Kamil Trzebiatowski, Digital Resource Developer for The Bell Foundation, outlines 4 proven methods for ensuring your blended and online learning practices support the progress of pupils using EAL.
Kamil will be sharing further insights and strategies at the IG Schools EAL Teaching and Learning event, taking place later in 2021.
Over the last year schools have had to work incredibly hard to ensure online remote learning and blended learning can take place while there are restrictions on face-to-face learning in school.
For the purpose of this blog, online learning is defined as ‘a course or a programme of learning where the entire process is delivered in the online environment rather than in a physical classroom’. Blended learning is understood to be ‘a programme where pupils learn partly online and partly in a supervised physical location, typically a classroom’.
This blog explores strategies that can be used by teachers to ensure that, while online and blended programmes are in place, learners using English as an Additional Language (EAL) are able to fully access the curriculum and are given opportunities to actively develop their Proficiency in English alongside curriculum learning. This is particularly important at this time as school closures will invariably lead to learning loss for many learners, but as Diana Sutton, Director of The Bell Foundation, reminds us, “EAL pupils will also experience a language learning loss” due to less exposure or lack of exposure to English, putting them at a greater disadvantage and lessening their ability to access the curriculum. In physical classrooms, these learners would have been exposed to models of both academic and social language used by teachers, Teaching Assistants and peers, however during remote learning these modelling opportunities are more challenging to find. In the online learning environment, learners might also be missing opportunities for extended speaking, listening and reading practice. Online environments can also make teacher instructions less clear for some EAL learners (e.g. because of the quality of sound or because there is less visual support).
The strategies outlined below look specifically at how teachers can mitigate potential learning loss and language loss of learners who use EAL, by ensuring continued access to the curriculum and a focus on language development during online or blended learning. Over the last twenty years, several online tools, resources and environments have become available, allowing teachers not only to substitute physical classroom resources for online ones, but also enabling activities not possible in traditional classrooms. Most EAL strategies described on The Bell Foundation’s Great Ideas pages can be adapted for online conferencing environments such as Teams, Google Classroom or Zoom. Four of these strategies are explored below.
What is it? The term translanguaging describes practices that encourage learners using EAL to take advantage of their full linguistic repertoire to help them realise their full potential. This means encouraging them to speak, write and/or translate to and from their first language (or any language they speak) and English, to support their learning.
Why is it useful for learners using EAL? All learners using EAL have useful language skills and literacy skills in their first language; skills which they build on to acquire greater English language proficiency and academic English. Frequently, learners using EAL may find it easier to engage with new concepts in their first language and then transfer that knowledge to English – this means allowing them to utilise their prior knowledge.
How does it work? Translanguaging activities could include using bilingual dictionaries, conducting some work in the first language and other work in English (e.g. online research in the home language and then discussion in English) and drafting written work in the first language before writing the final piece in English.
How can it be adapted for blended and online learning? Translanguaging can be easily conducted online: learners have easy access to online dictionaries such as Google Translate, which are often equipped with pronunciation playback capabilities. Another excellent resource is Khan Academy, a repository of school subject video lectures available in 30 different languages. This is a perfect tool for flipping classrooms: learners could listen to a video introduction to a topic (such as quadratic equations or photosynthesis), first online at home in their first language, and later engage in discussion and additional activities in school or via online conferencing software.
What is it? Collaborative learning activities (including information exchanges) are such where learners have different information that they have to convey orally to one another.
Why is it useful for learners using EAL? They encourage speaking and listening and scaffold and structure learners’ talk, including opportunities for extended speaking.
How does it work? Collaborative activities include setting up talk partners, think-pair-share and snowballing activities (where learners start in a pair, then join another to form a group of 4 and then a group of 8). Learners can also work on shared tasks, e.g. matching, sorting and ranking, play games with a competitive element or be engaged in information exchange activities such as barrier games where Learner A and Learner B sit with a barrier between them and are required to convey information to each other, for example while looking at different texts or images.
