An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Mount Merrion, County Dublin
Roll number: 60050E
Date of inspection: November 2008
Report on Provision of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
evaluation report on English as an additional language
This report has been written following an evaluation of provision for students learning English as an additional language (EAL) in Oatlands College, Mount Merrion. It presents the findings of the evaluation of provision, teaching and learning of EAL and makes recommendations for the further development of EAL in the school. The evaluation was conducted over four days during which the inspector visited support and mainstream lessons and observed teaching and learning. The inspector held meetings with the principal and with groups of teachers and students, and reviewed school planning documentation, teachers’ written preparation, and students’ work. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal, deputy principal and EAL teachers. This report forms part of the evidence base for a forthcoming composite report on EAL provision in primary and post-primary schools, intended to inform Department of Education and Science policy and to promote good practice in schools. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; a response was not received from the board.
whole school support and provision for eal
Oatlands College is a Christian Brothers School now under the trusteeship of the Edmund Rice Schools Trust (ERST). The school is situated close to the centre of Stillorgan in a well-established suburban area. Senior management referred to the school’s long tradition of welcoming and educating students of many nationalities. The parents of many current EAL students work in local hospitals and service industries based in the area, and in some cases their children have attended feeder primary schools for Oatlands.
The school had an allocation of three whole-time teacher equivalents (WTEs) for English language support for 2007/08. This was initially reduced to two for 2008/09, and was increased to three in November 2008, on foot of the enrolment data given in the school’s September returns. The reduction in the allocation had an impact on deployment and timetabling arrangements at the beginning of the school year. At the time of the evaluation, the additional WTE was being deployed to expand the provision of EAL support. The school’s senior management also applied for an additional allocation for a number of students who had had two years’ support but were not yet at Level B1 proficiency. No specific allocation for these students was given, but the school principal reported that these students were receiving EAL support from within the general EAL allocation.
The allocation is used in three ways. Firstly, most of the allocation is used to provide EAL lessons within the timetable for all years from first to sixth. As a rule, EAL is timetabled concurrently with Irish to provide lessons to mixed-proficiency groups within the same year. Secondly, additional EAL lessons are provided outside the regular timetable to two separate groups designated beginner and intermediate level, and the class groups for these lessons usually comprise students from different years. Thirdly, part of the allocation is used to provide additional subjects to senior-cycle EAL students, in class settings that combine subject teaching and EAL support. The school has shown good initiative in fully and appropriately using the allocated teaching resource. It has responded well to the needs of its students by taking a flexible yet targeted approach as indicated in circular 53/07, which governs provision for EAL students. The efforts made to offer a broader range of subject options to EAL students in the senior cycle who are taking neither Irish nor a modern European language are especially to be welcomed, as these students would otherwise have only five Leaving Certificate subjects. In line with good practice however, the school should regularly assess this aspect of its provision for EAL students in order to ensure that it is meeting their English language needs effectively.
Both the distribution of EAL lessons and the deployment of EAL teachers are optimal for the EAL class groups in second and third year, each of which has one EAL teacher and one lesson per day. Concurrent timetabling of Irish in second and third year facilitates this good provision. However, Irish is not concurrent in first year, and the number of teachers involved in teaching first-year EAL creates challenges for continuity and collaboration. Ways of consolidating the delivery of EAL in first year should be explored. In the senior cycle, concurrent timetabling of Irish has facilitated the delivery of frequent EAL support. In addition to the provision of alternative subjects for EAL students mentioned above, a fifth-year class set for English has been formed comprising only EAL students, with the intention of providing them with a supportive setting tailored to their English learning needs. While this arrangement has the potential to be an effective intervention, it could also adversely affect the mainstreaming of EAL students and requires careful planning for teaching and learning. It should therefore be kept under review.
