Theresa Clements is an English Teaching and Learning Adviser at Herts for Learning

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‘O’ level French…didn’t take it as an option back in the day, but I wish I had.  I have taught many pupils over the years that have had additional languages and we had at any one point almost fifty different languages spoken in our school.  I currently work with some schools who have a few pupils speaking an additional language, or with pupils with little or no English.  Recently, as part of an Ofsted/Governor interview at my daughter’s school the lead inspector put this question to us:

‘You have a very multicultural school with a variety of languages spoken:

how do you use this to your advantage?’

What an excellent question, I thought! Straight away governors were able to discuss how the school ethos, culture, practices and teaching and learning reflect the diverse population of the school.

It is an area of practice close to my heart and, as part of my work in this field, I have come across some excellent support materials and a number of theories upon which strong principles and good practice lie.

The development of EAL pedagogy has been influenced by social constructivist theories which highlight the importance of scaffolding learning, as well as the importance of socio-cultural and emotional factors. Children learning EAL will be affected by attitudes towards them, their culture, language, religion and ethnicity. A distinction needs to be made between interpersonal communicative skills and cognitive and academic language proficiency (Excellent and Enjoyment 2007).

With this in mind then, it is vital that we understand that bilingual learners face two distinct challenges in school: they need to learn English alongside the content of the curriculum. Learning the pronunciation, vocabulary and grammatical devices involves knowing when and how to use them for a variety of purposes and this leads us back to the earlier point of the importance of scaffolding.

Good teaching will naturally ensure that language is modelled and scaffolded and when we are teaching pupils learning English this particular strategy needs to be heightened. One of the most effective strategies that I have come across involves being very explicit and ‘up-front’ with the children about the vocabulary needed within a lesson and structures that support how we are going to communicate them. We often ask pupils to ‘think of another word…think of a better word…think of more words’ etc. Quite simply we can give the children a range of words to read out loud together, paying attention to enunciation and pronunciation (which aids correct spelling later) and then test them within context together using speaking frames (Sue Palmer’s are a good start point). Children can then rank the words as to most effective and then discuss why they have ranked the words as such. EAL learners can listen to and participate in rich discussion as to their favourite word choice and then be able to frame it within the correct context using a speaking frame. All children benefit and the range of vocabulary and speaking frames provided can vary in complexity according to the needs of the pupils.

‘It is important to recognise that children learning EAL are as able as any other children, and the learning experiences planned for them should be no less cognitively challenging.

High challenge can be maintained through the provision of contextual and linguistic support’.

(Excellence and Enjoyment 2007)

 What do we mean by language demands?

What specific words/vocabulary is needed within this lesson?

i.e. rough, smooth, prickly, sharp

What is the main purpose of the language needed in this lesson? Is it to:

Describe?

Re-tell/re-call?

Compare?

Classify?

Explain?

Report?

Agree/disagree?

Identify?

Plan?

Predict?

Sequence?

Instruct?

Then we can think about what the children need to say (phrases, sentences, grammatical structures etc.)

Recounting:

We went, I saw – use of first person/past tense imperative verbs

Describing:

There was a huge brown cow – use of third person, past tense, noun phrases

With the demands of the new curriculum, grammar in particular is high profile within our planning as we naturally think about this for all pupils. A little extra attention and structure can ensure that scaffolding at the point of speaking and listening and reading gets some extra mileage before we race ahead into the writing experience. Spoken language, vocabulary development and rich discussion ought to be a priority for all children and will really benefit those who are lucky enough to have an additional language too.