How can it be adapted for blended and online learning? Online software such as Google Docs and Microsoft Office online allow for real-time collaboration on a document by a number of users. Since text in the document can be copied, learners using EAL can use Google Translate to translate any content their English native speaking peers write (and vice versa), effectively removing much of the language barrier typically occurring in oral communication in traditional classrooms. There are several online interactive whiteboards allowing learners to share and annotate images as well (for example, AWWAPP), many available for free and many having an associated app. Some collaborative learning activities lend themselves better to online work than others: for instance, any activities where cut up and laminated cards are used are easier prepared for a physical classroom, but barrier games can be easily set up in the online environment: for instance, a “spot the difference” game about before and after a volcano eruption (Geography) can be played by sharing the two images with two different learners and them audio-communicating online.
What is it? Flashcards are picture cards that can be used on their own or with word cards. They could be flashcards with pictures and words in the learner’s first language, flashcards with pictures and words in English on the front of the same card or picture-only flashcards with separate word-only cards to match.
Why are they useful for learners using EAL? Flashcards are useful for introducing, memorising, revising and consolidating vocabulary, and stimulate discussion. Flashcards with images that learners using EAL recognise provide a rich context which enables the learners to access the curriculum and build on their prior knowledge.
How does it work? Flashcards can be used for a game of Pelmanism: matching picture and word cards using two sets of cards. They allow learners to carry out sorting activities, to play bingo games and ‘odd one out’ games (where learners explain the reasons for one of the cards being different to all the others) and practise language use while doing so.
How can it be adapted for blended and online learning? Flashcards, typically laminated for classroom use, have many online interactive equivalents such as the language learning website Quizlet, allowing teachers to create new flashcards quickly, adding photos to them from the site’s image bank. Learners can be assigned word memorisation, spelling and pronunciation exercises. Quizlet cards can be printed, too, so they can be just as easily used in a real classroom if required.
4. GIVING INSTRUCTIONS
What is it? Giving instructions is part and parcel of every teacher’s work and needs no introduction. However, there are ways to adapt instructions for the benefit of learners using EAL, so they know what the task is and what is expected of them.
How does it work? One way to adapt instructions for learners using EAL is by grading language, i.e. adjusting the language used to suit the learner, for example by avoiding colloquial language, complex grammar and overly long sentences. Another strategy is staging instructions – breaking down instructions into manageable chunks, e.g. into shorter phrases under numbered or bulleted lists. Finally, teachers can check the learner’s understanding by asking closed and short answer questions.
How can it be adapted for blended and online learning? Giving instructions to learners who are New to English frequently presents challenges in the classroom, but teachers’ talk typically cannot be rewound and played back in the classroom. However, in online environments teachers can record their instructions as videos or audio to be played back by learners. If a video is recorded to YouTube, learners can use closed captioning to read the transcript of the instructions. Clyp.it enables teachers and learners to share a link to an mp3 file they recorded. Teachers can video-record modelling responses to writing and speaking tasks. Learners using EAL might also find it easier to make several attempts at recording their responses before sharing them with teachers and/or their peers, away from peer pressures of a classroom.
EAL strategies such as Great Ideas are, therefore, interchangeable – they can be used in a regular classroom, but they are as usable in online environments, where they are often afforded new learning opportunities.
Where blended learning is used, the Flipped Classroom (where the learning of the subject is done by learners online away from school while discussion and Q&A activities are conducted live in a physical classroom) might be the most EAL-friendly approach. Here teachers can use online material in the learner’s home language(s) (such as at Khan Academy) or set homework asking learners to familiarise themselves with key vocabulary ahead of a lesson (for example, using Quizlet), so that learners are more prepared, more confident and more able to participate in the upcoming session. Where circumstances dictate the use of online-only teaching and learning, teachers will need to consider how to ensure that learners using EAL understand their instructions and offer digital opportunities for practising speaking (e.g. by learners recording video and audio for the teacher), striving towards English language exposure being minimised during that time.
In short, the pedagogy used to effectively support learners using EAL does not need to be abandoned when launching blended or fully online approaches; rather, it is the resources themselves that will be different online to the ones used in traditional classrooms. Luckily, these tools exist and are ready to be used.
The Bell Foundation has produced several guidance videos about how to support EAL learners during lockdown and online learning. Schools and teachers can visit the Great Ideas pages and the Guidance during school closures YouTube playlists.
Looking for more innovative teaching and learning ideas? The IG Schools Handbook is available to download now, with specific guidance on supporting pupils using EAL.
Discover more top tips from sector experts via the IG Schools Hub.