User blog: Sarah Coles
Written by Hamish Chalmers, Doctoral Researcher at Oxford Brookes University
I run the NALDIC Oxfordshire Regional Interest Group (RIG) which is a forum for teachers, researchers and others interested in the education of EAL learners. Despite the very rich and diverse linguistic characteristic of Oxford and its surrounds, the Local Authority no longer has an EAL department and therefore no longer provides peripatetic support for EAL learners and their teachers. This means that it can be very difficult for individual teachers and schools to access training that would help them to keep up to date with developments in policy and practice relating to EAL, and ensure that they follow best principles in their teaching. Our RIG meets once a term. At each meeting teachers share their expertise, we invite guest speakers to talk about research and practice and we run workshops as a component of teachers’ continuing professional development.
We were delighted, therefore, to be given an opportunity to try out the Hampshire EMTAS EAL Conversation Cards with the RIG this autumn. The conversation cards are an excellent way to stimulate thoughtful discussion around provision for EAL learners in our schools. Each card poses a question related to a typical scenario. For example one cards asks ‘At your school, pupils who are relatively new to English are withdrawn from language classes for extra English. What would be your opinion of this policy?’ The question is designed to prompt discussion about this authentic scenario, with a view to the discussion helping teachers to understand their own practice and policy. Each question is then answered on the reverse of the card, providing evidence-informed guidance for teachers on how best to respond. For example, the answer to the question above reiterates the right of all children to have a broad and balanced curriculum. It then explains that EAL learners are often already competent language learners, so withdrawing them for classes that build on this foundation of skills to develop English is unlikely to be in their best interests. The card then goes on to suggest things that schools should take into account when setting related policy.
The cards are organised into eight themes, each addressing a different aspect of EAL education. These include management, teaching and learning, parents and community, bilingualism, and so on. Working with a group of 30 teachers, I divided the cards into sets that included examples from each section and asked small groups to appoint a questioner who would lead the discussion with two or three colleagues. The room was abuzz with discussion and debate as colleagues engaged with the cards and considered their responses. Eavesdropping on the conversations was fascinating as it revealed a great breadth of knowledge among colleagues, but also some very typical misunderstandings which allowed for some timely myth busting by the cards.
One colleague commented on how useful the cards were for schools like hers, which do not have an appointed EAL coordinator. Here, like many schools, EAL expertise is largely down to the experience of individual teachers. In the absence of teachers who have taught in schools with large numbers of EAL learners and with good ongoing professional development, knowledge and guidance is rather hit and miss. Because the conversation cards provide evidence informed guidance for real-world scenarios, it means that anyone can lead CPD sessions regardless of their level of experience. While this might not be the ideal situation, it does mean that teachers can be confident that they are getting good advice, especially in the light of the many myths about language learning that get reinforced when expertise is lacking.
We also looked at the online version of the cards. Here, the same information is presented but can be shared using a projector, so that discussions about the same question can be held in larger groups. Our RIG members were impressed that the online version provides links to other online content that expands and reinforces the messages provided in the answers.
Using the cards in training
Colleagues left the meeting inspired to continue their learning about EAL, and sharing this with their colleagues by using the Hampshire EMTAS EAL conversation cards. Many saw the potential for including short sessions in staff meetings, dealing with a couple of cards at a time, or for one to one personal professional development meetings. We were delighted to have been able to share this essential resource with our colleagues and hope that the cards continue to shape policy and pedagogy for Oxford’s vibrant and diverse language learners.
Where to get a set of cards
You can view a sample of the cards here where you can also find the order form.
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
written by Sarah Coles, Hampshire EMTAS Specialist Teacher Advisor
It is usually clear to staff in schools that there is a
support need they should address when a newly-arrived pupil from overseas
experiences a language barrier on joining their first UK school. This may be the child’s first experience of
being in an English-speaking environment, and there is much to learn in terms
of the new language. What are less
discernible – and perhaps less well-supported - are the other barriers such a
child may face – barriers that relate to differences in pedagogy, social and
cultural differences and of course the sense of dislocation and loss the
newly-arrived child may feel when they first start, having left behind all
their friends and possibly family members too.
