Author: Sarah Jones, EAL Coordinator, Lea Forest Academy
In January 2021, we commenced another lockdown in the UK and put our recovery curriculum on hold. The question on most of our minds was immediately: “How will our EAL learners progress without the English academic and social interaction school provides, and which they need in order to flourish in their language learning journeys?”
The answer for us was learning platforms! A learning platform is an academic, virtual space where interaction can continue and work can be completed. At Lea Forest, we use Google Classroom and its apps to produce live lessons and documents, for the children to continue to learn. Our live lessons are taught to key worker and vulnerable children and all our remote learners have access to these at home, so that they can participate too. For our EAL learners, we also use the Learning Village, to teach survival (functional) language, phonics and the academic language needed to access the curriculum. We use ClassDojo, a communication platform, to convey messages to our parents, and the Learning Village ‘post office’ to communicate with our EAL children.
This, of course, raises further concerns: how do we actually get our EAL children and parents to engage fully, when their lack of English stifles them in terms of accessing the online platforms, lessons and activities?
The first step for us was ensuring that all our learners had access to a computer and the internet, by providing them with Chromebooks, and dongles if needed. The next step was making sure that our parents knew we were there to support them, as well as their children. We ensured that they understood how to use the technology, the school website and the necessary apps – whilst at the same time taking care not to overwhelm them. Parents who were struggling were invited into school, or a home visit was made, following COVID distancing and social regulations. We trained them in finding, logging on and navigating our website and apps, to support their children in accessing their virtual learning platforms in order to participate in live lessons and complete the activities assigned.
In addition, we adapted the apps we use to allow translation between English and the parents’ home languages. We also provided simple sets of instructions, with images translated into relevant languages, and videos, to support learning at home. We encouraged parents to use the ‘support’ section on our EAL platform to ask questions, and to join our EAL parent Google chats.
The final step was ensuing that the children were registering online each day, participating in live lessons and completing the tasks set. Pupils’ engagement and wellbeing were monitored daily, so that check-in phone calls could be made to children causing a concern, offering support, guidance and a general chat.
The Learning Village has been a remarkable resource throughout the lockdowns in the UK. The children miss the lessons in school – but fun learning continues in the Village! Children love getting messages, gifts and certificates, so every morning we send them a message via the post office about the sessions they will complete that day. Once a session has been completed, a second message is sent, with a gift. At the end of the week, the children receive an electronic certificate from the Learning Village (sent to their Google Classroom), celebrating their learning engagement. We also take part in weekly competitions in the Village across year groups – the children really look forward to this.
Live lessons can be as engaging as those in class, so long as they are kept simple and interactive. Not everything happens on the main screen – our children have enjoyed playing group or paired games in breakout rooms. We’ve also tried out games of storytelling, What’s that? or Bingo! with the picture boards (see resource accompanying this article). Just as in a physical classroom, work can be completed and marked, and concept checks can be carried out, with misconceptions and moving-on comments made as needed.
Live lessons are good for academic progress – but what about the learners’ social and emotional wellbeing?
As mentioned above, phone calls are made to ‘check in’, but these can sometimes be difficult to manage, depending on English levels. We found weekly, virtual ‘hangouts’ were also beneficial, as in these, lip movement, facial expressions and gestures can be seen – as well, of course, as the fact that it’s nice to see the person you are talking to and to share things visually. These ‘facetime’ events have really boosted the children’s morale, supported their social language and nurtured their emotional wellbeing.
As educators and carers, we need to ensure that our children continue their language learning journeys, and that they are emotionally sound, in order to maintain the skills they have acquired and to be prepared for the recovery curriculum after lockdown.
Communication – support – praise – rewards are key!