Teaching EAL learners.

‘Every child is different, every child is special… EAL children are just the same.’

For 11 years I taught at Hovingham Primary School. Prior to joining Hovingham I had run a craft business which involved a lot of travelling to craft fairs at weekends, which I did with my young son in our old camper van. Half way through his first term at Senior School, when he came home and announced that his PE master said he could be in the 1st rugby team, if he wasn’t away at weekends. I gained my degree in 1982, but the Dfe informed me I could apply for a job in any school, and that there was no requirement to do an NQT year! I arrived at Hovingham on supply working in Reception, and was then offered a permanent post. I would still be there if it was not for the present political situation which sees Gove turning it into an enforced academy as historically it has failed to reach his targets.

Details of Hovingham, lifted from their recent Ofsted report – over 95% of pupils are from Ethnic Minority groups and currently 29 different home languages are spoken by their families. The report concludes that the school, ‘Requires improvement’. Having worked there for a decade I know that every day the SLT and staff at the school work tirelessly to improve the outcomes for their pupils and families. What the school needs is the tools to make a real difference – and that requires finance… and that lies in the hands of the Govenrment and not the school.

I hope this animoto which I made for when I was leaving gives you an idea of what the school meant to me.

EAL learners is just a fairly meaningless blanket term. It’s about ‘Every child matters.’

Where has the family come from? – some new pupils at Hovingham had been born in the UK and had been to school, others had moved in traumatic circumstances from foreign countries and had never been to school.

My recent trip to France made me reflect on what it would be like to be an EAL learner. Visiting shops where no one spoke English, forced you into having a go, and helped you see how much you could communicate with gestures. What a difference the attitude and facial expressions of the person you were communicating with, the friendly smile really helped you to try harder, while a surly expression would lead to me giving up. Then consider the fact that I had chosen to go, I knew when I was returning home, I had money etc, and you begin to appreciate what it must be like to be in some of your pupils shoes.

I love this poster – put it everywhere and print it small on cards to give to colleagues. It works on so many levels.

Looking at Maslow’s Heirarchy of needs – where does your EAL learner fit? Here is Maslow’s pyramid alongside a child friendly version which I made and find more useful when thinking about barriers to children’s learning. It helps you recognise that some of the barriers we can do nothing about – but we can still show that we CARE and teach children resilience and ensure that our classrooms and schools are safe, secure and happy places for everyone.

Don’t underestimate the power of the morning greeting and the use of smile. Let the pupils and their families know that you genuinely CARE and that they do matter to you.

Good teaching of students for whom English is an additional language (EAL) is simply good teaching. –

but it’s also about going the extra mile.

Having spent so long at Hovingham – teaching to engage and support EAL learners has become my norn. It’s about thinking -‘Will they GET this?’, ‘Will they be interested?’

I’ve made the usual mistake of saying things like, ‘Pull your socks up!’ and watched a child looking bemused as they followed the instruction. I’ve seen the children circle the number printed nearest to the question, when asked to circle the nearest multiple of 10, or watched others draw an elaborate diamond ring round a number when asked to ‘ring’ it. I’ve seen children draw pictures of a stick person at a desk with a think bubble when asked to show how they worked out the answer. I’ve written a class version of Cinderella, inspired by a boy who thought when Cinderella went to the ball, she actually went to a football match!

These little incidents just make you think, and not take anything for granted. But there are times when the differences will shock you. I witnessed a father assault his child in the cloakroom, immediately after I had spoken to him about the boys behaviour. When stepping into the line of attack to protect the child, the father was adamant he was trying to make things better, by ‘beating the devil out’ of the child. Within his culture and home community it was normal, it finally took police intervention to insist that it was not permissible under UK law, and then shortly afterwards the family moved.

Learning a few key words can be useful. Although I have to confess that I did start Urdu lessons while I was at Hovingham and found it incredibly hard to make the time to practise and so I never got very far. I knew how greet parents and most importantly how to say ‘Be Quiet!’ in Urdu – chup!   ( A bi lingual teaching assistant taught me that on my 1st day in Reception at Hovingham!)

SEAL needs to be at the heart of everything we do – not just for EAL pupils but for every child. I redesigned my curriculum at Hovingham with SEAL at the heart of it. Alongside this, consider wether every child gets an opportunity every day to feel successful…. to achieve this we need to ensure that those children who enjoy PE, art and music all get their time to shine.

I work my class in teams of mixed abilities, with positive titles. They are the Super stars, Marvellous mates, Clever kids and Fantastic friends. Each team has a team leader and a team coach and these are changed each half term so that over the year most of the class get a chance to be in one of these roles. It’s amazing that the preconceived ideas of who is ‘high’ and ‘low’ ability can soon be challenged. Tasks such as origami, sudoku, along with creative tasks soon start to show the children that we are all successful, just in different ways. It builds self esteem and self belief and develops collaborative working and team ethos.                Together Everyone Achieves More.

Plan lessons to ensure visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements – think, “Would I find this lesson  fun?”  (See the pages on VAK up your Maths, and Maths – not a boring session, on this blog.)

Every lesson I plan, has a Smart note book which supports it. One page will always have the learning objective, with steps to success illustrated on in. Sometimes the page is decorated with images related to the work we are doing or just images which I know will grab the children’s attention. The basic layout is used in all my lessons so the children are familiar with what the page is about.

Where ever possible I embed songs or short videos. Music is powerful, remember the Kylie Minogue effect, ‘You can’t get it out of my head!’ I use a lot of drama – or show me – techniques. If the children can’t say a sentence, they are not going to able to write it – so first the focus has to be on oral work. The children learn the mantra – THINK it, SAY it, WRITE it, CHECK it, and every time we say it, we do it with actions. Actions to go along side words help, we have an action for capital letter (touch your head), full stop, (signal stop) and finger spaces (chopping sign).. on to this we build actions for commas, question marks and exclamation marks.

Children sing and dance the ‘Punctuation song,’ (just need to explain that the word ‘period’ is used in America to mean full stop) and assess their work on a 3 hot chilli system, which then gets us doing the celebratory 3 Hot Chilli dance! Another favourite is the Preposition dance!  We learn about nouns, verbs and adjectives through fun songs from School House Rock. (also great for x table songs)

Excellent article  – How to succeed with EAL students. from the Guardian teacher network.

These are my 2 books – both available on Amazon. Although not EAL books they are about engaging learners.

This video was put together for a presentation I had to do on impacting on others professional development – but I think it also shows my belief that education is about the school, every adult and child in it, the community – again every family in it  – and a desire to make a positive difference.

It’s about beliefs becoming self fulfilling prophecies – believe in the children in your class, believe they can succeed, believe that you can make a difference to their lives – and then want it, and WANT IT BIG!



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