ACADEMIC ENGLISH LEARNERS - A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE

Jan 25 2018

ACADEMIC ENGLISH LEARNERS - A CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE

This blog is about thoughts and questions… after several attempts at writing an EAL blog and a conversation with a friend, a thought occurred – what if EAL/ESOL/ESL/EFL are all outdated ways of classifying students and thinking? I say this simply because of the changing population of students in our classrooms. We spend so much time trying to define who these learners are, and the language levels students need to be at to receive support etc.., but maybe this is the wrong way of looking at things. First, let’s take a look at some of the different kinds of students in our mainstream English classrooms today:

a) Students who move to an English-speaking country with limited or no English.

b) Students who speak English conversationally, but at home have parents who are not native English speakers, limiting these students’ level of English.

c) Students who have transferred out of an immersion program – such as a French Immersion program, and choose to switch into the English stream, my case in point growing up.

d) Students whose mother tongue is English, moved to another country, enrolled in a non-English school, then moved back to their home country and re-entered an English program.  Perhaps they continued to speak English during their time abroad with their parents, so conversationally maintained their language level.

e) Students who speak several languages at home, but maybe English isn’t their first language.

f) Students who are native English speakers.

g) Students at international English schools whose parents do not speak English as a first language, or perhaps not at all. Similar to a French Immersion program in Canada, where parents choose to enroll their child in the program, but may not speak French themselves.

What if instead of attempting to classify students into categories of English language learners and trying to determine who qualifies for extra support etc..., we simply view ALL students as Academic English learners – no additional categorization needed. In the above mentioned categories, how many students aren’t even considered for extra support because they enter a school with conversationally strong English? To be honest, in my experience, even those students who are native English speakers don’t necessarily understand every term thrown out in a classroom. How many would have been exposed to scientific and mathematical terms at home? How many are classroom taught by their parents at home? Perhaps assuming that all students in a classroom understand what is being said is unrealistic. So what does this mean for education, moving forward? Perhaps we need a shift in our outlook; perhaps it’s time that mainstream teachers change the way they view students in their classrooms and plan accordingly: perhaps it’s time we view all students as Academic English Learners. Maybe the need for ESL/EAL teachers is simply to provide pull-out survival English sessions for a limited period so these students can function in the classroom, and then leave the rest to the mainstream teacher. Instead of worrying about providing mainstream teachers with EAL training, simply give them the tools to teach and view all students as Academic English language learners. I remember reading a sentence written on an EAL room whiteboard: “Our role is to help students access the curriculum.  Should that not be the role of all teachers? 

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