How to ensure your EAL learners are making progress

Too often, EAL learners are let down by poor interventions in schools, says this assistant headteacher

Anoara Mughal

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“How was your day today?”

“Did more colouring. It's so boring! When will the real learning begin?”

Sadly, this is a conversation many parents and EAL children have up and down the country. 

Too often, EAL students are withdrawn from mainstream classes or given basic work to do because their level of education is not investigated or is misinterpreted. This destroys the students’ self-confidence and belief and many are prevented from reaching their potential.

Pupils should be put into mainstream education with intervention whenever required. Having high expectations of all EAL pupils is crucial. So how should it be done?

Language development

Current thinking recommends linguistic instruction in both languages. This would be extremely difficult considering that 50 or more languages can be spoken by pupils in many of our schools.

However, there is a way. Teaching etymology is a great way to engage our EAL pupils. If they are taught at primary, it creates a sense of belonging for the EAL pupil, looking for patterns of English in their own language. This aids progression of the second language as well.

Using Google Translate is another way to develop both languages simultaneously.

Language can be further developed by pupils being taught whole words instead of phonics after the age of 9 because decoding is in place by this age and very difficult to be taught. Pupils who are taught whole words instead of phonics after the age of 9 develop accurate spoken language faster, which aids in the development of understanding comprehension.

Sociocultural development

Teachers must look out for prejudice and unconscious bias towards EAL pupils. A way of alleviating stress and anxiety could be by having a buddy or visual timetable.

Being in the minority can have a negative impact on learning and progress in another language. Therefore, schools must be safe and supportive places.

Academic development

EAL students cannot waste time and need to catch up on learning English quickly. It is beneficial for academic content to be taught through the first language. Waiting to teach English academic language when it is acquired will ultimately lead to failure of learning and progression in both English and academic knowledge.

Cognitive development

When pupils learn their first language and start school, they would have had four to five years of cognitive development in their own language. Schools must also ensure that the cognitive development is continued in English. EAL pupils who are appropriately challenged, by cognitive tasks such as learning about positional language and time in different contexts, will be totally engaged, will develop self-belief and become motivated to learn. They will also make progress and catch up with their English-speaking peers.

Change the terminology

Finally, how about changing the meaning of EAL? English as an additional language has negative connotations. It implies that if English is your second language, you will never become proficient in it. If we changed it to ELL, it would have a positive connotation. I propose changing English as an additional language to English language learner instead.

Anoara Mughal is an assistant headteacher at a primary school. She tweets at @anoara_a

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Anoara Mughal

Anoara Mughal is an assistant headteacher at a primary school

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