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A critical analysis of a current issue in primary education

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 4090 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this assignment I intend to look at EAL children as my focus group and discuss the implications for the teaching, learning and assessment of these learners including a look at the current context for which these learners are based and how this can effect their learning. According to the primary national strategy, excellence and enjoyment papers EAL stands for, ¿½English as an additional language and recognises the fact that many children learning English in schools in this country

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already know one or more other language and are adding English to that repertoire.¿½ There are also other terms used which interlink such as bilingual and advanced EAL which is a term used by Ofsted to describe children who have had considerable exposure to English. The current context for this group as described by the national strategies are that EAL children are still a minority ethnic group, although children from these groups may form the majority in some school contexts nationally they are still referred to as the minority ethnic group. School Census data shows that only a very small percentage of EAL learners are white. (Elliot, 1999)

Jackson (2007) published a paper on EAL children called breaking down the language barrier which showed the current climate for EAL children in Britain, the paper was intended to discuss what could be done for the increasing number of pupils in our schools with little English. The Government says that even among middle-class immigrants who arrived last year, more than a third would have failed a basic English test. What can we do as teachers to fix this? Every year, tens of thousands of children arrive in the UK with little or no English. Most will lag behind their peers by two or more years in school performance. The dangers of a second-generation underclass are very apparent according to Jackson. We need to ensure that all children are reaching their potential.

In the last four years, the number of students in primary and secondary state schools learning English as an additional language (EAL) has leapt by nearly 150,000, to just under 800,000. Twelve per cent of the school population now require EAL teaching, rising to 50 per cent in inner London. This number now makes this a very significant issue and one which we as teachers need to ensure we have secure knowledge on to make sure we give children the best possible chance in life.

Recent findings have shown a decrease in spending for primary schools, Michael Gove a key lib democrat has said that the government¿½s pupil premium will lead to funding cuts for some schools, increasing however the budgets of schools with a higher proportion of poor children. However in relation to EAL children they do not necessarily come from poor backgrounds and therefore will have there funding cut which leads to fewer resources to help aid them. (24 October 2010).

Speaking and listening is a very important aspect within the primary curriculum not only developing their speaking and listening skills but also improving children¿½s social and interaction skills which are important for later on in life. With the current context of EAL children and the fact that there has been such a significant increase of the amount of EAL children schools it is important that speaking and listening is explicitly and implicitly taught to EAL children. Ferson says that, ¿½until children get their English sorted out they can¿½t fulfil their potential.¿½ It is therefore important that we as teachers teach children that, ¿½talk is valued at school, that it is not second best to reading and writing as a measure of ability¿½ (Browne, 2009:8). We need to prepare all children with these life skills.

When teaching speaking and listening we need to be aware of the four strands, these are; speaking, listening and responding, group discussion and interaction/drama. We as teachers need to be able to build links between them as crucial to successful learning in English.

David Bell- head OFSTED. In his paper Speak, listen, Learn pointed out some issues that we as teachers may find with the increasing number of EAL pupils. Although it is necessary to point out that the paper was wrote in 2004 and therefore strategies like the excellence and enjoyment paper have been put in place to try and rectify some of these problems however due to the differences in strategies different schools adopt some of the issues are still very apparent. We as teachers may find that Due to lack of basic skill-impact on their ability to learn may in turn cause behavioural problems and according to Bell speaking and listening are key to this problem. The excellence and enjoyment papers were introduced in 2004, “These materials give teachers systematic ways of developing classroom talk through drama and group techniques as well as strategies for listening and non-verbal communication,” says Ken Boston, chief executive of the QCA.

Speaking and listening is also key in developing children¿½s abilities to read and write according to Richard Ludlow, head teacher at Ralph Butterfield Primary, agrees. He says that a focus on speaking and listening skills can help raise standards throughout Key Stages 1 and 2, particularly in literacy. “If you can articulate your ideas, then you have a greater chance of being able to put them down on paper,”

The implications of being an EAL child and leaning English in primary schools is that

Research into the acquisition of second language indicates that children can take up to two years to develop ¿½basic interpersonal communication skills¿½ (playground / street survival language) but it can take from five to seven years or more, to acquire the full range of literacy skills (¿½cognitive academic language proficiency¿½) needed to cope with the literacy demands of the curriculum. Therefore it is difficult for teachers not to just label the child as lower ability.

