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In this blog, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor Jamie Earnshaw explores best practice provision in relation to the placement of learners with EAL in 'ability' groups, sets or streams in primary and secondary school settings.  


Typically, any decisions on which group, set or stream to place learners in are based on their perceived academic ability. If learners with EAL are placed in groups, sets or streams merely according to their proficiency in English, or what they can demonstrate in English, it might take some learners many years before being able to access appropriately cognitively challenging tasks in the upper groups, sets or streams, given the timescales involved in learners reaching a similar level of English to their monolingual peers. For example, generally speaking, younger learners who start to learn English in Key Stage 1 can take between 7 and 10 years to acquire full cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) in their use of English across the curriculum. Older learners with better developed language and literacy skills in their first languages may take between 5 and 7 years to achieve CALP.
 
It is vital to keep in mind that a learner’s proficiency in English is not necessarily representative of their cognitive ability and of their understanding of subjects or topics if demonstrated in their first language (L1). Schools should therefore make any decisions to group, set or stream learners on a multitude of factors, not solely based on a learner’s level of proficiency in English, keeping in mind that a newly arrived learner of EAL is unlikely to have a sufficient level of English to demonstrate their full knowledge or abilities.
 
Therefore, when assessing learners with EAL, and consequently when making any decisions relating to the placement of learners in groups, sets or streams, schools should collect a range of information, including their prior education and skills in L1.
 
With this principle in mind, standardised tests should be avoided for early stage learners of EAL and results from such tests should not be used to inform the placement of learners with EAL into groups, sets or streams.
 


Why should L1 help to inform decisions on the placement of learners with EAL?
 
Research by Cummins (1984, 1996)[i] highlights the interdependency of a pupil’s academic skills in L1 and a second language – known as common underlying proficiency.
 
Later research suggests:
 

This common underlying proficiency allows some aspects of cognitive/academic or literacy-related skills to transfer across languages, including: conceptual knowledge, subject matter knowledge, higher-order thinking skills, reading strategies and writing composition skills[ii]

 
It might therefore be the case that a learner understands ideas or concepts in L1, including those which are more abstract and complex, and is confidently able to demonstrate this understanding in L1. However, when asked to demonstrate their understanding in English, they might lack the necessary language of instruction to fully understand the task they are being asked to complete, or, equally, they might not have a sufficient command of English vocabulary or language structures to be able to convey their understanding to school staff or peers, who do not share the same language medium.
 
Appropriate assessment of a learner with EAL will help to provide a more accurate determination of a learner’s existing knowledge and skillset, rather than merely what they are able to demonstrate through the medium of spoken or written English.
 


The importance of appropriate placement of learners with EAL
 
Research highlights the fundamental fact that all learners achieve more when they view the learning environment as positive and supportive[iii] and therefore, any decisions on groups, sets and streams should look to facilitate the appropriate level of cognitive demand for the individual learner. This is pivotal in ensuring the positive learning journey of learners with EAL and in supporting their progression to developing full CALP.
 
Furthermore, a key part of language learning is having access to a range of strong written and verbal models of English, which is most likely to be found in higher ability groups, sets or streams. This should be a fundamental consideration when making decisions on the placement of learners with EAL.
 

The Bell Foundation research highlights how it ‘seems as though EAL learners are too often considered to be ‘learning disabled’ and/or classified as SEN[D] rather than simply being less proficient in English’.[iv]

 
The distinction between EAL and SEND is explicitly stated in the Children and Families Act 2014, section 20 (4):
 

A child or young person does not have a learning difficulty or disability solely because the language (or form of language) in which he or she is or will be taught is different from a language (or form of language) which is or has been spoken at home.

 
Indeed, learners with EAL are no more likely to have SEND than any other learner. Learners with EAL should not therefore be automatically placed in lower sets with SEND learners.
 
Learners with EAL, like their monolingual peers, generally understand the principles around placement of learners in groups, sets or streams and are therefore aware that they are grouped with peers of a similar academic ability. By inappropriately placing a learner with EAL with other learners who are of low underlying cognitive ability or who have SEND, it is likely to be demeaning and demotivating for them. Indeed, according to research from The Bell Foundation, where learners were ‘not fully stretched because of insufficient staff assessment and knowledge of their prior learning and attainment, their motivation levels dropped and their behaviour in school could deteriorate’. i[v]
 
Furthermore, it is important that the activities and tasks offered to learners with EAL are appropriate for their cognitive ability. Thus, for example, offering a reading task to a pupil with EAL from a storybook that is well below their age may be counter-productive because although the language demand may be lower, the images and concepts may be inappropriate and serve to demean rather than help. Tasks for learners with EAL should be cognitively challenging and language is best acquired when there is a clear context within which the pupil is learning the target language.
 
