User blog: Astrid Dinneen
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.
Written by Hampshire EMTAS Bilingual Assistant Eva Molea, this is the first instalment in a series of blog posts focussing on the experience of parents of pupils with EAL.
Many moons ago, when I was nearly 5, my dad decided to apply for a temporary position as plastic surgeon at Queen Victoria Hospital, in East Grinstead, and was luckily appointed. So, we packed our entire house, the useful and useless (silver cutlery included because one could never ever think of dining without one's own silver fork!), loaded our blue Alfetta and embarked on the three day trip that would change our lives.
It was early 80s, and a very exciting time to be at Queen Victoria Hospital with many other people from all over the world: Australians, French, Israeli, Egyptians, Irish, Italians, just to name a few. And, obviously, some Brits as well! It was also very exciting for us children, all attending the same primary school.
This is the background of my personal experience as an EAL child. I will not say that it was easy at the very beginning - name it the first month. The sense of deep isolation for not having a child to talk to and who understood me was overwhelming and my mum, who did not speak a single word of English, had to do everything in her powers to keep me entertained.
Then I started going to school in Year 1 and it was a blessing. My mum felt relieved (and we all know that a happy mum has happy children) as I picked up the language very quickly and made many friends, making her juggling skills no longer needed.
Besides taking me out of my linguistic isolation, the school gave me much more: thanks to the empiric approach of the British scholastic system, I developed strong observational skills and a genuine curiosity towards what I was being taught, which have been my main features through all my years at school and university. It taught me to challenge what I was learning to prove it right. It helped me develop a very rational approach to everything and the ability to analyse. Should it not be clear enough, I am still very grateful to the system. Also, the environment was amazing: massive playground with forts and a field at the back which had no boundaries. My classroom was big enough to host 30 children, plus a play-pretend corner, a big carpet, loads of toys and walls covered with pictures and resources to support our learning.
Unfortunately, my EAL experience came abruptly to its end after just one year because my dad's contract expired and we repacked all our house plus some other souvenirs, loaded again our Alfetta and headed south. Back to Naples, Southern Italy. I could have never imagined, at the time, that my own daughter would follow my steps.
We packed our house, with all its useful and useless clutter, shipped it to the UK - how smart! - and moved in February 2015, my daughter being nearly 6 and halfway through Year 1. Strong from my personal experience, I moved quite light-heartedly. At the end of the day, how hard could it be?? This is when I learnt that every child is different, despite genetics. It also made me understand that I had always seen the whole issue of moving from a happy child's perspective, not from a sensible adult's one. I was not prepared. Not at all.
Fortunately, school started one week after we arrived, and with a school trip to the HMS Victory on day 1. What a great start! A. was very impressed and this put her in a good disposition towards her new school. As soon as her teacher introduced her to the class, a girl came and took her to line up. An unexpected act of kindness that changed one of my most dreaded days into a lovely and very informative school trip - did you know that when Admiral Nelson died he was put in a barrel of rum to be preserved for his funeral?
But the linguistic isolation struck her quite soon, so we had the before-going-to-school tantrum and the after-school one. The "I want to go back to Italy right now" desperate cry and the unintelligible sobs that showed all her frustration at not being able to function as well as she was used to in Italy.
But I was not prepared to give up. Nor to let her do so.
To be continued… Come back soon to read the next chapter of this unique parent diary, using the tags to help you.
Visit the Hampshire EMTAS website for information and guidance on how to help settle a newly arrived pupil into school.
Pairing up new arrivals with pupils who speak the same language is a good way of alleviating the anxiety of the first few weeks when everything is new, different and sometimes overwhelming. Coping in an unknown language for academic as well as social purposes over long periods of time is extremely tiring.
Newly-arrived pupils need appropriate support as they adjust to their new surroundings and routines and it makes complete sense to allow pupils to learn school routines, meet new friends and settle in at school through a language that is familiar to them. It also makes sense for pupils to engage with their learning through first-language, as anything that is cognitively challenging can then be discussed more easily and in greater depth. In short, first-language is an asset and a useful tool for learning as well as for settling in – so much so that for some, it might appear reasonable to ask bilingual pupils to interpret in all sorts of situations.
The use of children and young people as interpreters
There is limited guidance on the use of children and young people as interpreters at school and limited research around this theme, especially in the UK. What we do know is that ‘child interpreting’ is an underestimated role. Somehow, children and young people rarely have any concept of what a fantastic skill they have. What we also know is that whilst some feel extremely proud of being able to support their family through interpreting, others may perceive this to be a burden.
This is the case particularly when children and young people are requested to interpret in situations where the language and concepts involved are too difficult or unfamiliar for them to understand and relay accurately. Research also suggests that in the context of lessons, child interpreters are comfortable interpreting for routine tasks that require everyday language but struggle to interpret for new concepts where the language is more demanding due to its academic nature.
So, is it fair to ask Kacper to translate photosynthesis into Polish for us?
Some pupils who have been to school in their home country and studied this subject already may be quite confident to do so. However, more often than not learners will rely on English keywords when discussing their work in first language. Therefore, we should be careful not to assume that children and young people can cope with the language demands of the classroom to such a degree than they can replace bilingual assistants, professional interpreters and good quality, EAL-friendly teaching and learning. This is not to say that Kacper can’t help. In fact, he would benefit from his school setting up a peer-buddying programme such as the award-winning Young Interpreter Scheme®.
Young Interpreter Scheme
The Young Interpreter Scheme® is a successful, low-cost, self-sufficient framework consisting of training for learners aged 5-16, designed to skill them up to help new arrivals with English as an Additional Language feel welcome and settled in their new school environment. It supports pupils by giving them the tools to use their qualities and language skills effectively to help other pupils. The scheme also upskills school practitioners in charge of delivering the scheme thanks to guidance informed by research, self-explanatory resources and interactive e-learning material. These resources enable Young Interpreter Coordinators to train pupils and guide them in their role whilst preventing them from being used in inappropriate scenarios. The Young Interpreter Scheme® provides very clear guidance on the situations where pupils should be operating. For example, showing non-English speaking visitors around the school, buddying with new arrivals during breaks and lunchtimes and demonstrating routines, not interpreting for concepts in the classroom.
The Young Interpreter Scheme® gives children and young people who, like Kacper, interpret on an ad hoc basis, real recognition of their skills through a high-profile role defined, by clear parameters which ensure their safeguarding. Through this, the scheme also sends positive messages about multilingualism. This impacts pupils’ sense of identity and belonging at school, their relationships with pupils from other language groups as well as their leadership skills. The Young Interpreter Scheme® also provides a stepping stone to pupils who may like to consider interpreting as a career in the future.
Astrid Dinneen is co-ordinator of the Young Interpreter Scheme.
Article first published in April 2017 by ATL https://www.atl.org.uk/latest/kacper-what%E2%80%99s-photosynthesis-polish