Some strategies to support EAL/D students

I have just finished my first term of full-time teaching as a temporary EAL/D Teacher for Stage 3. For those of you that are less enthusiastic about acronyms, EAL/D means English as an Additional Language and/or Dialect. In NSW, intensive language support is provided to students who have arrived from overseas in the last 6 months and are at the beginning or emerging phase of English language proficiency. This means that my role involves withdrawing small groups of newly arrived students and providing in-class support.

It has been a whirlwind term getting to know students and settling into a new environment (read: school/team/career). As I’m not trained to be a specialist EAL/D Teacher, I have spent a lot of time in training, reading research and studying best practice approaches to EAL/D instruction. This is, of course, additional to what I learnt about EAL/D teaching at university, as I was lucky enough during my Masters program to be under the tutelage of Paul Dufficy, EAL/D maestro. But as I’ve been investing my time in all of this learning, I wanted to share some of what I’ve developed along the way…

My Assessment Plan

At the beginning of Term 1, I developed this 2017 EALD Assessment Plan, outlining some of the tools and activities that can help you get to know your students and how they learn (ahhh would you look at that, Standard 1 of the Professional Standards). My initial assessment of students (1:1) would probably take about 40 minutes and involve a combination of reading tests (Burt word, phoneme ID, letter ID if appropriate, sight word test, running record), some conversation to gauge their speaking skills and getting them to write a short paragraph about themselves to see where their writing is at. That would generally provide enough information, alongside observations in the classroom, to plot them against the ESL Scales and Learning Progression.

I’ve since amended this plan for my students as I’m now much more closely attuned to what they can achieve. For example, I know that letter ID, phoneme ID and sight word tests are pitched too low to give me any appropriate data. I’ve therefore selected three assessments that I will complete at the end of each term – Burt word test, high frequency word test, and a running record with comprehension questions. This is for data collection and reflection against the Learning Progression, and does not replace the formative assessment that makes up my program.

If you’re after a high frequency word test (i.e. Dolch sight words are too easy for your students), I’ve developed a printable High frequency word test, all you need to do is write the words on flashcards.

EAL/D Strategies

I strongly believe that any teaching and learning strategies that you use to support the needs of your EAL/D students will benefit the learning of all of your students. Especially at my school, where the large majority of students are from a language background other than English, it doesn’t serve to skip over a focus on language in all subjects. For this reason, I developed a visual of EAL/D Strategies and activities that support language learners and focus on each of the areas of language development needed for success – listening and speaking, reading and viewing, and writing. I mainly developed it so that when I’m programming and thinking of the gamut of activities that I could include at different stages, that I’ve got a quick visual to bounce off.

It is worth noting that this is with a Stage 3 focus, so for earlier stages the activities would be quite different. Similarly, if your EAL/D students come from a background in which they may have missed out on learning and need support with literacy first, then some of these activities may miss the mark.

Mode Continuum

This one is a doozy and keeps coming up in the professional learning that I’ve been attending. It basically refers to the fact that we tend to immerse students in mid-tenor engagements, but then expect them to write formally and academically. What we need to do is build up to our tasks, grounding things initially in contextualised learning, and throughout the course of a unit of work build up to more formal, decontextualised activities. All units should be designed by consulting the continuum and thinking about how each activity can support students in meeting the end goal.

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Ok, so it’s nothing new. It doesn’t provide too much more insight than backwards design, but I think a visual reminder is useful to have nearby when we’re programming. It is just a nice synthesis of so much of what teachers already do – connected learning, using big ideas, formative assessment, explicit teaching…the list goes on!

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