8th NALDIC and Humberside RIG report

NALDIC’s 8th Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Interest Group (RIG) meeting took place at Newland School for Girls in Hull, on the 26th of February 2015. I was very proud to be hosting it at my school – didn’t take that much to make the arrangements on my side; it really did feel that Dianne Excell, NALDIC Regional Interest Groups Co-ordinator, had organized all of it and the event pretty much ran by itself!

The event started at 4pm with a few minutes of networking whilst different EAL professionals and mainstream teachers, including some with senior leadership teams in our area, arrived at the venue.

Dianne Excell, EAL and Literacy Co-ordinator from Bradford, started the event with a short introduction, based on the pre-reading task we had been given by Jean Conteh, University of Leeds. The pre-reading journal article was Struggling Reader or Emerging Biliterate Studedent? Reevaluating the Criteria for Labeling Emerging Bilingual Students as Low Achieving by S.Hopewell and K.Escamilla. The article criticizes the fact that monolingual language assessment frameworks are frequently used to assess emerging EAL learners (aka new arrivals), thus giving an inaccurate picture of their actual linguistic ability. The very beginning of the article poses a question: should a learner who is bilingual be even compared with a monolingual speaker/learner at all? The article suggests that incorrect understanding of bilingual learners’ abilities leads to paying for expensive remedial programmes offered to them (in the UK think: reading interventions), so even from a purely financial point of view, it is problematic. The article reports on a study analysing the same set of data, but using different ideology frameworks (parallel monolingualism and holistic bilingualism). It finds that an entirely different (statistically significant) story is told when the different frameworks are used. The article reminds us that there is no assessment – at least not yet – that is valid and that provides us with more than a partial view of students’ language and literacy achievement. In addition, whilst the article is placed in the US context, it is easy to make a link between what it says and the English assessment circumstances: our standardised assessment tools do not take into consideration the fact that bilingual and multilingual learners have access to more cognitive and linguistic resources than monolinguals do – these can and often do help them progress academically, socially and culturally. In other words, we do have a problem here: bilingual and multilingual learners are disadvantaged by the assessment systems we have as it does not take their specific context into consideration.

Diane Leedham took the stage next, presenting on Implications for EAL learners in assessment without levels and some ideas. Diane  is a Deputy Director of EAL NEXUS Project for the British Council and Co-opted Member of NALDIC Executve Committee and had travelled all the way from London to Hull for the event (much appreciated, Diane!). Diane said that ‘no levels’ is an opportunity for schools, (allowing) to think about individuals rather than whole cohorts. She referred us to a government website reporting on a competition inviting schools to design their own assessment systems, which then could be shared with other schools. 8 successful school were to be given up to £10,000 to turn their models into systems easy to use by other schools. Some of these sound quite interesting – have a look at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/schools-win-funds-to-develop-and-share-new-ways-of-assessing-pupils.

Diane also shared http://chris.edutronic.net/unlock-achievement/ , a blog of an English department, which dropped the Level 4A, 5B, 6A levels entirely and has instead started using achievement linked to areas, e.g. Writing a Perfect Paragraph, Performing a Shakespearian Soliloquy and Analysing an Extended Text. Students there individual programmes of learning and detailed exemplars, and unlock digital badges to actually signify success. In other words, students get success from knowing what they can do rather than knowing their levels! Chris Edutronic calls the numerical levels “a travesty”, in fact.

Diane referred also to Isn’t Assessing Without Levels Just Good Teaching? by Fulbridge Academy, who believe that the absence of levels might mean more interaction with children and enabling teachers to focus more on questioning, modelling and explaining for the benefit of learners.

Now, what this actually means for EAL learners is that they might be able to not be tied into National Curriculum levels at your school, i.e. it might be possible to treat them individually and track their progress as individuals rather than parallel to NC. By showing us a slide with an image of infinity, she reminded us that students don’t always just go up – sometimes you dip a little before you go up – we don’t always go up in a straight line. Diane spoke of the idea of a Flight Path, a model that does not presuppose that progress over time is linear. To understand more about this, please read: https://chrishildrew.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/tracking-progress-over-time-flight-paths-and-matrices/– it’s a good example of what she was talking about.

