ACADEMIC ENGLISH LEARNERS - A PROPOSED SOLUTION

Jan 25 2018

ACADEMIC ENGLISH LEARNERS - A PROPOSED SOLUTION

In the previous article I wondered if EAL/ESOL/ESL/EFL were all outdated and complicated ways of classifying students in our classrooms, making a case for removing these categories. If these categories are redundant, a shift needs to take place in the mainstream teaching mentality, and I don’t believe that simply providing EAL/ESL training to staff is the solution. Why? Because the training is too narrow. As I mentioned in the previous article, this teaching strategy overlooks many groups of ‘English-speaking’ students, leaving them without much-needed language support. Many students are conversationally strong, but academically weak in English – for example a student switching from a French Immersion program to the English program. My proposal is not to make new categories of students, but instead to provide mainstream classroom teachers with the tools to meet the needs of all Academic English learners, a whole class approach. If we can shift teachers’ mindset into one that views all students as language learners and show teachers how language can help students access the curriculum, then we will have a class of students who are academically and conversationally strong in English. Academically strong English is key to student success in every subject in the curriculum, and crucial to students’ success in post-secondary education. I believe planners could be part of the answer to changing how teachers accommodate the language needs of all students. A possible solution, depending on the school, the framework in place, and the students, is simply this when mapping out a unit plan:

In the above table I have used Cambridge and the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), but alternate curriculums and frameworks could be used instead. In the above simplified mainstream teacher planner, you can already predict the shift that could occur in a teacher’s mindset once the planner is implemented. A teacher begins their planning by listing subject, and subject goals. Then the teacher is required to list the vocabulary and grammar that will be covered, and finally scaffolds the delivery through meeting the differing language objectives – first listing language objectives of a curriculum such as Cambridge, and then scaffolding objectives through the CEFR or equivalent. The last column is for class activities and assessments, and here the teacher would be required to brainstorm activities and assessments, and how they could be scaffolded for the students. Through this, a teacher begins to view all students as Academic English language learners. Think about the changes in the delivery of the lessons, perhaps they would always begin with the teaching/review of key vocabulary. What would change in how instructions were given, how learning materials would be chosen and developed, how activities would be laid out, how assessments would be created … would any student’s language needs be ignored? Is it possible to meet the language needs of all students in a classroom and ensure all learners can access the curriculum? It very well could be…. 

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