Building a civic curriculum

Sunrise across a hill showing the trigpoint in the foreground

Building a Civic Curriculum: Helping local schools better support English as an additional language children through enhanced student impact and teacher Continuing Professional Development

Helen Sadig and Cécilé De Cat, Languages, Cultures and Societies


Project Overview

The University of Leeds operates a well-established and successful Students into Schools (SiS) scheme, which attracts approximately 400 students each year, who participate in school placements to provide literacy, numeracy or subject-specific support to children in local primary and secondary schools.

The University works with over 70 partner schools in West Yorkshire as part of this scheme, which comprise increasingly diverse pupil populations. This diversity is reflected in the numbers of pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL), of which the national average is more than 1 in 5 children. In many of the schools in West Yorkshire, the proportion of pupils with EAL is between 50% and 90%.

However, the majority of SiS students are unaware of and unprepared to meet the needs of EAL pupils. Post-2010 funding cuts have also resulted in a reduction of the support that schools can provide for these children and an urgent need to help schools meet the growing demand for English language support.

This project aimed to address this civic need and provide language training for SiS students to maximise the effectiveness of the SiS scheme in terms of EAL support, and to offer workshops as a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunity for teachers in schools.


Key Findings

Findings Key findings from participating SiS students

  • Prior to their placement, students were mainly concerned about behaviour management (68%) followed by issues of pedagogy (26%) indicating a lack of awareness of the potential challenges of working with EAL learners.
  • Once students had commenced their placement, their concerns changed to issues around supporting EAL learners, and students reported low levels of language proficiency in pupils as a barrier (43%) as frequently as their own lack of multicultural awareness (43%).
  • Following their placements, the majority of students (75%) felt they would have liked additional training to support EAL pupils, ideally before the start of the school placement (63%).
  • Most students (78%) felt that the SiS experience had raised their awareness of the local community.
  • Most students requested teaching materials to use in the classroom (75%) and 50% of those who responded felt they would benefit from approaches to supporting EAL pupils, more knowledge of English grammar, strategies for developing learners’ speaking and reading skills, and self-study resources on Minerva.
  • A key finding from our student scholar relates to the impact of ‘peer literacies’, a term we have constructed to refer to the sociolinguistic codes associated with this paradigm. Specifically, younger monolingual English-speakers were linguistically more accommodating towards their EAL peers than those further up the school. The negotiation of peer literacies in this sense is not a construct we have hitherto come across in the literature nor from the findings from participating teachers, and most closely aligns with the concept of peer talk.

Key findings from participating EAL teachers

  • Socio-cultural factors may affect levels of pupil attainment and progress. They are neither culture nor language-specific, however, and may affect traditionally disadvantaged groups such as white British working-class boys as equally as ethnic minority EAL pupils.
  • There was some suggestion that certain behaviours for learning of EAL pupils, for example, of second and third generation Pakistani heritage speakers, may align with that of learners within monolingual English-speaking disadvantaged peer groups. This would suggest that the extension of support provided for EAL pupils would benefit these disadvantaged pupils.
  • Changing EAL learner demographics, such as from sojourners to refugee-status migrants, for example, would appear to necessitate the development of awareness raising activities for teaching staff.
  • A whole-school EAL approach appears to benefit all learners.
  • There was also unanimous support for the integration rather than separation of EAL learners from their monolingual English speaking peers for affective personal and adaptive socio-cultural reasons.
  • Knowledge of academic literacies underpins effective learning and may be a greater barrier to learning than those associated with language proficiency per se.
  • It was also generally accepted that negotiating academic literacies can be equally challenging for monolingual English-speaking children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The main linguistic challenges for EAL learners include restricted vocabulary and low reading proficiency. As EAL learners may have fewer opportunities to access target linguistic models needed to develop academic literacies, aurally outside of school, it is important to provide enriched linguistic support in all subjects across the curriculum.
  • In particular, most teachers felt that vocabulary acquisition is central to learning across the curriculum, which in turn influences their pedagogical approach. This is supported through pre-teaching and metalinguistic strategies, for example, and should be prioritised both in CPD sessions for teachers and SiS training workshops.

Implications

This project had the following key outcomes:

  • Linguistically-informed language pedagogy training workshops for SiS students
  • A programme of CPD workshops to support teachers in local schools
  • The EALchildren.org website for SiS students, teachers and researchers of EAL, and twitter feed: @EAL_children
  • A database of open-access EAL teaching and learning materials available online

If you want to find out more details about this fellowship please read the full snapshot (PDF) or contact Helen (H.C.Sadig@leeds.ac.uk) or Cécilé (C.DeCat@leeds.ac.uk).