Introduction and research
Learners with English as an additional language (or EAL learners) can be hindered from progressing as they should by their levels of communicative competence. Research by Feyisa Demie (2011) shows that learners at the lowest stages of fluency have severely reduced chances of achieving key attainment milestones. By contrast, EAL learners who have achieved a sufficient degree of fluency actually tend to outperform their monolingual peers.
There is a growing body of academic writing which suggests that the national curriculum does not adequately meet the needs of our EAL learners. Recent research by Naomi Flynn (2015) suggests that the national curriculum favours monolingual learning styles and promotes teaching which does not meet EAL learners’ needs. EAL learners benefit from teaching which promotes a sustained development of their English skills, as well as helping them meet the requirements of the national curriculum.
Furthermore, the needs of EAL learners vary significantly. For many, grammatical knowledge which seems intuitive to native speakers can be challenging to master. Equally, the idiosyncratic aspects of our language such as metaphorical expressions, collocations, phrasal verbs and tense can pose problems for developing EAL learners of all abilities and backgrounds.
I decided to undertake a small-scale investigation into some strategies for promoting accelerated progress with an EAL learner on one of my teaching placements, in light of this disparity between EAL learners and their monolingual peers.
My targeted learner was a Cantonese-speaking learner from Hong Kong, whom we shall refer to as Student A. I ran interventions with Student A as he prepared for a creative writing controlled assessment in Year 10, with a view to boosting his progress. He was an intelligent and diligent pupil, yet his written and spoken English were relatively weak, which was a barrier to his attainment.
I ran three forms of intervention with Student A to address the issues identified in my research. My strategies involved personalised feedback on his grammatical errors, which helped to target the particular issues arising from his Cantonese-influenced idiolect, and promote long-term improvements in his written expression. I also taught his class through the frequent use of model texts. Analysing and borrowing from these models allowed Student A to imitate sentence structures which he would have been unlikely to attempt independently. Finally, I ran a series of lessons on the use of extended metaphor and encouraged him to link his personal experiences to abstract concepts like freedom and determination. This empowered Student A to write some impressively sophisticated poetry.
My work with Student A impacted positively on his final controlled assessment grade, but I felt that more consolidation was needed for the learning to benefit his level of English proficiency. To make the leap from imitation to integration, Student A needed to consistently revisit the skills we had covered, however the summative assessments made of students at key points through the curriculum encourage one-off performance, not sustained development. This form of learning is particularly damaging to the progress of EAL learners and our curriculum will continue to disadvantage them, so long as it continues to measure attainment in this way.
Demie, F. (2011) English as an Additional Language: An empirical study of stages of English proficiency Available from: http://www.naldic.org.uk/Resources/NALDIC/Research%20and%20Information/Documents/EALEmpirical2011.pdf [Accessed on 9 January 2015]