Celebrating success stories

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It seems impossible but we are approaching half term in the second term of the academic year. It is that precarious time of the year when we reflect on term 1, implement the changes we decided on before the end of the year and start planning ahead for term 3 and beyond. I like this time of year! It’s exciting and exhausting all at once but I enjoy discussing all the possibilities and finding ways to make all of the puzzle pieces fit. Obviously, the picture is never perfect but we always find ways to make it work.

surreal enigmatic picture on canvas

As much as I like this period, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems we try to solve, the issues that arise and the growing needs we need to cater to. It gets overwhelming to only see things from the perspective that everything needs a solution. It means that the successes pass us by and we don’t celebrate them like we should. Luckily though, there are little success stories that remind me to hang in there and trust in the process. Here are a few:

  1. Student A joined us in Year 3 with very little English and weak blending and segmenting skills. Settling in took a long time and progress was slow, in fact barely noticeable at times. Student A’s attitude to learning was positive though and they never stopped trying to communicate. Whatever little language they had, they tried to use it when they could. They once revealed that they had some English language books at home but they had nobody to read with as their families can’t support them in English. After lots of extra support and reading intervention sessions with books from the library and from home, the student is now much more independent and requires a lot less support in accessing learning in the mainstream classroom. Student A has many friends and loves coming to school. They often bring in their books from home to share with their friends during break time.
  2. Student B joined Year 5 with an initial admissions score of CEFR B1, which we all questioned after meeting them. At first, Student B seemed to be able to produce very little language, was distracted and withdrawn, and took every opportunity to seek out home language interactions. After a while when they felt more comfortable, they started showing more of their language ability – grammatical accuracy and quality of written work were the first signs that the initial score might have been correct. Student B has since found their friends and is often seen interacting with students both in their home language and in English. They have since opened up about their struggles when they first arrived: the school being big and unfamiliar, not knowing how the canteen worked and constantly getting lost in the building. As student B’s English is improving, we are able to see more of their specific needs and we are better able to tailor our provision to suit their needs.
  3. Student C had been in school for a while before I joined and I started teaching them in August in Year 6. They were usually quiet and withdrawn, possibly due to lack of confidence. With the arrival of other students with the same home language, Student C built some strong friendships. It was clear that they are bubbly and talkative in their home language, although they seemed to prefer to keep quiet in lessons. After a few weeks of mingling activities and cooperative group and pair work, they started speaking up more and showed confidence in their answers. Feedback from the class teachers was also positive in terms of classroom participation. At the end of term 1, they graduated from the EAL immersion provision.
  4. Student D joined Year 6 in August with all the confidence in the world and it was clear that it’s just a matter of time before their English catches up to their mind. There were a few weeks in the middle of the term when their commitment to improving their English started to slip, but after a very successful residential trip with the rest of Year 6, they started working again and never looked back. When Year 6 started studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Student D confidently read out the names of characters and proceeded to inform me that they had already read the play in their home language and have watched the film in English with subtitles. When the classes put on a show, Student D shone in their role.
AI generated illustration of dark tunnel of rainbow colors

I wish I knew what made these particular students progress so well. I wish it was a formula I could take and apply to every EAL learner. While I might not be able to do that, I can reflect on some of the common trends in these stories:

  • the importance of being given time to get comfortable in the new setting and with the new language
  • how essential friendships and social groups are (both in the home language and in English)
  • what a difference it makes when topics of interest are brought into the classroom
  • remembering to help learners settle in and helping them celebrate their own successes
  • the importance of making links between school life and home life
  • positive experiences connected to school (inside and/or outside the classroom)

As we move forward into the next term and beyond, I want these stories to serve as inspiration and guide me and my team in our commitment to providing meaningful and tailored support for every EAL learner in school. Embracing these lessons, we can continue to shape an inclusive and enriching educational environment where the puzzle pieces fit, even if not perfectly, but with the promise of continuous growth and achievement.

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