The language of instruction at AAS is English: students learn in English. The change in language of instruction may be a challenge for students who are not proficient in that language. In fact, these students might need language support.
It is important to highlight the difference between social and academic language. Whilst a student might be proficient in the use of social English (everyday social situations, both written and spoken), he/she might not have been exposed to academic English (the language used in class and textbooks).
Every non-speaker of English joining the Middle School at AAS takes an English proficiency test (WIDA MODEL). Depending on the result, students may be chosen to take the EAL (English as an Additional Language) class in order to help them bridge the language gap and ensure better academic performance. In addition, the language support team works with classroom teachers to ensure that scaffolding and differentiation strategies are put in place for these students.
In the HS, the EAP class is available for students in grades 9 and 10. This class takes place during the elective block. Therefore, students enrolled in EAP are also able to take a foreign language.
Students joining the school in grades 11 or 12 are expected to have the desired level of proficiency in English which will allow them to cope with the demands of the IB programme without language support. EAL support can be provided on an exceptional basis.
Exiting the EAL programme depends entirely on student’s progress. The EAL team regularly monitors the student in other subjects and keeps track of their progress via formative and summative assessments. Students’ progress is communicated to parents via report cards and language continua adapted from the WIDA can-do statements. Here is an example.
English as an Additional Language (EAL)/
English for Academic Purpose (EAP)
This course is especially designed for MS students who still need to work on their language skills. Whilst mostly competent in social English, these students lack the same ease when using academic English. Paradoxically, whilst these students still need to master basic vocabulary and structures, they are exposed to authentic English at a much higher level during their mainstream subjects. Therefore, by focusing on different aspects of Academic English in this course, students should improve their performance in other subjects at school.
The EAL content does not follow ELA or ELD standards. Teachers assess students based on four main areas: listening and speaking; reading; writing; and language. The material used in class is based on students’ needs. The data collected during the WIDA test is a good starting point for unit planning as it provides an overview of how developed students are with regard to the four domains: listening, speaking, reading and writing. In addition, teachers run a batch of diagnostic testing activities during the first two weeks of the year to identify target language areas. Finally, the EAL course also focuses on skills development and learning strategies as those can hugely impact students’ performance in other subjects.
One major aspect about fostering learner independence is to build up students’ literacy skills, especially reading strategies. See table below for some examples. These reading strategies are also presented and practised using different text forms: informational, graphical, literary, instructional, etc.
- Using prior knowledge to activate schema;
- Raising student’s interest in the topic;
- Asking students to make predictions;
- Linking text topic to learner’s interests;
- Finding organisational patterns;
- Pre-teaching vocabulary;
- Brainstorming themed vocabulary.
- Transferring knowledge to similar readings;
- Integrating reading with other domains;
- listening, writing and speaking;
- Making connections with other cultures;
- Identifying main ideas;
- Identifying themes;
- Summarising text;
- Paraphrasing text passages;
- Identifying evidence in the text;
- Drawing conclusions (I read/ I think / Therefore);
- Connecting text to world or self;
- Identifying/Discussing bias.
- Using context to find meaning;
- Reading between the lines (inferences);
- Using concept maps to sort out idea;
- Annotating text;
- Taking notes (different techniques);
- Identifying text purpose;
- Skimming text (general information);
- Scanning text (specific information);
- Making connections;
- Pausing to think about;
- Dividing text into chunks;
- Summarising as one reads;
- Using visual clues to make meaning;
- Asking questions while reading.
Another major area to consider when building EAL students’ autonomy is academic vocabulary, both general and content area specific. The EAL team understands the direct relation between vocabulary and academic success.
In the EAL classes, students certainly have the opportunity to enlarge their vocabulary. Although students are exposed to many more words, teachers usually focus on about 100 core words per trimester. These academic words (generic or specific) become part of the vocabulary wall and are regularly practiced in order to ensure successful transfer from short to long-term memory. We follow Marzano’s Six Step Process Teaching Academic Vocabulary associated with our own ‘word bucket’ method. In other words, once students are familiar with the words on the vocabulary wall, they put them in the bucket. Words in the bucket are recycled regularly to ensure transference.
The use of technology is welcome in the EAL classes, as a way to motivate students or provide differentiation. On the right is a link to a list of some of the online tools we use regularly in class to help students learn academic vocabulary.
In order to further ensure success in the core subjects, the EAL units are often built around core subject topics. A ‘math’ unit, for example, is not meant to teach math, but it gives students the opportunity to be exposed to specific vocabulary needed for MS math as well as some specific language structures that accompany certain math topics.
As EAL students are grouped according to proficiency level and not grade level, units need to cater for grades 6 to 8 at the same time. In order to develop these units, the EAL team liaises with the core teachers to find out the topics which will be covered and also the areas where they see students needing more help with vocabulary.
Therefore, based on enduring understandings and essential questions related to math, the EAL unit is developed to teach English through math topics. It is important to highlight that EAL units are meant to have a balanced amount of practice in the four domains: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Below is the overview of part of one of these units.
Yet another area of particular importance to EAL learners is academic writing. In the EAL course, teachers adopt a building block approach to better writing. Students are presented to writing as a process consisting of five main steps: pre-writing, writing, revising, editing and publishing. The focus is on the process rather than the product. Firstly, students have the opportunity to work with the concept of ‘point and support’ in order to better organise their ideas. Secondly, they are introduced to the structural elements of a paragraph. Finally, they gently progress from paragraph to essay writing. As for language mechanics, students have the opportunity to review different topics: capitalisation, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, correcting sentence fragments and run-on sentences, register appropriacy, connecting words, and using precise vocabulary.
In no other area do students need the gradual release model more than in writing. In other words, when teaching writing, first the teacher ‘does it’, then teacher and students ‘do it together’, then students ‘do it together’ (pair work), and, finally, students ‘do it’ themselves. In addition, students are given support with understanding and using writing rubrics as well as using different graphic organisers according to the purpose of the writing piece in progress.
A final point to consider when planning EAL units is differentiation. Although teachers try to group students according to proficiency level, EAL classes still consist of multi-levelled learners according to the four different domains: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Often EAL students also have a learning disability which calls for specific instructional strategies. We differentiate according to content, process and process. See table below for examples.
- Using ore-assessment to gauge entry point;
- Using texts at varying readability levels;
- Presenting ideas through different media;
- Small groups focusing on different content;
- Using diverse materials;
- Tap into prior knowledge.
- Optiones of how to express required learning;
- Differentiating rubrics;
- Using Bloom’s taxonomy.
- Using tiered activities;
- Developing personal agendas;
- Varying the length of time for activities;
- Working on breadth and depth;
- Purposeful grouping;
- Using Bloom’s taxonomy.