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Creating an optimal environment for 'EAL' bilingual students.

Updated: May 22

As a teacher in London, there is a growing need for us to improve the way we deliver lessons with the needs of our EAL (English as an Additional Language) students in mind. In today's vibrant, multicultural society, it is important that teachers do not fear such as challenge and embrace the diversity our bilingual or multilingual students bring to our classrooms. In this post I'll be discussing the research in this area & providing tips for teachers that may be new to the task.

Attitudes towards EAL students

One of the key findings is that teachers must remain aware of the difference between EAL & SEN. Students who are not yet proficient in English are not at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to understand the subject (Leyton et al, 2002). With this in mind, overly differentiating tasks could be detrimental to the progress of these individuals. This is probably the easiest 'Go to' way of trying to include EAL students, but from what I've read and my own experiences- it is definitely not the way to go.

Another issue here seems to be that bilingualism is not encouraged enough in our schools. Students that are attending a UK school, and are able to communicate (even if not fluently) in more than one language should be praised from an early age. If speaking more than one language is seen by teachers as an impressive achievement, students are likely to become more willing to improve their language skills (Kenner 2004). Having an additional language must be something to be celebrated, rather than a pedagogical concern. I've been encouraging bilingualism by having students share their first language with the class and incorporating that into the lesson. My PE classes count out their stretches in different languages each week. The students that share their language with the rest of the class seem to enjoy this.

Finally, a focus on language skills is important for all students in any subject. Not just those students that are not as fluent in English (Kenner, 2004) This is something that can often be overlooked and it is very likely that any interventions in place for EAL students are likely to be beneficial to the rest of the class too. So again, no need for any special treatment.

Teaching Strategies

1. Word Understanding:

Focus specifically on the definitions of words that are key to understanding the content of the lesson. Interventions should be in place to allow students to look up words if they are unsure- perhaps without a need for publicly asking the teacher. Dictionaries or access to tablets, laptops or their mobile phones may be the answer here. This doesn't have to be exclusively for the 'EAL' student, as students with English as their first or only language will still have some room to improve their vocabulary. This idea is influenced by the findings of (Dresser, 2007) and has been tried and tested with my own classes.

2. Understanding concepts in text:

Encourage students to write down any questions that they have about a text that they are reading (Dresser, 2007) They can annotate their work, allowing the teacher to pick up on areas that the students are finding difficult to comprehend. Again, this is great for all students and not just 'EAL', especially if students are being challenged with a text above their reading age.

3. Make resources visual:

Using very visual presentations and resources to support the words that are being used can have a huge impact on 'EAL' students. This is a very quick and easy fix, that will make it less likely that students misunderstand content being taught. This is something that I have found to be effective- and this is supported by the views of my students.

Based on the existing research and my own experiences, I am suggesting a shift in attitude towards 'EAL' students. In fact, I don't even like the term as I feel that it implies a disadvantage. Enjoy teaching your bilingual students, embrace any challenge associated and they will excel.

Please let us know your thoughts. Like & comment below!

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