When a new arrival with little to no English joins a class, it can be overwhelming for both teacher and pupil if targeted provisions aren’t in place that best support their learning needs. Targeted strategies are key for these learners, but inclusivity and celebrating difference is paramount – because everybody is different!
It is likely that some children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) are a part of the vulnerable groups still attending school and having classroom learning during lockdown. The management of EAL provision in high-need schools can often require a massive amount of support. So, here are some best-practice classroom strategies to help teachers who may not be so confident around EAL. These are discussed by Claire Evans, Deputy Head at Anderton Park Primary School, in her FlashAcademy webinar back in June last year. The full webinar recording can be accessed for free here.
Four stages of competence
The four stages of competence, or the ‘conscious competence’ learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. A lot of children with EAL will spend time in the ‘conscious incompetence’ stage, where they may panic because they know they can’t do something. If a child spends too much time in this anxious state, this will hinder their learning. To overcome this, ensure that EAL learners – who will inevitably enter this state – come straight back out through the conscious competence stage, where they know they are getting better. As goes for any learner, the goal is to land them into the unconscious competence – “I can do it without thinking about it, I just know it!”.
Claire uses this learning model and suggests pupils say they are ‘in the pit’ whenever they feel anxious or don’t understand something, to help them verbalise their feelings. For children unable to verbalise due to limited English skills, visual cues will help signal whenever they may be panicking.
Tiers of Vocabulary
Vocabulary can be usefully divided into three tiers. Tier 1 words are a part of everyday speech, words that you can get by and are familiar to most pupils e.g. talk, walk, stop. Tier 2 words as less common than tier 1 and more common in academic language – both written and spoken e.g. converse, saunter, prevent. Tier 3 words are subject specific and have less utility than tier 2 e.g. photosynthesis, timbre.
Claire suggests it is in fact the tier 2 vocabulary that we want to tease out to EAL learners. Although they are words we don’t often use, tier 2 vocabulary gives out the most meaning and will help learners to better articulate their thoughts, feelings, or a scenario, which is better for problem solving. Claire also talks about the six-step approach to teaching vocabulary, which includes reviewing context, providing a child-friendly definition and practicing saying the word aloud. More about the six-step approach is explained in the webinar.
‘In the moment’ Reading
What makes an effective reader is the ability to decode, have good vocabulary so you understand what you’re reading, active strategies in the moment of reading, and being able to ask questions after. ‘In the moment’ reading strategies are something that a good reader will do without even thinking about it – visualise, use background knowledge, making connections – so they automatically understand what it is they are reading. This technique doesn’t come naturally and needs to be taught to all children, but for those with EAL, it can be much more challenging to digest.
The strategies Claire uses are just like sentence prompts; they give children the ability to articulate what they want to say during and after reading a piece of text. By having in the moment reading strategies on show all the time, whether that’s on a wall display or stuck to the back of an exercise book, it really helps the children to engage, ask questions and develop in all aspects of their reading. Worksheet prompts such as this free beginner reading comprehensions can work as part of their in the moment reading strategies.
The ‘Managing EAL provision in high-need schools’ webinar goes into more detail on these three key areas and touches on other teaching (classroom and remote learning) ideas for EAL. Access the free recording and develop your CPD here.