Blog: Expert advice on supporting the learning of EAL pupils during and after school closures

This blog is a review of a special joint webinar co-hosted by The Bell Foundation and NALDIC

A special joint webinar co-hosted by The Bell Foundation and NALDIC, the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum, which took place on April 23, 2020 proved so popular that we had to increase our web hosting capacity to run it. But one common feature of these new and changing times where life has moved online, is that apart from seeing colleagues’ houses, dogs and children, things don’t always go to plan, and sometimes the technology doesn’t deliver. In this case, many more people wanted to access the webinar than were able to, meaning we will run it again and have posted the link to the webinar recording on our website.

The event consisted of a panel of four leading EAL experts who answered questions posed by the participants and made practical suggestions and recommendations regarding how to support the remote learning of EAL pupils during and after school closures in order to mitigate their adverse effect.

The webinar began with each member of the panel making an opening statement focusing on their area of expertise:

Dr Naomi Flynn (NALDIC and the University of Reading)
Opening statement – focus on primary pupils
Regarding supporting the learning of EAL Primary pupils, Dr Flynn highlighted the need to consider the children’s levels of proficiency in English and where they need to go next, the importance of using their home languages, the key role played by talk-based language development as a route into literacy and curriculum subjects, the importance of developing vocabulary depth and breadth, and drawing on children’s concrete experiences both in school and at home. She advised teachers to think about the language demands made by the activities set for learners, to create talk-based activities where possible, and to use visual and concrete support when setting work.

Kamil Trzebiatowski (The Bell Foundation)
Opening statement – focus on secondary pupils
Next, Kamil Trzebiatowski focused on three priorities for Secondary teachers setting work for EAL learners: first, to ensure that EAL pupils are exposed to a broad range of good English language models throughout the lockdown; second, to plan specifically for New to English, Band A learners for whom remote learning is likely to be particularly challenging; and finally, to carefully consider, and if necessary adjust, primary to secondary transition processes after schools reopen to all learners in the aftermath of lockdown measures, as the usual procedures and communications will be likely to have been missed in the current challenging circumstances.

Dr Yvonne Foley (NALDIC and the University of Edinburgh)
Opening statement – focus on ITE student teachers
When exploring the impact of school closures on Initial Teacher Education, Dr Foley mentioned the challenges faced by student teachers whose courses have been cut short and who have not been able to go on planned placements. She emphasised the need to look for ways of working with student teachers on how to support the language and literacies for multilingual classrooms. She also reflected on how EAL learners appear to have been missed off the agenda in ordinary times, and how the COVID19 pandemic has ‘raised another border’ around EAL pupils’ access to learning. Her suggestions for mitigating the impact of such barriers included: encouraging student teachers to use activities that generate authentic dialogue with their learners harnessing the use of social media apps to do so; asking learners to use their home languages to produce reflections and stories; and deploying literacy pedagogies that enable a sense of belonging as pupils are cut off from their peers and meaningful contexts.

Prof. Constant Leung (NALDIC and King’s College London)
Opening statement – focus on implications of the cancellation of summer examinations and assessment
Prof. Leung referred to the guidance published by Ofqual on the use of teacher assessment in lieu of examinations this summer, which requires teachers to make adjustments in relation to the likely achievement of their pupils at GCSE and A-level exams and specifies that they should consider the language acquisition that EAL pupils would have been making by the time they got to the exam, and how this might be reflected in the judgement. He indicated that while well-intended, the advice on EAL is opaque and unclear, and highlighted that as EAL has no curriculum and is not assessed through an examination it is very difficult for teachers to ascertain what EAL pupils have learned in EAL, as pupils are assessed through their subject content and not EAL. He emphasised the need for teachers to think of EAL development alongside curriculum learning and assessment, and feed this into predictions of pupils’ achievement.

Key themes from the webinar

The second and main part of the webinar consisted of a question and answer session, where chair Silvana Richardson from The Bell Foundation relayed to the panel questions that had been submitted by the participants both in advance and live during the event. The panel provided insights and recommendations for teaching staff, ranging from ideas for activities and strategies for supporting the learning of EAL pupils at different phases, stages and proficiency in English bands, to specific resources, websites and apps. The following are some of the suggestions made by the panel, and are grouped here according to key themes and topics.