With this in mind, back-yearing or deceleration, where learners are placed in a year group below their chronological age, should, in the vast majority of cases, be avoided.
 


What if a learner with EAL does not have prior knowledge or understanding in a particular subject area? 
 
The principle that a pupil’s proficiency in English will increase more quickly alongside accurate, fluent users of English, providing positive models for both language and behaviour, is widely accepted.
 
According to research from the DfE:
 

It is … vital that pupils learning English have the opportunity to hear positive language models, and so groupings need to be managed carefully to ensure that this happens[vi]

 
Schools should therefore keep in mind, even where it is determined that a learner with EAL lacks sufficient knowledge or skills more generally in a specific subject area, their placement in a group, set or stream should facilitate their access to positive language models. The placement of a learner with EAL in a mid to higher ability group is more likely to provide the range of opportunities to hear and see language being modelled appropriately - a vital part of language learning.


 
Conclusion
 
Fundamentally, the proper and accurate assessment of learners with EAL, to determine their academic proficiency beyond what they are able to demonstrate in English, is vital. Furthermore, when placing learners with EAL in groups, sets or streams, the need for access to appropriate models of written and verbal English, which underlines language learning, should be at the forefront of any such decisions.



Recommendations
  
1.)  Place learners with EAL in groups, sets or streams which facilitate access to a range of positive models of written and verbal English. This is a fundamental principle of language learning.
 
2.)  Use accurate and appropriate individual assessment of learners’ academic and cognitive ability, including through L1, to inform decisions on their placement in groups, sets or streams.
 
3.)  As part of the assessment process, collate as much information as possible about learners with EAL, including proficiency in L1, prior educational experiences and pedagogical approaches learners are familiar with.
 
4.)  Involve learners and their parents/carers in the decision-making process as much as possible. Seek the views of learners and provide regular opportunities for review. Be prepared to explain any decisions to parents/carers and provide opportunities for them to ask any questions they might have.
 
5.)  Avoid automatically placing learners with EAL in groups, sets or streams purely because there are additional adults available to support. This is only likely to be beneficial if staff have received specific EAL-focused language learning training.
 
6.)  Avoid relying on the results of standardised tests to inform the placement of learners with EAL in groups, sets or streams.
 
7.)  Ensure regular monitoring and tracking of learners with EAL and provide regular opportunities for reviewing the groups, sets or streams of learners with EAL.
 
8.)  Promote the use of a learner’s L1 in school to help with access to the curriculum. Training from EMTAS could help staff to identify how learners with EAL could use L1 effectively in school settings.
 
9.)  Recognise the difference between the needs of, and appropriate support for, a pupil with SEND, with that of an EAL learner without SEND.
 
10.)    Do not backyear or decelerate learners with EAL as a matter of course. This will only be appropriate in a limited number of cases and should only be done in consultation with Hampshire EMTAS so that the full range of factors of any such decision can be considered. 
 
11.)    Provide opportunities for learners with EAL to have access to peers who can model language and skills in an appropriate way. This will also facilitate opportunities for learners with EAL to practise using the target language in meaningful contexts. Ensure that EAL learners’ peers are trained effectively to support them in this way.
 
12.) Be wary of using KS2 SATs outcomes for learners with EAL in order to determine sets, groups or streams at KS3. Learners of EAL, particularly those who joined a UK school for the first time during Key Stage 2, may have suppressed KS2 results due to not having had enough time to fully ‘catch up’ with their monolingual peers. Any algorithm that generates end of KS4 predictions based on KS2 SATs results, or any setting decisions based on those suppressed KS2 SATs outcomes, may lower teacher expectations of what that learner may be able to achieve given a further 5 years’ education in the UK system.
 
Contact emtas@hants.gov.uk for further support and guidance. One of our Specialist Teacher Advisors will be able to provide further advice for specific cases.
 


Further reading

[i] Cummins, J. (1984) Bilingualism and Special Education: Issues in Assessment and Pedagogy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. ISBN: 0-905028-13-9
 
Cummins, J. (1996) Knowledge, Power, and Identity in Teaching English as a Second Language. In Genesee, F. (Ed.) Educating Second Language Children: The Whole Child, the Whole Curriculum, the Whole Community. Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0-521-45797-1
 
[ii] Rosamond, S. et al.(2003) Distinguishing the Difference: SEN or EAL – an effective step-by-step procedure for identifying the learning needs of EAL pupils causing concern. Birmingham Advisory Support Service, Birmingham City Council
 
[iii] Dorman, J.P., Aldridge, J.M. & Fraser, B.J. (2006) Using Students' Assessment of Classroom Environment to Develop a Typology of Secondary School Classrooms. International Education Journal, 7(7), 906-915
 
[iv] The Bell Foundation (2015) School Approaches to the Education of EAL Students: Language Development, Social Integration and Achievement
 
[v] The Bell Foundation (2015) School Approaches to the Education of EAL Students: Language Development, Social Integration and Achievement
 
[vi] Department for Education and Skills (2002) Access and engagement in ICT: teaching pupils for whom English is an additional language
                                          
 
Read the Hampshire EMTAS Position Statement on the placement of learners with EAL in groups, sets or streams on our Moodle here.
 
