English as an Additional Language: Exploring development and cultural awareness
The recent Newly Qualified Teachers survey in England highlighted the fact that teachers, as they start their new jobs are lacking in confidence when it comes to working with learners with English as an Additional Language; they did not generally feel that they had been prepared during training to manage this kind of learner. Colleagues from a range of Higher Education Institutions and Schools came together at the Lancaster campus of the University of Cumbria on 22 March for a TEAN event on this issue. The proportion of pupils in UK schools who use English as an additional language has doubled in a decade. In this increasingly multicultural society, the need for us all to gain a greater understanding of the specific challenges facing children who attend school with English as a second language, or who begin school unable to speak English is paramount.
We were delighted to welcome Dr Jean Conteh from the University of Leeds who gave an inspirational and informative opening keynote: ‘Global voices in local spaces: promoting diversity AND inclusion in schools and classrooms’. Dr Conteh has worked as a primary teacher and teacher educator in different countries for many years, including, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bulgaria and Poland. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a teacher educator on PGCE Primary, BA QTS and MA courses in West Yorkshire and has gained considerable experience in the growing field of English as an Additional Language (EAL). Jean stressed to us that we are dealing with ‘diversities’ not ‘diversity’ and presented compelling evidence that this is an issue for everyone in teaching and teacher education. She explained that the issue is very complex and, unfortunately, very confusing because of tensions between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ in national policies. What is an EAL learner? What does bilingual mean? What can we do in ITE? Jean addressed all these issues and more and her thought provoking presentation is available from this web page.
We next welcomed a fascinating session from Parminder Assi, a Senior Lecturer in Education and Professional Studies at Newman University College, Birmingham, and her colleague, Ruth Murad, Assistant Headteacher at Montgomery Primary, Sparkbrook, Birmingham. Parminder and Ruth presented a project which involves collaboration between an HEI and a partnership primary school (working with a small group of PGCE students undertaking a specialist module on supporting EAL). Parminder explained that the project is now in the third year of implementation and shared experiences of the process of planning, implementation and evaluation. Despite being from a Primary perspective, the processes experienced are applicable to the secondary phase in terms of effective provision for learners with English as an Additional Language. Ruth told us abut a programme she runs with Mums (and Dads ‘if they’ll come’); the important thing here is getting a relationship with the parents. Further to this, it is vital to let the children tell their stories and to give student teachers an understanding of others’ lives.
Judith Flynn from MMU gave the next input. Judith is a Senior Lecturer in English as an Additional Language and Bilingualism at Manchester Metropolitan University and she was able to provide another fascinating perspective to add to the debate. Judith echoed Ruth by reminding us that it is not just another language we are dealing with, it is understanding people. She has found that the more you engage the students, the more you gain the expertise, as it is the students who are working with the pupils, the students who develop the pedagogy. Getting students to use the pupils’ language is effective as is profiling a bilingual child. An important message from Judith is that the EAL specialist cannot do it all and, in fact, it does not need a specialist to drive this, simply someone who is interested. The outcomes so far show that students are becoming more confident as they reach the end of their course.
In a day packed with excellent presentations, our last presentation from Diane Warner completed the wealth of ideas on offer to delegates. Diane Warner is a Senior Lecturer in English and Education Studies at the University of Cumbria. Among her academic interests are classroom approaches for EAL pupils. Her presentation focused on small-scale practice-based work she has been undertaking with student teachers. Diane explained that she is making tentative and early moves forward in her own understandings of student teacher thinking and needs in the field of EAL at an institution such as Cumbria (almost exclusively English-White ethnicity). Delegates were asked to engage with examples of students working to ‘develop as culturally-aware teachers’, beginning their journey towards showing understanding that cultural awareness is a necessary part of teaching.
Between the input sessions, delegates discussed the issues in groups and here are the outcomes of their discussion. The delegates considered the challenges of EAL for Teacher Education and worked on ways forward to prepare student teachers to teach learners from minority ethnic backgrounds. The notes here offer a rich repository of ideas from across the sector, inspired by the input of the speakers of the day.