The importance of language skills for teachers

WITH one in five pupils across primary schools in England having English as an additional language (EAL) and a similar ratio in secondary, language skills of teachers have never been more important. LITE Fellows Helen Sadig and Professor Cecile de Cat introduce their project here and explore how language pedagogy training can help boost learning across the curriculum for all pupils.

A civic need

There were over 1.5 million pupils with EAL in state schools recorded in the school census last year. This doesn’t include those in academies.

EALs make up a rising and unevenly distributed population, which is especially dense in West Yorkshire and in many Leeds schools, the proportion is between 50% and 90%.

Additionally, the main schools grant was frozen in 2010 and the Department for Education (DfE) had its capital funding budget cut by about a third between 2010-15.

A move which has left many schools lacking the resources to provide additional support for EAL pupils.

AUTHOR: LITE Fellow Helen Sadig.

Opportunity

The Students into Schools (SiS) programme here at the University of Leeds is a well-established, successful scheme.

It attracts approximately 400 students each year, placing them in local schools to provide subject-specific support, raise pupil aspirations and respond to this growing civic need.

CO-AUTHOR: LITE Fellow Prof. Cecile De Cat.

Although there is an introductory EAL training session for students, it is voluntary, and the vast majority of students do not attend.

Many are unaware of its importance and the prevalence of EAL pupils in local schools, as acknowledged by a student on the scheme last year:

In the school I worked in 89% of the students were EAL students.

“Because of where I’m from at home I’d never met anyone who’s first language wasn’t English. And a previous school I went to all of the children were born and raised in England.

This LITE project has given us an incredible opportunity to address the needs of both our students on SiS and local schools.

Our main aims are to develop language pedagogy training for students and CPD workshops for teachers.

This training is being informed by feedback from both students and teachers collected through participant interviews and online questionnaires.

Diversity and inclusion

One of the most rewarding aspects of the project so far has been the opportunity to visit local schools.

It allowed us to experience first-hand the sheer diversity among EAL pupils in terms of their linguistic and socio-cultural background, level of English and previous schooling, if any.

Just as every child is unique, EAL pupils represent a hugely heterogeneous group of learners. And the support they receive should be equally targeted and informed.

Perhaps one of the most interesting findings is that those traditionally ‘disadvantaged’ groups of monolingual English speakers, such as white working-class boys, benefit equally from the same directed language support as EAL pupils.

Schools have similarly diverse challenges and needs, from those which have an almost exclusively EAL population, to those with perhaps only one or two EAL pupils in each class.

And everything in between.

We have been inspired by the way in which schools genuinely celebrate diversity and are truly inclusive.

Language for learning

We have been designing and trialling workshop materials to increase students’ understanding of how language works.

As well as to raise their awareness of both the language needs of EAL pupils and importance of language for learning.

The importance of language for learning cannot be overstated. Language underpins all school-based learning.

Specifically, language allows pupils to participate in class, access the curriculum, negotiate academic literacies and succeed in examinations.

As bilingual and multilingual learners, EALs also have a rich linguistic capital which should be valued and exploited in the classroom.

To that end, we have been promoting strategies to develop metalinguistic awareness and learner independence.

These strategies support the learning of all pupils.

A civic curriculum

Feedback from teachers on effective pedagogical approaches is interesting.

It includes: strategies to facilitate communicative pair and group work activities; allowing learners thinking, planning and rehearsal time; making use of visual and contextual support, pre-teach, extend and recycle vocabulary; and crucially, to integrate – rather than separate – EAL and non-EAL pupils within schools.

Additional to the regional impact achieved through community engagement, our project seeks to enhance the curriculum for SiS modules, develop students’ communication and employability skills and raise their awareness of their role as global citizens.

For more information contact Helen Sadig at: H.C.Sadig@leeds.ac.uk or Prof. De Cat at: C.DeCat@leeds.ac.uk