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Whilst reading a book on reclaiming childhood ('Their name is today' by Johann Christoph Arnold) the chapter on 'learning differences and how to cater for them' triggered thoughts on teaching differences. At the end of the October article it was mentioned that EAL teaching should be evaluated in a different way due to the very nature of the subject and I shall try to clarify why.

The EAL teacher is very privileged, due to the small nature of the classes. This enables the teacher to understand and cater for the different learning needs and more importantly the varying emotional needs of each child. The latter is crucial for EAL students as is important to understand how a student feels about their transition to be able to not only support their academic progress but to provide a safe, comfortable haven where they feel confident and supported.

It can be difficult with an EAL student, particularly at the initial stages to determine whether they are struggling due to language or other difficulties. Interestingly the number of dyslexic students is significantly higher in English than other languages, in fact a student who is dyslexic in English may not be in their home language. For this reason it is useful to assess students in their home language as well. However, when defining learning/special needs, it is also important that a child isn't labelled too early. According to learning support specialist, Colin Troy, learners shouldn't be labelled until they are nine.

Cultural considerations should be taken into account when discussing a child's difficulties with the parents as it is important to be aware of cultural differences and expectations. The series of books on various cultures, "culture shock" provide insight into these differences. For example, when teaching a Japanese student who was having difficulties, it was useful to be aware that that the child is seen a reflection of the key parent. This means that when a child has any problems the parent can lose 'face'. It was therefore important to  discuss any issues with great sensitivity and discretion.

Similarly, the EAL student should be treated with understanding and compassion as it can be an alienating experience being in a new school, with a different language. One particularly bright student came to see me out of class hours to express his upset on moving schools as each time he had to start from scratch with a new language and felt like he was at the lower end of the class. This leads to a point that for some students having EAL support is like being less able, it is therefore essential for a school to value the student's languages and differences as opposed to having a universal standard of all. It is important that being exited from EAL is not viewed as an achievement but as a readiness for the next stage in learning.

International schools, by their nature, are very aware of the EAL student's needs and it is essential that this vision is not lost in the desire to raise academic standards. A key factor is to have an awareness of each individual child's learning style, an awareness of the linguistic similarities and differences of their home language to the school language, a knowledge of what motivates each individual, their interests, their likes and dislikes, what they miss from  their previous school/country and an understanding of their culture. The success of an  EAL lesson cannot be seen in isolation, this was confirmed in a summer edition of the TESOL English language bulletin. It may take several lessons to teach the past tense. The real success in mastering it is shown when a student can use it appropriately out of context and can identify and understand its use when encountered.  

EAL beginners

It is important to  be aware that for the EAL student the school day is more tiring due to the extra concentration needed to focus when instruction is in a new language. Allowance be made for this particularly regarding homework as it would take the EAL child substantially longer to complete a language based task. Remember to maintain a long term vision that EAL students often eventually surpass their peers.

Whilst it is useful to support the curriculum for more advanced students, beginners would need support with survival language and the basics of English usually for the first and often second half of their first term. It is important to have this time as well as extra pull out sessions at the beginning of the day or during quiet reading.

The EAL lesson should aim to be a safe haven where students can ask for help in understanding work, express any concerns as well as to build their confidence in expressing themselves. In the initial stages it is important to focus on the oral language as EAL is the one place where they can express themselves confidently due to the small nature of the groups and being with their peers of a similar levels.

As mentioned in a previous article, connections to home language and culture should be used whenever possible to ensure that the student feels that their roots and identity are not brushed aside in favour of a new culture.The key to a new EAL student performing well is not due to their ability but their happiness levels when settling in a new school and country. The close collaboration between the EAL and class teacher is important and the EAL class needs to be a comfort zone in a new and alien environment.

Some ideas for Beginner Students

  • Do oral assessment if they have any knowledge of English.
  • Walk around the school looking at the different subjects and classes.
  • Students can practise basic prepared interview questions with teachers and admin staff. This not only enables them to get to know staff but is all good for their confidence in expressing themselves. eg What is your name? Where are you from? What do you like to do? When did you start working at this school? The interviews can  be filmed and reviewed in the EAL class.
  • Ask them to bring a photo of their families, this can be used for vocabulary on family members and later on for body parts and descriptions.
  • They could bring a picture of their home town to reinforce colours, find the colours in the picture. They can also go round the class finding the named colour. 
  • For numbers the number game where you hide a number  from 1-20 and they have to guess  what it is, is popular.
  • Classroom objects are easily learnt using objects in the EAL room and getting students to ask each other to find  them.  
  • Prepositions can be learnt by playing Simon says and getting the students to give the instructions after the teacher modelling it. It can be used in conjunction with classroom objects eg put the book on the table. Or body parts, e.g. put our hands on your head.
  • Their likes dislikes could be shared with visuals of sports, hobbies. Often these  words may be borrowed in their home language or English so they may find lots of connections! They could even say what they like, don't like or don't  about the new school/ country.
  • Language games such as Headbands, the Fish game, Guess who, Snakes and Ladders for numbers, Ludo and Twister for colours are an enjoyable way for students to practice their language skills in a fun and relaxed way.

Further learning - Blog

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Created: Mon 17th May 2021

As school teachers faced with EAL learners in our classrooms, we often push the teaching of phonics down the list, especially at secondary school level. Yet communication is dependent on comprehensive pronunciation when speaking, and on decoding graphemes when reading. Consider for a moment the impact mispronunciation can have on accurate communication. For example, if I ask for soap in a restaurant, I might be faced with a blank stare! This error is caused by confusing two very similar phonemes in soap/soup.

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I have taught ESOL (English for speakers of other languages who live in an English-speaking environment) for over 15 years. Many of my students have recently moved to England. Their reasons for learning English have varied greatly; from learning it out of necessity to learning it just for fun. Likewise, their learning backgrounds have been vastly different. Some students have had very little or recent education, while others have had higher education.  

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Created: Mon 27th Jan 2020

International Mother Language Day (IMLD) is a worldwide observance celebrated annually on 21st February. It promotes awareness of cultural and linguistic diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.