Under the speaking and listening guidelines and the national curriculum programmes of study there are four assessment focuses. These are; AF1 Talking to others, this involves the children talking in purposeful and imaginative ways, exploring ideas and feelings etc. AF2 is talking with others, this is how well the children listen and respond to others. AF3 talking within role-play and drama, using different roles and scenarios etc and finally AF4, talking about talk, this is where the children understand a range of spoken language and its meaning/impact. AF4 also strengthens pupils’ cultural understanding about how English varies locally and globally, and what such variations reveal about identity and cultural diversity. This is particularly important for EAL children and is a useful tool for encouraging EAL children to get involved.

When assessing a common scale for EAL children as recommended by QCA in the document A Language in Common. This scale provides two steps before national curriculum level 1 in English. The additional descriptors are taken from the extended scale of assessment of EAL developed by NASSEA and have been a means of supporting teachers in their understanding of the process of EAL acquisition. This is an important tool for assessing EAL children.

Speaking and Listening underpins the whole curriculum and will therefore be assessed in a number of situations across the curriculum or indeed outside of the school day (homework clubs, hobby clubs, performance in assemblies, etc)

We can collect evidence of achievement when activities have been specifically set up to teach and assess Speaking and Listening and the criteria for success are very clear and have been shared with the children. The planned activity includes substantial oral or group work, which may be related to other aspects of English or another curriculum area. Contribution is recognised as excellent or significant for a particular child incidental or spontaneous opportunities arise.

When assessing speaking and listening we need to be clear about what is being assessed. It is not the accent or dialect that is being assessed, the length of the contribution. But it is the effectiveness of their talk, including adaptation to purpose, context and audience; a contribution that shows positive and flexible work in groups; a contribution that builds on that of others. This is important to note especially with EAL children as the accent and dialect would be different but this is not what we are aiming to look at to be able to assess them appropriately.

using appropriate mathematical language in maths can be made through the use of bilingual strategies. Speaking and listening skills are ¿½crucial to the development of a child¿½s strategies for learning mathematics, a process in which language is a vital element¿½ (Williams, 2008:78). Mathematics has a range of specific vocabulary, which any child may not use or hear frequently in their home environment. As a result of developing speaking and listening skills in literacy, an EAL learner can also progress in maths sessions.

Mooney (2007) suggests that display can form part of your teaching strategies. By displaying mathematical models around the classroom, lower attaining children can be supported visually even when they are not receiving direct support from the teacher. ¿½Number lines and number squares might be part of a semi permanent display but can also be used to emphasise specific issues such as ¿½difference¿½.¿½ (Mooney, 2007:31)

The Model building approach to solving word problems was developed locally years ago by Hector Chee, are weak in the Mathematical language; they have limited understanding of the arithmetic operations; they are unable to relate the known¿½s to the unknowns when the problem structure is difficult to understand; and they are unable to analyze problem situations.

This method is especially useful when: you teach kids who respond better to visual stimuli (e.g. pictures, drawings, etc);

Because of the interrelating nature of the subject children who have difficulties in mathematics may sometimes appear to feel even more lost and disempowered than those who encounter problems in other subjects.¿½ (Frederickson and Cline, 2009, pp. 387-388). For pupils with EAL particular sources of difficulty would be confusions between trying to achieve mathematical understanding and trying to learn mathematical procedures. Increased anxiety, relating particularly to problems of mis-communication. Barwell (2002) has shown how ¿½real life maths problems¿½ and ¿½word problems¿½ create additional challenges for pupils learning EAL.

One of the problems of teaching mathematics to EAL children are that the vocabulary is challenging. Some words are used only in mathematical English and are therefore unfamiliar until children have been taught them e.g. parallelogram, while some other words are used confusingly with different meanings in mathematical English and ordinary English. When questioning and assessing we need to ensure that every question tests the mathematical skills of the child, not their English comprehension. (Burwell et al. 1998, p. 22)

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To overcome this children could make effective use of concrete support materials such as interlocking cubes, a number track or a number line.(www.teachingexpertise.com). Using concrete support like this is key to helping EAL children and providing visual stimulus but due to the current climate major cutbacks in primary school funding will inadvertently leave resources to the minimum, this will ultimately effect our teaching the learning, and the outcome of assessments of EAL children. The way to overcome this would be to be prepared to make our own resources however there is only so much that we can do in replacement of resources.

