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
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!
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
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.
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: