Differentiating Effectively for EAL Learners

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.

If you have any thoughts on this blog or any aspect of supporting EAL learners, it would be great to talk to you. Tweet me @ealeducator or like my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ealeducator.

4 things you should know about bilingualism in education in 2019

by EAL educator

The items on the following list could be interpreted as an indication that the outcomes of bilingual learners and learners of EAL have slipped out of the Government’s line of sight, but it is clear that educators are working harder than ever to raise standards of English language proficiency. Here are some of the latest happenings in the realm of EAL teaching and learning:

Ofsted’s proposed inspection framework makes no mention of bilingual or EAL learners.

Ofsted’s inspection framework has previously advised inspectors would pay particular attention to the outcomes of named ‘groups of learners’, including ‘learners for whom English is an additional language’.

The proposed new framework (under consultation until 5th April 2019) makes no such mention of EAL learners. It aims to report on the quality of education a school offers in a more general sense, with less scrutiny of internal data and no preference for particular methods of teaching or assessment.

The Department for Education no longer requires schools to report on EAL learners’ proficiency in English.

In a move that was labelled ‘a retrograde step’ by the National Association of Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC), EAL learners’ English proficiency will no longer be included in school census data. Both NALDIC and the language education-promoting Bell Foundation have urged schools to continue to assess pupils’ English proficiency, in order to effectively identify their learning needs and measure progress.

Being a learner of EAL is by itself a poor indicator for future attainment, but levels of English proficiency paint a much clearer picture. EAL learners with higher English proficiency are considerably more likely to achieve academically, while EAL learners with lower English proficiency are more likely to achieve lower grades.

Mark Sims, Ofsted’s EAL lead, suggests schools should focus their energies on intervention to increase pupils’ English proficiency during EYFS and Key Stage 1, so that pupils can access the National Curriculum for as long as possible with higher proficiency in English.

Teachers feel under-resourced when it comes to communicating with the parents of EAL learners.

A 2018 YouGov survey commissioned by ClassDojo found that 72% of teachers did not feel their school had enough resources to help parents of EAL learners with their English skills. The survey also revealed that 60% of teachers felt they received less feedback from parents of EAL learners. The clear picture is that teachers feel communication with the families of EAL learners is lacking.

Technological solutions, including Google translate, are aiding communication across language barriers but there are questions over the accuracy of translations. A further concern is the ability of schools to provide pastoral care to some of the most vulnerable pupils and families in their communities due to low levels of English proficiency.

Including EAL learners is what works best for them.

It is difficult to make sweeping statements in terms of what works well for EAL learners, such is the range of abilities and other factors at play. There is some degree of consensus that it is most effective to keep EAL learners in the classroom, teach necessary academic language explicitly and scaffold discussions around the subject matter through structured language (see Tower Hamlets Progression in Language Structures.)

It is not considered effective to exclude pupils from classroom experiences until they have acquired a greater level of English, as doing so removes the immersive language environment of the classroom, perhaps the most versatile resource we educators can employ.