The following suggestions for teachers draw on guidelines developed by Manchester City Council’s Ethnic Minority Achievement Service and elaborate on the guidance to be found in the booklet Aiming High: Understanding the educational needs of minority ethnic pupils in mainly white schools (DfES0416/2004). Encourage the use of bilingual and/or picture dictionaries. Encourage the use of home language for content learning, discussion and the development of new concepts. Support for the first language will enhance, not hinder, the acquisition of English. Whenever possible, pair the child with a proficient speaker of their home language. Provide visual support such as artefacts, pictures, videos, computer programmes and so on, to help comprehension. Use graphic organisers such as pie charts, graphs, pictograms, tables and grids to present curriculum content with reduced language input. All of the above are usual in helping to aid EAL children however are all timely and resources cost money which schools are now lacking in due to the new government.

The renewed Framework for literacy and mathematics provides an excellent opportunity for practitioner dialogue in planning for the learning and teaching for bilingual learners who may be beginners or advanced learners of EAL. It provides a clearer set of outcomes for learning progression in literacy and mathematics for all children. Raises expectations about the achievements of bilingual learners. Supports specific planning for personalised learning to provide access to the curriculum. Secures appropriate intervention for those children who need it. The incorporation of speaking and listening strands into the renewed Framework makes explicit the centrality of speaking and listening not only as a communicative skill in its own right but also as the bedrock of literacy and mathematics development.

Planning for EAL learners is most effective when: contexts for learning are relevant, motivating and culturally inclusive, it provides opportunities for speaking and listening, collaborative work and other strategies for language development, for learning and how both language learning and language use will be assessed. DfES (2004) Excellence and Enjoyment: Planning and assessment for learning: Designing opportunities for learning

How can EAL learners begin ¿½to speak Mathematics¿½ (Barwell, 2007). In one sense taking this literally enables us to question how children internalise the language of Mathematical discourse. There are certain activities especially those relating to vocabulary associated with abstract concepts (e.g. problem solving) that some pupils learning EAL find challenging. We also know that all children develop their mathematical skills more when involved in inclusive collaborative activities, especially those that invite active participation. Examples from primary classrooms supporting this approach are plentiful. (www.naldic.org.uk). There is a widely shared view amongst classroom practitioners that good practice for EAL learners is good practice for all children¿½ although we might argue that good practice alone, and this itself is open to interpretation, will not secure learning for all bilingual learners. The Primary National Strategy (DfES,2003) acknowledges that language provides the means for children to conceptualise mathematics as well as develop their own thinking.

There is lots of research demonstrating the advantages of bilingualism and EAL children The most recent of these being, Cummins, 1981, 1996. There is research which looks at specific pedagogical approaches that are relevant to second language development the most recent being, Gibbons 2002, Issa, 2005 and Leung, 2006. There is also some Government documentation suggesting that supporting the development of the mathematical aspect of children¿½s home languages is likely to have positive outcomes for their mathematical learning (DfES, 2002). However, not all schools work under similar conditions. The challenges faced by teachers vary and are influenced by different factors. These being all too apparent and therefore causing differences in the EAL child¿½s development.

The challenges that are presented to bilingual learners whose major source of formal learning is in their second language are obviously many. Specialist mathematical vocabulary e.g. equilateral, probability, remainder, estimate. Ways of talking, including spoken and written forms of mathematical explanation and the demands of the social context of mathematical problems. (www.naldic.org.uk)

Ease of access to mathematics also depends on the type of mathematical problem the child is attempting. Barwell (2007), in particular, notes the assessment activities that are most challenging. These include written investigation, textbook exercise and, more challenging still, formal written and mental arithmetic tests. We therefore need to ensure that we are testing the child¿½s mathematics skills and not their English skills.

Cummins (1981) four dimensions quadrant provides a useful framework for EAL learners, this suggests this represents a way of thinking about communicative proficiency. The horizontal continuum refers to the amount of contextual support available to the pupil. Context embedded learning opportunities exist when there is a good degree of support in communication, including via body language. Cummins¿½ examples include ¿½pointing to objects, using the eyes, head nods, hand gestures and intonation¿½. We could summarise these as providing plenty of visual cues for children learning EAL. Cummins suggests that such approaches make content meaningful and accessible. Teachers who plan highly interactive Maths lessons with plenty of visual support, animation and gestures are paving the way for introducing more abstract, or using Cummins¿½ terminology ¿½context reduced, cognitively demanding¿½, tasks.