Being placed in a situation far outside of their comfort zone, there is
a lot for a new arrival to manage in addition to the demands of having to cope
in a new language.
In the UK, pedagogical
approaches focus on children learning through experience, learning from each
other, learning through trial and error, learning through talk. From an early stage, our indigenous,
monolingual children learn how to learn in these ways and teachers, many
themselves a product of this same system, teach from an often deeply-rooted
belief that these ways are the best. We
are so immersed in the UK classroom culture that as practitioners we may forget
it’s not like this everywhere in the world.
In Poland, for example,
children do not come to sit on the carpet to learn as the carpet is perceived
to be a dirty surface that’s walked on by everyone, so a Polish child – and
possibly also their parents - may look askance when the class is directed to
come to sit there for story time.
In some countries,
children’s behaviour is managed for them,often with a stick should they step
out of line. This means they do not
learn to regulate their own behaviours right from the start of their
educational journeys as UK-born children do.
New arrivals coming from countries where corporal punishment is still
the norm may therefore struggle and fall foul of UK classroom behaviour
management approaches which they do not comprehend, getting themselves into
endless trouble as they struggle to acquire self-regulation skills with little
or no support. One teacher, dealing with
an incident involving a student from overseas who had hit another child, asked
the former “Would it be OK if I hit you?”
To her surprise, the reply came “Well yes, of course it would.” It was the matter-of-factness of the response
that caused her to realise this child really meant what he had said and that
this was not as straightforward an issue as she had at first assumed.
In other parts of the world,
pedagogical approaches may rest on the premise that children are empty buckets,
waiting to be filled with the knowledge possessed by their teachers. While the teacher teaches from the front, the
children sit at their desks in rows, their success measured by how much they
are able to repeat back in the end of year test. There is little scope for learning through
dialogue or for experimenting with ideas and hypotheses to see which ones hold
true under close examination and which do not.
A child coming from that sort of school experience may struggle to
comprehend what is going on in their lessons in their new, UK classroom. How should they engage with their education
when it looks like this? How should they
now behave and function as learners?
Parents may experience their
own difficulties as they grapple with the apparent vagaries of the UK education
system. They may have found applying
online for a school place challenging enough but that was just the start. If they were used to a system wherein their
child was taught from a textbook that came home every night so they could see
what had been covered during the day’s lesson, then how difficult must it be
for them to keep abreast of their child’s learning when there is no text book
to look at? How then should they recap at home the key points covered in class
each day? How might they help prepare their child for the school day
ahead? If they were familiar with
knowing where in the class ranking their child sat, what sense can they make of
our system where we don’t publish information about each child’s attainment in
comparison to their peers? And if in
their country of origin promotion to the next class depended on their child
passing the end-of-year tests, what must it mean to them in our system where
promotion from Year 4 to Year 5 is automatic, regardless of whether or not the
child has met the end-of-year expectations?
An awareness of the far-reaching impact of living in a new culture that goes beyond a nod and accepts that mere survival isn’t really good enough will help practitioners reflect on how they currently support their international new arrivals and what they might be able to put in place to improve current practice. It is of course still good practice to support children to access the curriculum in English through the planned, purposeful use of first language but if we are to look at the bigger picture, then there is more that can be done to help a newly-arrived child to integrate into their new UK school – not least giving thought to what might be the barriers their parents are facing, and what they can do to reduce or remove them.
Consultant (EAL) at Hampshire EMTAS
First published on the ATL blog, July 2017
Further reading and resources
http://www3.hants.gov.uk/education/emtas/culturalguidance.htm EMTAS cultural guidance sheets
behaviour management guides for parents