Caroline Skipper, the Head of St Nicholas Primary School in Hull, just around the corner from ours, spoke next – on Initial AssessmentShe referred to the dramatic increase in the number of EAL learners in Hull, and what her school has been doing to meet the learning needs of their EAL students. The school has produced an Induction Pack which is very helpful to students and their parents/carers. It includes the basic information about the school, names of teachers, timings of school days, rules about behaviour, uniform, assemblies, lunch and emergencies, presented in visually-attractive and accessible way.

Caroline also spoke of Talking Partners – a programme they use to boost EAL children’s literacy skills. I have already written about it on this blog – please see this post, but I am copying the information on this intervention programme into here as well:

Talking Partners Programme was developed in Bradford. Please check their website to learn more about the programme. It is kind of linked to what I am already inspired by – that is, getting children to talk more: enabling them to be better speakers across the curriculum; better at independent speaking and listening. It’s a targeted 10-week long intervention. It is suggested to be used with up to 3 children at a time. The programme provides opportunities to practice and rehearse language through a number of activities. It provides children with opportunities to use and hear language in meaningful context and by doing so – develop their speaking skills.

There is intensive training for teachers and HLTAs prior to the programme. There is a full pack of resources, frameworks for teaching and assessment. It does look rather impressive. You might also want to read a NALDIC article related to the article at: http://www.naldic.org.uk/Resources/NALDIC/Professional%20Development/Documents/Con12AKJH.pdf

 Caroline reported that the programme, in her school, boosts confidence. It is particularly helpful because it is run in small groups and a lot of praise is particularly beneficial to children as is the use of cooperative learning. St Nicholas Primary School does it 3×20 minutes per week. If you are in the secondary sector, there is a version of the programme for secondary.

There is, it turns out, also Talking Maths programme, developed by Liverpool Mathematics Team and supported by Liverpool EMTAS – it’s based on the principles underpinning the Talking Partners programmes. It targets children’s speaking and listening skills, seeing that these are important for the development of thinking strategies when solving Maths problems, supports EAL children with the learning of mathematical vocabulary, but also supports children who may show some maths competence and would benefit from developing their understanding of mathematical language in the context of Maths, and supports teachers and TAs by teaching them how to model good mathematical language and questioning. Read more on this at http://www.educationworks.org.uk/what-we-do/mathematics/talking-maths.html – it certainly looks promising!

Emma Jamen and Chris Smith, teachers at The Co-operative Academy, Leeds, delivered a presentation for us on their school’s EAL model. The Co-operative Academy is attended by more than 65% EAL students, with more than 44% born outside the UK. They have an increasing Gypsy Roma population, and the school admits more than 100 international new arrivals every year. 16% of students are assessed (at the time of Emma and Chris’s presentation) to be on Step 4 or below of SLA.

There is a massive amount of interventions provided for EAL learners – I was rather impressed! There is an EAL Break Club (homework support, games and reading), Basic Literacy Intervention (Active Literacy Kit), EAL Club Enrichment, Units of Sound Programme, Talking Partners intervention, Accelerated Reader and lots of mentoring going on! Students on Step 1 and Step 2 levels are withdrawn for 2 hours per week. Others are withdrawn for EAL classes for 1 lesson only.

Emma and Chris spoke of how EAL learners are differentiated for at their academy. Strategies used include: talk for learning/ buddies, withdrawals, interventions, dictionary skills- use of dictionaries in own language, first language use, differentiation of resources, adaptation of resources – level and quantity of language, adaptation of topics – considering students’ cultural backgrounds, scaffolding & sentence starters and support with homework.

I wouldn’t mind visiting the Academy and seeing it all in action myself!

Sally Hall, a Teaching and Learning Consultant, came up next to talk about Guidance and strategies to support the assessment of EAL pupils in Leeds schools. Now, a lot of what she was talking about related to Early Years, but there’s always something transferable that you can take away and port to other stages! First of all, in Leeds, they have produced a guidance sheet on how to assess the Early Learning Goals (ELG) for EAL children. The Guidance sheet includes ELGs (much like NASSEA descriptors) and explanatory notes and some further explanatory guidance. This is divided into 9 different levels, which are also divided into Communication and Language, Physical Development, Personal Social and Emotional Development, Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the Word and Expressive Arts and Design. What sets it apart, however, in particular, from other documents of this sort is the fact that there are three different colours used for different type of evidence: blue for observational evidence of child’s actions, yellow for observational in nature with some knowledge of what the child says in L1 or L2 is required, and purple requires specific language assessment. So, for instance, purple would be used for Literacy, but blue for parts of physical development.

