EAL support in practice

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Photo by Neil Thomas

Over the past 3 years, we have experimented with a variety of forms of support for EAL pupils. In this post, I am considering the benefits and drawbacks of each method.

Withdrawal sessions

At first, we withdrew EAL learners from certain lessons to provide additional support. We even created a special course, the English Enrichment Programme (EEP), which gave students at the New to English stage a chance to spend a whole academic year to improve their English proficiency. These learners had 25 periods of English a week, as well as Maths, Science, Music, PE, and Art also taught in the target language.

  • Benefits: since we stream English in Secondary, it was relatively easy to implement this method. This provided us with 5 to 6 periods of uninterrupted class time to dedicate to English proficiency, which we know is central to understanding educational achievement and levels of support needed (Strand and Hessel, 2018). Teachers can chose materials and coursebooks that best suit the needs of their students and long-term and mid-term plans are relatively easy to make and adhere to. The EEP gave us even more access and class time to successfully improve proficiency.
  • Drawbacks: having a group of EAL students in one class gives the impression that all EAL pupils have the same needs, which is untrue (Hutchinson, 2018). Moreover, while it is relatively easy to withdraw students from streamed subjects, it can be quite difficult to organise withdrawal from other subjects. Not to mention that if students are witdrawn too often and from too many subject, it might negatively impact their motivation. By the end of the EEP, the students on the course were a real team, however, due to the Covid situation the SOPs made it virtually impossible for them to maintain friendships across classes and year groups.

In-class support

Last year we started to provide in-class support to certain EAL students. The decision of whether they need this extra support on top of the withdrawal sessions is based on a variety of factors: their EAL Assessment results, their age (Strand and Hessel, 2018), as well as their particular needs for support.

  • Benefits: in-class support allows the teacher to work very closely with individual students or with a few students in a group within the actual subject lessons. The EAL pupils have access to grade level content as well as support from their peers and the subject teachers. They feel more socially integrated in their class or year group, which can have a positive impact all around.
  • Drawbacks: one of the difficulties of this method goes hand in hand with one of the benefits, namely that the EAL teacher needs to find a way to provide language support within a subject lesson. There are many factors here that affect the success of the support: the teacher needs to find the balance between providing support and distracting the learners, they have to think carefully about how they can ensure that the cognitive load is not too high, and they have to constantly weigh how to provide language support without giving too much away. EAL support does not mean lower expectations, however, that’s a difficult thing to make a relaity. For successful in-class support, coplanning and coteaching are essential and unless focused CPD time is dedicated to this, there might be great differneces across subjects or even classes.

A combination of the above

This year we have started a more comprehensive EAL programme across the school that combines the best of both methods discussed above. All EAL pupils attend withdrawal sessions in the English periods, some of them are also withdrawn from certain other subjects depending on need, and they receive in-class support in certain lessons. For now, we mostly focus our efforts on supporting Maths, Science, and Humanities as these tend to be the most problematic subjects for our EAL learners. We started out with an equal distribution of supported lessons but we have found that we can scale back on the Maths support, while Science and Humanities need more attention.

It might be too early to draw conclusions just yet, seeing that we are barely halfway through the academic year, nevertheless, here is what we’ve seen so far:

  • Benefits: The teachers spend anywhere up from 10 periods a week with the EAL students who they support and that means they get to know them and their specific needs very well. This has a massive impact on the quality of support they can provide. EAL pupils spend more time with their classmates and therefore, they make friends, which prompts them to use English more often in social contexts as well.
  • Drawbacks: There is a big demand for EAL support in our school and with only 3 EAL teachers on staff, it is proving difficult to be everywhere where we are needed. Coplanning and coteaching training is still needed to provide better quality support.

What is your experience? What methods do you use to support your EAL pupils? What do you find most impactful?

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