Inclusion and EAL

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After my chat with Khanh-Duc Kutting on Teachers Talk Radio about inclusion and why it matters in the EAL classroom and my recent involvement with the inclusion strategic development committee in my school, I’ve reflected on the whats, whys and hows of inclusion in my current context of working with EAL learners in an international school in Malaysia. Here’s where I’m at:

What’s inclusion through an EAL lens?

Colorful ring-shaped wood pieces representing diversity and inclusion in society

My definition of inclusion has evolved over the years, mainly due to the context I was working or studying in. Currently, I lead the elementary EAL department and in this context I often refer to Choudry’s (2021) discussion of different practices in schools as they range from segregation (where certain learners are kept separate from the mainstream classroom), through integration (where everyone is in the same classroom but learners with additional needs either sink or swim), to inclusion (where all learners are in the same classroom, and everyone is given the necessary and appropriate support to succeed).

Evans et al (2020) talk about four dimensions of inclusion:

  • academic inclusion: LAs or EAL support staff supporting EAL learners, or EAL support staff co-planning and co-teaching with the subject teachers or class teachers
  • social inclusion: home language social groups are available in the school, entire families are inducted into the school community rather than just the learners, learners have access to co-curricular activities
  • linguistic inclusion: translanguaging is practiced in the classroom, learners have access to home language materials, parents are invited to parent workshops (preferably with translation support)
  • attitudinal inclusion: embracing multilingualism and plurilingual approaches, teachers have high expectations of all learners, EAL is not seen as a deficit.

We obviously all aim for inclusion, however, sometimes that’s not attainable or desirable under the circumstances. For instance, when there is no staff available to support in subject lessons, EAL learners might not be able to access the learning in the mainstream classroom, so it might be better to withdraw them in small groups to provide support so they can successfully join in at a later stage.

Why do we include?

In the wider sense, inclusion means making sure that nobody is left out or behind. So we need to find way to ensure that our learners all feel they are valued members of the school community. It can be tricky to ensure that your classroom or school setting is fully inclusive and there is always more to do. What I’m learning is that inclusion is never complete, it’s ongoing.

Inclusion, word cloud concept 4

For EAL learners, being included means that the school has a linguistically inclusive ethos and values multilingualism. Their ideas and experiences are taken into account, and they get a chance to share them with others in whatever language they feel comfortable using. They get to showcase what they know and can do, regardless of the language they use. The diversity they bring to the school is valued and celebrated not just on special days but every day.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? In an ideal world, all of that is a given. If only we lived in an ideal world… Yet, there are so many things we can do, little things, tiny things, that can go so far.

How do we include?

  • Everyone’s responsibility: Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. This is made clear during the hiring process and in role profiles. SLT are role models of inclusion. They implement and regularly review the inclusion strategies across the school and hold staff accountable as well.
  • Policy, procedures and systems: The school needs to build an inclusive ethos by making sure that the policy is based on inclusive values towards academic, linguistic, social and attitudinal inclusion. All procedures and systems are developed and implemented with inclusion in mind.
  • Professional development: Inclusion-aware CPD needs to be available to all staff, not only to teachers and LAs. It’s equally important that administrative staff are aware what communication strategies work best in certain scenarios and with certain learners and parents. Teachers and LAs need basic knowledge of language acquisitions and multilingualism, as well as plurilingual strategies. CPD is time consuming so there needs to be time budgeted in for staff to be able to engage with it.
  • Partnerships: EAL support staff should be deployed strategically to ensure they have the biggest impact for the learners. For instance, co-planning and co-teaching with subjects and class teachers can help all learners access the learning better and free up time for the teachers to focus on other aspects of differentiation. These strategies also allow EAL teachers to support across classes and year groups, rathen than just in smaller withdrawal groups.
  • Expectations: Teachers must have high expectations of all learners and support them to achieve their goals. They highlight and showcase diversity in their lessons, drawing on their learners’ experiences. They model and encourage kindness, empathy and compassion and correct students’ excluding behaviour, if it ever occurs.
book cover of Supporting EAL Learners: Strategies for Inclusion by Peter Clements and Adrienn Szlapak

It’s a tall order to keep every learners involved, engaged and extended at all times. Especially, if a number of learners are learning English while learning through English. Peter Clements and I have created a resource for subject teachers and class teachers with strategies that can help them support their EAL learners more effectively. Coming soon!

Further reading

Sameena Choudry: Equitable Education (2021)

Evans et al: Towards an Inclusive Pedagogy for EAL in the Multilingual Classroom (2020)

TES Develop course – Inclusive Practice

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