The guidance from Leeds provides support for teachers by giving examples of EAL assessments from different contexts – from the perspective of children themselves. It also shows the importance of L1, observing what children are doing and the role of parents and the home. The assessment of language itself uses EAL Steps and is in line with the new national curriculum. The steps themselves start with Pre-Step 1 and finish with Step 5 – each step has a number of points attached to it. The descriptors, helpfully, mostly start with the word can , therefore making it easier to describe what the pupil can do.

There is a booklet of activities that EAL pupils are to complete to support the Steps assessment. The activities cover speaking and listening, reading, writing and Maths. They include a lot of visuals, with activities focusing on verbs, prepositions, sequencing pictures to tell a story (helpful!), sound recognition, tracing letters, counting objects (Maths) and naming shapes (Maths).

At this point, the networking and sustenance break came, and I was able to have a lovely and very interesting conversation with Caroline Skipper, exchanging ideas and views on the status and circumstances of EAL learners in Hull. Caroline is a truly lovely person, with a great dedication and empathy.

Following the break, it was my own turn to deliver a short presentation on The Draft New and Improved NASSEA EAL Assessment FrameworkIn light of the fact the we now have a no-levels situation in England, NASSEA is currently in the process of re-doing their EAL assessment framework. A draft of this new framework has recently been released, with the final product to be produced by October 2015. I’ve removed photos of the actual booklet for copyright reasons, particularly since it’s not a finished product yet, but you should still be able to get the gist of what the new assessment framework entails by looking at PowerPoint presentation below:

Please go to NASSEA’s website to find out more should you wish to purchase the trial version of the framework.

Dianne Excell then presented cross curricular strategy mats and educational resources developed by Lynne Blackburn, EAL Co-ordinator at Belle Vue Boys’ School, Bradford, linked to the original NASSEA Steps. There were some extremely useful and practical ideas there for mainstream teachers working with their EAL students such as: DARTs (clozes, true/false activities, labelling, unscrambling activities), modelling answers through the use of building up sentences, providing writing frames and showing models of finished products, using visuals and more!

Lynne Blackburn has developed a sheet that could – and should – be used for lesson planning (for EAL learners) by mainstream teachers. It’s a very simple idea – it’s a grid divided into three sections: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. The Beginner part of the sheet is coloured in red, Intermediate in orange, and Advanced in yello. For each of the levels 8 different strategies is provided. Lynne suggests – and Dianne reiterated this for us – that this placed on every teacher’s desk at the school for easy reference.

Lynne suggests a strategy for teaching new vocabulary, too – by using mind maps. The new word is written in the middle of the sheet with boxes to be filled in provided around it asking about different information about the word (the definition, an antonym, think of a symbol for it, where do you find it?, image – draw it, a synonym and use it in a sentence). Having heard about it at both the NALDIC RIG and later at Peterborough TeachMeet from Diane Leedham, I have adapted it for my own purposes and have been using this in my own beginner EAL classes. See below:

word map-page0001




Please note! I do not assume ownership of this resource – it’s only adapted!

For a large number of EAL and language teaching resources, please visit Therese O’Sullivan’s resources (https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/eal-strategies-mats-6450915) and Lynne Blackburn’s resources (https://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/eal-strategies-mat-6350772  , Username: andorian)

Chris Dixon came to see us all the way from Sheffield, where he is doing a PhD and he spoke to us about his research: Literacy development for EAL learners at KS2His research is supervised by Dr Silke Fricke and Dr Jenny Thompson and focuses on how children’s literacy development can be supported between Year 4 and Year 6 in their education. First, he reminded us of some of the benefits of bilingualism: greater efficiency at relaying information, boosting brain power by changing the mind’s “white matter” and potentially delaying the onset of the Alzheimer’s disease (all according to Chris’s slides). But, of course, Chris said, this perception of the advantages of bilingualism has not always been recognized in society. He spoke of how in the first half of the century, bilingualism was associated with “mental confusion” and “linguistic handicap” (as reported in MacNamara, 1966: Bilingualism and Primary Education). He also said that earlier measurements were administered in weaker languages and SES (socio-economic status) was not controlled for, and when it was (Peel and Lambert, 1962), it was found that bilinguals appeared to have a more diverse set of mental abilities than monolingual speakers. There is more that Chris referred to and reported on, but he concluded this part of his talk by saying that bilingualism is neither good nor bad – as it’s affected by a number of factors.