The sixty-six hours allocated for EAL support are distributed among eleven teachers in all, five of whom have a substantial commitment to the area, either through the number of EAL hours they teach or through their assignment as the EAL teacher to a specific year group. The school management is commended on its efforts to ensure that those involved in the delivery of EAL have experience and interest in the area. The assigning of both established teachers and those who are new to the profession to EAL teaching is also good practice. However, some reduction in the number of teachers among whom the EAL allocation is distributed is recommended. This will facilitate collaborative planning and will give members of the EAL team more experience with a range of EAL students and proficiency levels.
Most of the EAL teaching team are qualified teachers, while two are gaining teaching experience prior to entry to the postgraduate diploma course. Most are specialists in English or modern European languages, and a number have experience of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). Longer-established members of the team have engaged in considerable professional development in EAL, and have availed of the training and resources provided in the past by Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT). There is therefore an understanding among members of the EAL team of the distinction between TEFL and EAL, and the need in EAL to focus on the acquisition of the language necessary to access the curriculum and to progress through it, with particular emphasis on reading and writing skills. This crucial distinction should be continually borne in mind as the school builds its capacity to cater for its EAL students.
The school’s enrolment procedures are transparent and inclusive, and enrolment criteria are clearly set out. Students whose families have recently moved to the area are prioritised within the enrolment criteria if there is a waiting list, and this is helpful in the context of newcomer students. A number of local primary schools are traditional feeder schools, and the good links with them are used to identify the capacities and needs of incoming EAL students. The school’s prospectus provides a good overview of the curriculum offered. Students are placed in mixed-ability base classes, and the class lists provided during the evaluation indicate a good distribution of EAL students among all class groups. Incoming first years transferring from feeder schools are assessed in the spring prior to entry, and this helps to identify any EAL needs. Students entering other years are assessed using the Oxford Quick Placement Test, an informal oral assessment and observation in the classroom setting. The teaching team were pleased at the prospect of the Post-Primary Assessment Kit, and their familiarity with the language proficiency benchmarks developed by IILT positions them favourably to integrate the Assessment Kit into their initial and ongoing assessment practices.
Most subject teachers have base classrooms, and this facilitates the development of a stimulating environment to support language acquisition and reinforcement. Where EAL teachers do not have base rooms, it is recommended that they take EAL lessons in rooms regularly used for this purpose. It is commendable that school management has identified the need for a dedicated EAL resource space, and a suite of three resource rooms, one dedicated to EAL, was being planned for at the time of the evaluation. In the meantime, EAL resources and materials are stored in teachers’ rooms and in an area of the library. Information and communication technology (ICT) has been the focus of much infrastructural development. Many EAL resources are generated and stored electronically, classrooms are broadband-enabled, and an e-portal system is close to full implementation.
One member of the EAL team is responsible for obtaining resources. Dictionaries for a range of levels, a series of English language textbooks, graded readers and audiobooks are available. The further expansion of the audio and audio-visual resources available is suggested. Reading material that is high in interest and accessibility could be sought through the local library service. Links to publishers of multi-cultural and dual language books can be found on www.literacytrust.org.uk . Newspapers in students’ home languages provide a particularly valuable means of supporting students in maintaining links with the mother tongue, thus assisting their plurilingual development and supporting their acquisition of English. Web sites such as www.world-newspapers.com and www.onlinenewspapers.com provide newspapers in English and in a range of other languages. Access to these sites on computers used by the students would enable EAL students to read for a purpose in their home languages.
The school’s senior management has a proven commitment to continuing professional development (CPD), with a particular focus on the enhancement of teaching and learning. Whole-staff development days on inclusion and diversity have been organised. The importance of sharing good practice within the school is also recognised. To this end, teachers have been invited to make short presentations to their colleagues on teaching and learning methods they have found successful. This innovation is highly commended and is very well suited to disseminating good practice among the whole staff with regard to supporting EAL students in the mainstream classroom.
