Author: Emma Mijailovic, EAL Teacher
‘Mainstreaming’ (teaching second language learners in the mainstream class, as opposed to withdrawing pupils for EAL lessons) has been a favoured approach to EAL in the UK since the late 1970s, following the Swann report, which highlighted inequality in EAL withdrawal programmes. However, although ‘inclusion’ is now a central theme of UK policy, there are still limited directives on EAL provision in mainstream classes (Costley, 2014). This also has implications for international environments that model their practice on the UK or that have UK-trained teachers. Policy (or a lack of it) can have significant implications for teachers, who may be underprepared to support EAL pupils.
It was not until 2002 that EAL became a compulsory part of teacher training programmes in the UK; it is now required in order to achieve qualified teacher status (QTS), with teachers obliged to demonstrate their understanding of EAL learner needs. However, training in this has not been standardised (Costley, 2014, p.288), which means that it can vary significantly. If policy is unclear and training sporadic, how can any teacher feel confident in supporting EAL pupils in their classes?
One possible solution to this situation is increased collaboration between EAL and subject teachers, as Russell (2014) advocates. EAL specialists can be a real asset when seen as ‘collaborating partners’ (Russell, p.1-190), especially at the planning stages. Collaborative planning between subject and language specialists seeks to establish integrated content and language aims, recognising that balancing these aims can be a challenge, due to the complexity of task design. It is imperative that materials used in subject lessons provide both relevant content and a language focus, as well as being cognitively demanding (Hammond, 2014, and Costley and Safford, 2008). Collaboration both in setting the aims and in selecting appropriate materials is paramount to enable EAL pupils to access lessons.
Some attempts to structure teacher partnerships have been made, through content-based instruction (CBI) approaches, which seek to integrate language and subject aims. These approaches can be successful, as they emphasise “linguistic, cognitive and metacognitive skills as well as subject matter” (Stroller, 2008, p.59, in Creese, 2010, p.100). CBI is most effectively achieved through collaborative planning, with EAL and subject specialists working together to set content and language aims.
In a recent study, I investigated the benefits of collaborative planning and the implementation of integrated aims for content and language. I worked collaboratively with a history teacher to plan and deliver three lessons in which the content and language aims were parallel. The language focus and opportunities for reflection allowed the learners to be more aware and active in their learning, as they set their own expectations and goals. The increased level of challenge (as identified by the learners themselves) also proved a key element in the success of these lessons. The planning sessions were not time-consuming, contrary to what you might expect; as an EAL specialists, I was able quickly to review the content material, identify the language needs and set the aims accordingly. Note that language aims are not restricted to grammar, and that meta-language (the specific terms used to describe language) is not crucial, as this accompanying material demonstrates.
Costley, T (2014) English as an additional language, policy and the teaching and learning of English in England, Language and Education, 28:3, 276-292
Costley, T. and Safford, K. (2008) ‘I didn’t speak for the first year’: Silence, Self-Study and Student Stories of English Language Learning in Mainstream Education, Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 2:2, 136-151
Creese, A (2010) Content-Focused Classrooms and Learning English: How Teachers Collaborate, Theory Into practice, 49:2, 99-105
Hammond, J. (2014) An Australian Perspective on Standards-Based Education, Teacher Knowledge, and Students of English as an Additional Language TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 48, No. 3
Russell, F.A (2014) Collaborative literacy work in a high school: enhancing teacher capacity for English learner instruction in the mainstream, International Journal of Inclusive Education, 18:11, 1189-1207