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How to maximise the learning of EAL students

At Bromsgrove International School in Thailand,  the majority of learners have English as an additional language. Here, deputy headmaster Matthew Savage explains how the school ensures this is never a barrier to learning. 

Teachers sometimes too easily make false correlations between a student’s competency in English and their academic potential. At Bromsgrove, we try to look deeper than that.

We use cognitive ability tests when a child joins our school and at the beginning of each key stage to assess their cognitive abilities. One of the most revealing measures within a student’s cognitive ability scores is what I call the “verbal deficit” – the difference between a child’s non-verbal and verbal scores.

Where an EAL learner has low scores for both verbal and non-verbal aptitude, this suggests that their learning needs are of more concern than their language needs and that specialist investigation, diagnosis and intervention may be required.

However, a low verbal score alongside a significantly higher non-verbal score highlights a student’s conceptual ability. In this case, it is likely that the student would flourish academically in their own mother tongue, but will doubtless struggle to learn well in English until they have mastered the language.

Once we understand the EAL learner in terms of their ability, rather than their competency in English, we can put the most appropriate support in place to redress the balance and reduce verbal deficit.

EAL students’ attitudes to learning are also important in determining outcomes. It is essential that we understand how the children we teach feel, so our school makes annual use of a pupil attitude survey. Through this survey, we have found that EAL learners often score low in “perceived learning capability” and “learner self-regard”. In other words, they have become convinced of their lack of ability and this has eroded their self-worth.

As we address the specific needs of our EAL students, I hope that we will see these attitudinal scores increase as a result. I believe that by putting the right support in place for each individual child, we can make sure that pupils overcome language barriers to become happier and more successful learners.


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