolated at pick up and drop off times. Some schools have tackled this issue by approaching established parents to become helpers in order to offer support to newly-arrived families.
Receiving feedback from their child’s teacher at the end of the day is another way for parents to feel reassured. In our study, EAL parents said they appreciated school practitioners initiating a conversation about how the children had coped during the day, what they had achieved and what they needed to work on. Sometimes, a thumb up and a word of praise was enough to alleviate parents’ anxieties. This was even more appreciated when parents weren’t confident to take the first step to approach staff themselves. In some cases, EAL parents still felt they were only approached by classroom staff when their child had done something wrong.
EAL parents spoke about the advantages of knowing what was coming up in class from one week to the next. This gave them opportunities to discuss topics in advance at home and in their first language, allowing their children to take a more active part in lessons. Parents found general information shared on the school website about what the children were to learn over the half-term less useful because this information contained less details and didn’t focus on the particular needs of their child.
A network meeting was held in Basingstoke to share findings from the research with local infant, junior and secondary EAL practitioners. Delegates discussed specific aspects of home-school liaison they wanted to improve at their school and collaborated on a checklist. To follow up on the practice discussed at the network meeting, practitioners at The Vyne School organised a coffee morning event for parents of EAL learners joining Year 7. The event was attended by key staff along with the school’s Young Interpreters who spoke to the children and families and gave tours of the school. The event was well-attended by pupils and parents from a range of feeder Primary schools who felt supported in their transition to Secondary education.
What action would you take to help improve home-school liaison at your school? Over to you now: read the full research report, learn about the First Language in the Curriculum (FLinC) project, set up the Young Interpreter Scheme® and share the strategies you have found most successful at your school in the comment box below.