For further information on assessment of learners with EAL, see the section on assessment in our Guidance Library here. Also, see our e-learning module on assessing L1 here.
 
See the Hampshire EMTAS guidance on Standardised testing and EAL learners.
 
For further information on back-yearing/deceleration, please see the full Hampshire EMTAS guidance on deceleration for learners of English as an Additional Language.
 
Further guidance on the distinction between EAL and SEND can be found on the Hampshire EMTAS website here.


[ Modified: Tuesday, 11 January 2022, 9:52 AM ]
 
Picture of Jamie Earnshaw
by Jamie Earnshaw - Thursday, 17 September 2020, 2:55 PM
Anyone in the world

In 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.

Close read

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.


References

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 comprehensionrelated 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: Whats in a word? NALDIC Conference.

Wikipedia - Close reading
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Close_reading

[ Modified: Monday, 21 September 2020, 3:27 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world


The Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisors have been supporting schools to complete the EAL Excellence Award for over a year now. Many schools have successfully earned their Bronze and Silver awards and are already working hard to achieve the next level up. Working with schools to drive EAL practice and provision forward through the EAL Excellence Award has highlighted areas of support which the EMTAS Teacher team has been keen to address.

One particular aspect of EAL good practice which many schools have had to consider is the use of first language as a tool for learning. Whilst most could confidently say that pupils felt comfortable speaking their languages at school (a feature evidenced at Bronze level), EAL co-ordinators felt that pupils could be better encouraged to use their languages to access the curriculum in the classroom (a feature evidenced at Silver level). In response to this, the EMTAS Teachers have been working closely with their schools to introduce ideas and strategies to support this and they are now keen to share their work with the EAL community.

Discover our brand new materials which consist of a narrated animation (below) with supporting material you will find attached to this blog: a transcript, activities based around the animation and an aide-mémoire summarising key strategies. Our work is still ongoing with a brand new piece of EAL elearning currently under development – watch this space!  

 

 

   

Visit the Hampshire EMTAS website

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[ Modified: Wednesday, 5 February 2020, 12:16 PM ]
 
Anyone in the world

At a recent EMTAS teachers’ meeting we had an interesting conversation about how often we find ourselves repeating the same messages to practitioners about what good practice looks like for schools working with new arrival learners of EAL. We wondered what methods beyond face to face training and written guidance might be effective at communicating those core principles.
Of course we already have various ways of communicating good practice principles to schools in our local authority and the wider educational community, including via School Electronic Communications, Young Interpreter newsletters, our Twitter account @HampshireEMTAS, online EAL training materials and even posting on national outlets such as the EAL-Bilingual Google group.
In thinking about new ways to communicate our messages, we were inspired by Rochdale Local Authority’s brilliant video ‘Our Story’, which explores the feelings of new arrivals on their first few days at their new school. We decided to produce our own video that focused on how to settle, induct, assess and teach new arrivals to ensure they have the best possible start in the UK education system.
To produce our video, we decided on a software tool called Videoscribe (from Sparkol). For those of you unfamiliar with this technology, Videoscribe produces those videos where a hand draws images on a white canvas to the accompaniment of a narration and possibly a musical score.
The first task was to write a script to cover the key messages:
  • baseline assessment, with the avoidance of standardised testing
  • valuing linguistic and cultural diversity
  • building upon the skills and aptitudes of each child
  • effective buddying
  • mainstreaming teaching and learning
Having written a script, we pooled our ideas around choosing a strong metaphor through which we could visualise the main ideas (sports day theme) and any potential images that would need to be drawn. Working with a local artist we then incorporated those drawings with the narration into the Videoscribe software. The resulting video can be viewed below:

 


Do signpost this to colleagues, and let us know what you think.
[ Modified: Monday, 25 March 2019, 9:26 AM ]
 
Anyone in the world

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:

- EAL Excellence Award

- Hampshire EMTAS training

- Bell Foundation EAL Nexus

- Bell Foundation EAL Assessment Framework

- EAL MeshGuide


[ Modified: Monday, 5 November 2018, 12:39 PM ]