NASSEA Conference: International New Arrivals

Just overnight after the British Council EAL Nexus Seminar, on the 9th of May 2014, I attended NASSEA‘s EAL International New Arrivals conference in Manchester. NASSEA stands for The Northern Association of Support Services for Equality and Achievement.

Essentially, this 1-day conference that my school sent me on was an EAL teacher’s dream come true! You know those times when you know for a fact that at every step of the way you are surrounded by people who essentially speak your mind? Well, that was exactly it!

It was such a great networking opportunity – I met some great people and some have sought me out, which I thought was very flattering! Apparently, my intensified activity on the EAL Google Group, run by NALDIC, has been noticed! Do join the group, by the way. It’s a terrific way to get any answers you might have about EAL answered and to make sure you never miss any event regarding EAL and bilingualism in the country! It’s at: https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!forum/eal-bilingual

First of all, I inspected the book stall that was right there in the hall and in no time picked the following books, which I wholeheartedly can recommend now:

  • Chris Pim’s 100 Ideas for Supporting Learners with EAL
    • This book is just full of ideas for both classroom and whole-school inclusion of EAL learners and has quite possibly been my “bible” for the past few years. It is invaluable at any school. I’ve had it rented before from libraries – now it’s finally my own!
  • Alice Washbourne’s EAL Pocketbook
    • Much like Chris Pim’s book, this book is terrific as it’s short, full of useful ideas and ideal for otherwise busy subject teachers. Recommended for any English / EAL and, quite frankly, Director of Inclusion shelf
  • Madeleine Graf’s Including and Support Learners of English as an Additional Language
    • This book is an excellent and essential read for trainee teachers and NQTs: includes chapters on Language Acquisition, Language-Rich Environment, Assessment and General Strategies for EAL learners. It’s more of a “proper” book, i.e. it’s more academic and goes into more detail of the issues at hand, giving the background to EAL learners and their inclusion in England and Wales.
  • Norah McWilliam’s What’s in a Word? Vocabulary Development in Multilingual Classrooms
    • This is the book I am reading right now and I am loving it from the get-go! Essentially, it gives insights into how to develop children’s vocabulary through increasing teachers’ understanding of how words and their meanings underpin the way children learn regardless of the subject. It helps teachers plan and develop resources for ‘word-aware’ (as the author calls it) curriculum and pay attention to children’s cultural background. Whether or not you are a language expert / linguist, I think you’ll love this book – it’s beautifully written in an engaging and passionate way. And whichever subject you teach, whether or not you are a teacher of EAL, you should know about this. Do pick it up!

The conference was divided into talks and workshops. The speakers included NALDIC’s Frank Monaghan and Collaborative Learning’s Stuart Scott. Frank was talking about EAL – Testing the Limits of Phonics – delivering a critique of the type of phonics approach where children learn about them without any understanding of what these words might actually mean. He brought us Anne Hardy’s conclusion that EAL children, unlike monolingual ones, are tasked with making sense of the new words’ meaning; thus, such approaches are unfriendly towards EAL children in particular. One of his slides stated that there is consensus in research on phonics teaching being necessary in reading, but not sufficient. And yet, there are so many schools who use phonics-teaching-only approaches! Food for thought for other teachers here who might be unquestioning towards these approaches.

Inside the venue… a break!

I was really interested by the talk delivered by Assistant Head Teacher at a secondary school in Manchester.This school has 65% EAL students with 42 at Level 1 and Level 2 NASSEA levels. Ms Zarar, the speaker, let us know how her school successfully meets the challenge of teaching these students. Their whole-school approach involves:

  • differentiation of materials,
  • cooperative learning groups,
  • INSET sessions to all teachers on NASSEA levels,
  • combining EAL and literacy groups,
  • using VLE – teachers sharing practice,
  • half-termly review cycles,
  • learning walks focusing on EAL,
  • the new data system SISRA filtering new admissions for EAL,
  • English language induction programmes: 2 hours a day in the first half term (first two lessons in the morning),
  • “English in a Flash” programme for 20 minutes a day,
  • English language schemes of work are based on NASSEA’s Step 1 and 2 levels,
  • Inclusion Leaders: students leading on different activities for New to English students,
  • EAL Parents forum, EAL classes for mums and parent volunteers are some of the ways the school uses to engage parents.

I was rather impressed by this!

I attended two workshops:

1. The New Grammar Curriculum – a Blessing or a Curse for EAL Learners? – focused on the new grammar / spelling test to be present in the New Curriculum, which is going to test areas such as grammar, word classes, function of sentences, combining words and phrases and formal vs. informal language. The areas of this likely to be difficult for EAL learners will be finding synonyms and antonyms out of context, connectives, irregular plurals and identifying verbs. No one in the workshop group seemed to think that grammar / spelling should not be taught, but we did think that the assessments should be designed better and that they were unfriendly towards EAL learners. The workshop’s conclusion was that grammar has to be taught in a contextual manner, otherwise it’s going to be a curse for EAL learners and that grammatical knowledge EAL learners might have from their L1 should be taken into account. What do you think?

2. EU ‘What’s Working’ Project: Parental Engagement and Involvement with School through a flexible Parent Contract. I went to this workshop because engaging parents is something I – and perhaps many others – struggle with. This provided me with a whole host of ideas on how to improve communication and collaboration with parents. Whilst the EU Project reported on, which was trialed in Manchester, dealt with Roma parents and communities. Of particular value, I found a form we were given, which was essentially a contract with parents focusing on areas such as engaging with school routines, supporting homework, supporting learning at home, school achievement and school attendance. However, rather than making the parents do thinks, the project asked them at the very beginning which aspects of school life / education of their children they would be able to help with and the contract was based on this. What a great idea! I can’t wait to try it out myself next time I have the chance!

All in all a terrific conference – all now remains is: 1. put some of these ideas into practice and try them out, 2. wait for the next year’s conference!

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