I recently uploaded an old teaching resource to the TES website, one I’d put together back in the days when I was part of a team of teachers tasked with raising the attainment of ethnic minority children across Leicestershire.
The team was disbanded in 2012 following the banking crisis which left local authorities across the country cutting their coats to fit an ever-diminishing portion of cloth.
Gone went 40 or so people who’d planned entire curriculum areas to ensure they included language-development activities, who made and shared teaching resources to scaffold pupils’ learning, developed activities which promoted equality and diversity and trained mainstream educational staff across Leicestershire on the issues faced by young people being taught in English whilst developing their own English language skills.
Overnight, thousands of children we’d helped understand lessons were left to cope by themselves, as best they could.
‘EAL* pupils do not experience problems here,’ I was told in one local secondary school a year or two later. Looking around the hall with its monolingual signage and posters of predominantly fair-haired, pale-skinned pupils, I realised they couldn’t see any problems because they didn’t know where to look.
Oblivious to the narrowness of language skills in their English-language learners, they weren’t aware of the extent that pupils kept quiet about how much they misunderstood, how much they guessed and copied and blagged. Children want to blend in, particularly in their teenage years. It’s a brave pupil indeed who is willing to come forward and admit they don’t understand the instructions they’ve just been given or the text that they’re reading or the vocab the teacher wants them to weave into essays in order to get top marks.
Most EAL pupils in the school did well against teacher expectations. What the school hadn’t grasped was that those expectations were too low. And if a specialist from our now-defunct team had been working with them, they’d have pointed this out and helped put things in place to address it.
I knew that inadequate English language support was an issue with the EAL cohort because I knew lots of their pupils and they’d told me. Indeed, one or two had sat at my dining table, wanting my help. It didn’t take much to give it, to be honest. Time, mostly. Conversations to clear up misunderstandings. A few topic-related dictionary sheets and prompt sheets to help with structuring essays. I bought one young man a dual language version of A Christmas Carol. Another showed me the translation app on his phone and we discussed how to check the several different meanings it gave for a word to make sure he got the right one.
I knew to do these things because I’d spent 15 years learning how to help young people such as these. I can – still – spot a language issue in a pupil within minutes and suggest a way to help address it within about ten. In fact, I’ll probably have a prompt sheet or activity at home you could use to do so.
I don’t blame teachers who can’t do this, as they’re phenomenally lacking in time to give to individual pupils and most haven’t had my training and experience. One teacher can’t know everything, it truly does take more than one person to educate a child. To do it properly takes a team, which is why we had a specialist service in the first place.
There are few jobs for EAL specialist teachers such as us any more and that makes me sad – for myself, but mostly for the children. So I’ll be uploading as many of my old resources to the TES website as I can. Being a creative, I had fun making most of them, and fun using them, too. I sincerely hope that they’ll be useful to a busy teacher or two.
*EAL stands for ‘English as an Additional Language’ – in other words, additional to the pupil’s birth language spoken at home.
You can find the resource I uploaded – here.