Although some children may not have highly developed literacy skills in their home language(s) they may have good oral skills. These skills can be utilised and turned to children¿½s advantage. In thinking about the properties of a square, the teacher may focus on the word equal as part of the key vocabulary by asking children to think about finding the same concept/ word in their own language. This will enable them to use their linguistic repertoires to construct meaning and enhance their own conceptual development. This generates an automatic ¿½reinforcement mechanism¿½ within the child¿½s ¿½central operating system¿½ (see Cummins¿½ Iceberg analogy, 1980a) as they try to devise a mental picture of the concept. Regardless of whether the child is successful in establishing the link or not the outcome is positive as the very process sets into motion the process of internalisation of the concept i.e. the child is actively thinking about forming an association of the same concept between languages. The teacher provides concepts and visual representations that would help children to make the conceptual and linguistic links.

Internationally strategies have been developed to help children with maths. The Realistic Mathematics Project in the Netherlands has developed the work of Gravemeijer (1994) which helps children develop different levels of mathematical skills. This is called mathematisation. Children were involved in working through mathematical problems in a familiar context, such as getting on and off the bus. Many mathematical situations/vocabulary can be modelled through this process. In UK, a similar project was developed using children¿½s cultural experiences through handling concrete resources to help their understanding of concepts. Here children worked in collaborative groups and were given opportunities to use both languages in role-play situations (Issa, 2005). This provided very useful in helping children achieve their learning goals, however as previously stated getting appropriate resources is costly. Also providing personalised learning for each individual child is timely but necessary.

When we are looking at specific strategies to support children learning EAL we need to take account of their bilingualism. Children¿½s language competence, in English as well the home language, will vary and this variation needs to be taken into account .

Cummins¿½ quadrant is an aid to planning through. Use of first language by pupils in clarifying concepts and exploring vocabulary. Use of visual cues, including gesture, diagrams, concrete examples etc. Extensive use of peer talk in collaborative contexts to clarify and question understanding. Use of a range of examples to illustrate and clarify a concept

The importance of mathematical language can never be underestimated and we have been reminded in recent Williams review of its importance in developing our pupil¿½s mathematical skills and understanding. The importance is stressed on a number of occasions in the review of simply talking about mathematics and of recognising that maths itself is in some respects a new language ¿½ with this key message in mind we need to ensure all our children have opportunities to discuss their mathematics and how for our children with English as an additional language, we will need to support and scaffold their opportunities to enable these pupils to participate, communicate and reason in mathematics. In considering the needs of our vast range of EAL pupils in our schools who need their language skills developed, we must remember that these pupils are often very capable mathematicians but their skills are sometimes under estimated due to the initial language barrier.

As teachers, we need to ensure our lesson opportunities meet the needs of all our learners which is increasingly challenging. The range of support we provide for our pupils is personalised to the children and needs the full cooperation of the pupil, teacher and their parents and carers this is especially important when working with EAL children. EAL children have not got special educational needs and are often very able mathematicians but the language in mathematics is their barrier to either solving the calculation or problem. As teachers it is important to diagnose when an error is caused by language proficiency or a mathematical difficulty. We must keep our expectation high and ensure the opportunities we provide enable the children to be challenged and also enable them to access the mathematics. They do not need to do ¿½simpler¿½ mathematics only ¿½clearer¿½ mathematics and we need to provide opportunities that enable them to engage with the learning and convey and develop their mathematical ability.

Within our daily lessons of course the main difficulty is the limited knowledge of our language EAL children have to access the content of the mathematics lesson. Therefore, it is important to make the content of our lessons accessible and in context with the experiences that our EAL pupils have had. Picture resources can be created to allow pupils to choose items from a menu where they have a certain amount of money to spend, if the items reflect a range of EAL children¿½s foods as well as our traditional food then pupils will engage and access better what they have to do. It is also worth remembering that like many of our English-speaking children the opportunity to handle real money regularly in daily life is quite limited nowadays and that these pupils are unfamiliar with our coins and values. This is an area where extra support can be invaluable from a teaching assistant or parent in reinforcing an aspect like this, which may be essential knowledge for a future lesson.

The mathematical signs should be visible and accessible by EAL pupils to develop strong mathematical skills, but the variety of language attached to each symbol needs further support to develop. (www.naldic.org.uk). We can make these ourselves if resource money is tight which of course would be very time consuming and could have a knock on effect on other learners if all your time is focused on EAL learners, therefore using TA¿½s and outside support could be one of the most useful resources.

In conclusion, EAL pupils do need extra support and time along with resources to help aid them in their learning. However with appropriate assessment and ongoing help EAL pupils can reach their full potential. With the current climate more issues are raised about resources and funds for outside agencies help but we as teachers are able to do other things to help the children thrive in their new environment.


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