by EAL Educator
The classroom can be a chaotic environment. Even a diligently planned lesson can more closely resemble unmitigated pandemonium than the kindly facilitated voyage of discovery one naturally expects to provide for their class.
When implemented effectively, differentiation allows learners of all attainment levels to progress and develop their skills. Done badly, it has the potential to widen the attainment gap by placing a ceiling on the lowest attainers.
Differentiating for EAL learners may not be particularly intuitive. To get it right, a teacher must balance pedagogy, creativity and finely tuned assessment skills. It may be tempting to reduce the level of cognitive challenge for EAL learners, particularly learners at the earlier stages of developing English. Superficially this may work, but it will not drive the rapid progress that should be expected of all EAL learners.
Getting it right
In the US, The Centre for Applied Linguistics has developed the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) model to address the needs of English language learners as they learn language and content simultaneously. Reviews from practicioners are overwhelming positive, but in spite of the traction SIOP has gained across the pond (the model is used by school districts in all 50 states), teachers and EAL practicioners in the elsewhere may be unfamiliar with the approach.
More familiar may be Tower Hamlets’ Progression in Language Structures. This model has been widely adapted in UK inner city schools with high concentrations of bilingual learners. This progressive scaffold for talk and writing permeates each aspect of a broad and balanced primary curriculum, beginning with the EYFS. Having used Tower Hamlets for the first time this academic year, I can speak about my experiences of its advantages. It has significantly increased the level of talk in lessons, and this is reflected in learners’ projected outcomes (>90% of whom are EAL learners).
There is further evidence in that Tower Hamlets has recorded some of the best outcomes for EAL learners nationally in recent years, having been England’s lowest-performing borough as recently as the 1990s. The progression in language structures strategy has been an important feature of the combined approach of schools and collaborating agencies.
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