Using the students’ home languages

Many children learning at home will have prolonged and extensive exposure to their home language.   There was consensus among the panel members that this is a readily available resource that can effectively support EAL pupils’ learning, and that it is important to make good use of this opportunity by encouraging families to get together and plan to make more conscious use of their home language(s).

Differentiating support

The speakers acknowledged the challenge of adapting materials and resources to meet the learning needs of EAL pupils in the current circumstances and encouraged participants to continue to use the resources and strategies that they know work well, and to ensure that work included in home learning packs for EAL pupils is always linked to the curriculum.

They also recommended:

  • Using picture books at different proficiency levels to give more agency to both primary and secondary learners to respond and engage at their current level and to give them opportunities to develop their higher-order thinking skills by thinking about interpretations of pictures and the story. For example, Shaun Tan’s  collection and Armin Greder’s The Island.
  • Using Graded Readers, a series of simplified books written for different levels of proficiency in English which include questions to help learners explore language (see this link for examples)

Supporting learners with limited or no access to internet as well as having low literacy levels

The panel stressed that in these extremely challenging circumstances there is only so much teachers can do. Suggestions for working with learners with low literacy levels and limited or no access to online learning included the use of the usual work-arounds, such as visuals, graphic organisers and activities tapping into the learners’ home language.

Providing opportunities for extensive exposure to spoken English

The speakers suggested that teachers could provide exposure to listening texts in English by:
  • Using the screen recording, audio and video recording functionality built in Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Using Zoom or similar video conferencing software
  • Getting their pupils to use the Microsoft Word Read Aloud function, which enables them to listen and read at the same time

Participants recommended using Loom (a Chrome extension) which enables screen, voice, and face recording.

Recommended resources for listening and viewing practice included:
  • TED Talks with transcripts, with transcripts available in numerous languages to provide opportunities for exposure to different varieties of English
  • Khan Academy for a wide range of video lectures about different curriculum subjects, both in English and in 30 available languages
  • Great Big Story for video storytelling
  • YouTube Live for streaming video content

Supporting the learning of newly arrived EAL pupils who are new to English (Band A) and at the early acquisition stage (Band B)

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, the following activities and resources were recommended:
  • Using Quizlet for vocabulary revision and consolidation
  • Using sentence starters, frames and substitution tables to scaffold oral and written production
  • Creating scrambled sentences for students to practise word order using The Scramblinator
  • Using a simplified marking code to give feedback which can be translated (see this link for an example)
  • Using Educandy, which is similar to Kahoot!, to create interactive learning games for vocabulary practice and reinforcement

Supporting the learning of EAL pupils who are developing competence and are competent (Bands C and D)

Then panel recommended the following resources to build academic vocabulary for pupils working at Band C and above:

  • Graham Workman’s CLIL Secondary Maths and Science Materials, for maths, biology, physics, and chemistry teachers, which includes language for teaching science and maths subjects.
  • EAL Nexus’ Great Ideas Pages, e.g. Directed Activities Related to Text (DARTs)

Advice for parents who have little experience of home-schooling and/or limited proficiency in English wishing to support their children's learning

A participant shared the experience of the work that is taking place in Glasgow, where schools are promoting the idea of home ‘learning’ rather than ‘home schooling’ when communicating with bilingual parents, and which seems to be successful in making parents feel less anxious.

EAL pedagogy as good pedagogy

The speakers emphasised that it is useful to see EAL as a pedagogy which is not separate from other pedagogies. In other words, EAL pedagogy is not an add-on, and it works for all learners, including monolingual speakers.

The webinar concluded with brief final reflections from each of the panel members, all of whom emphasised the key role that teachers are playing at this particularly challenging time and commended their dedication and sustained efforts.

Author: Silvana Richardson, The Bell Foundation

The author would like to thank the panel for the generous contribution of their time and expertise, and Catherine Brennan and Emily Curran for their detailed notes taken during the webinar.