He reminded us the linguistic development of mono- and bilinguals shares a lot of features. First words and word combinations appear at the same ages, similar trajectory of early literacy (Lesaux and Siegel, 2003: The Development of Reading in Children Who Speak English as a Second Language), difficulties in language development can be predicted using similar criteria. However, he said that bilingualism has distinct advantages, e.g. transfer (between languages) may account for stronger phonological awareness especially where phonemes are shared. Text reading accuracy and decoding skills are usually good in bilinguals. But, he says, there are also disadvantages: such as frequently lower oral language skills when compared to children’s monolingual peers, particularly in terms of lexis.

Chris Dixon’s own research came about as he’s noticed there is very little research in the UK into EAL children in general (I agree!), looking at children prior to their transition to secondary schools, looking at their development over time and into how to improve the language and literacy of these children. He said that children learning EAL tend to underperform in relation to their monolingual peers, particularly when it comes to Literacy. In reading, in KS2, he says, there’s an 8% gap between native English speaking children and EAL children. He spoke of an EEF report (which is likely to be this one), which reported worst Literacy outcomes for Romanian, Lithuanian, Turkish, Portuguese and Polish students – even after controlling for SES.

In his research, he recruited 50 monolingual children and 65 bilingual children from certain schools in his area. The criteria were: no SEN, no dyslexia, and education from at least the age of 5. He is comparing monolinguals with bilinguals in terms of their linguistic, literacy and cognitive skills. He is interested in whether or not there are any gaps, how big they are (if any) and whether or not these change over time. If they do, what affects this?

He measures cognitive skills using non-verbal reasoning assessments, working memory tests and a computerised Simon Task. Language is measured by looking at receptive vocabulary, expressive vocabulary, vocabulary definitions, listening comprehension tasks and grammatical knowledge. Literacy is measured by looking at decoding skills, reading comprehension and spelling. In the second part of his research, he is intending to deliver interventions: he wants to have a meaningful partnership with schools, and tasks / interventions would be delivered by teaching assistants and perhaps parent volunteers there. In the third part of his research, Chris wishes to look at how home environment affects children’s learning and development. This would be done by questionnaires, but Chris anticipates lower response rate here.

So far, he has identified 18 potential schools. The data collection process is to be finished by 2017. Sounds like a very interesting and exciting PhD project to me!

The last presentation was from Jayne Merriman, from Havelock Academy in Grimsby. She outlined her MA research project for the University of Birmingham, focusing on Challenges for EAL learners in GCSE EnglishShe is interested in how the language of English GCSEs affects the attainment of EAL learners. As the reading age requirement of the GCSEs can be up to 14 years, this can be a barrier for some EAL learners, she says.

In her study, she has identified and explored the specific difficulties faced by EAL learners in the exam itself as well as in the classroom, and some differentiation strategies to help EAL learners. She has also recognized that the lack of understanding of academic content and vocabulary can be a barrier to EAL learners. For starters, she has conducted a survey with her EAL learners, which has revealed that 80% of her EAL learners do not understand lesson objectives and explanations. More than 93% EAL learners were not clear about what to do and did not find they had enough time to think. Overall, Jayne found they didn’t understand what they read, had difficulties constructing their answers and didn’t understand vocabulary in their lessons.

She proceeded to construct lessons to combat this issue, therefore. For starter activities, she began using images with wh- questions to develop their understanding of stories. She then devised a series of lessons: Lesson 1 was all about making sure they understood vocabulary with a lot of visual aids. Lesson 2 focused on literacy techniques, using highlighting and graphic organizers (she also provided additional help sheets). Lesson 3 focused on presenting the findings and included physically making PEE chains, revision posters and pictures showing the chronological order of events.

The successful event was closed by Dianne Excell – it was another terrific NALDIC event with opportunities for networking, exchanging ideas and improving our practice and learning from others. Very well attended, too! We had over 40 people from Hull, Humberside, Bradford, Doncaster, Scarborough, Sheffield, Leeds and London. I call it a success!

The next NALDIC RIG is to take place on 18th June 2015, 4:00 to 7:00pm at the Mary Woollett Centre in Doncaster. Keep checking the NALDIC website and EAL Bilingual for details!


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