Planning and co-ordination
Senior management reported that school development planning in Oatlands College has been informed both by statutory obligations and by the belief that planning assists the school community to reflect on current practice and to identify areas for development. The admissions policy, the code of behaviour, guidance plan and special needs policy have been developed in line with the school’s mission statement which envisions the school as a caring community in which the students can grow to maturity.
The school’s practices with regard to enrolment and participation are manifestly inclusive. A written policy on inclusion is in development and will be a formal statement of the school’s commitment to supporting inclusion and diversity within its community. It is recommended that the policy make specific reference to the role of all teachers in supporting EAL students to acquire the level and register of English necessary for learning and progress. It should also reflect the good practice observed whereby students’ home languages and traditions are acknowledged and affirmed.
The co-ordination of EAL support and the development of integration and inclusion practices form part of a special duties post of responsibility. This is commendable. The area of responsibility had just been re-assigned at the time of the evaluation, and it was noted with approval that the expertise that had been developed was being shared effectively with the new post-holder. It is suggested that the job description in the schedule of posts be re-worded to include the terms ‘EAL’ and ‘newcomer’ or ‘international’ students. Senior management supports collaborative EAL planning through its scheduling of and attendance at regular formal meetings of the EAL team. Good records of these meetings are maintained by the co-ordinator and these indicate attention to assessment of students, programme planning, resources, recording of progress, and broader issues of inclusion such as ways of acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of the student population.
The EAL plan and programme of work is described as a curriculum planning map, and is produced annually. An extended document was produced for 2008/09, partly reflecting the provisions of circular 53/07 and its identification of three English language proficiency levels. It expanded the aims stated in earlier plans, introducing a commitment to collaborate with subject teachers, to extend teaching approaches and methodologies including the use of ICT, and to ensure effective ongoing assessment and recording of students’ progress. It also identified the need to plan for core curriculum support in regard to English language acquisition and instruction in other subjects.
The EAL plan is coherent and well founded in its rationale. It draws extensively on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks developed by IILT. It gives very detailed descriptors of proficiency levels in the four language skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. It also identifies five broad learning outcomes: the development of the four language skills; integration into the mainstream classroom; the development of self-esteem and independence; the ability to socialise and interact with ease; and proficiency with regard to the language of the curriculum and of examinations. These are exemplary aims, and the ongoing challenge is to develop the practical means by which they can be delivered.
In further developing the practical focus of the existing EAL plan, it is recommended that more specific learning outcomes be identified for levels 0 to B1. These would be most helpfully expressed as straightforward ‘can do’ statements. This approach also assists teachers of other subjects to monitor and record EAL students’ progress according to clear criteria. As in all curricular planning, the EAL plan should identify and link learning outcomes, effective teaching and learning methods by which to achieve them, and appropriate modes of assessment to ascertain progress in learning. The Assessment Kit will provide useful points of reference for the different proficiency levels in the context of the post-primary curriculum.
The team is aware of the need to develop and use more curriculum-centred materials, and should therefore investigate the resources being developed on the Action web site of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and on the English Language Support Programme web site (www.ncca.ie and www.elsp.ie). To exploit further the ICT capacity available in the school, it is suggested that a bank of writing frames and templates pertinent to a range of writing tasks in different subjects be developed and stored electronically, for ease of access and adjustment.
Some subject departments have included a focus on planning to support the needs of EAL students, although consistent practice in this area has not been established. The EAL team has identified this as an area of development requiring greater liaison between the EAL department and other subject departments. The fact that the EAL plan has such a clear focus on enabling students to access the curriculum is a very good basis on which to build. However, subject department planning should reflect the role and responsibility of the subject teacher in developing the language competence of all students, including EAL students. Creating a list of subject-specific terms and planning to teach them explicitly would be a significant addition to subject department planning to support EAL students. Agreement across subject departments on key terms commonly encountered in examinations would assist teachers to highlight these and would help to consolidate and reinforce students’ understanding of these terms.
The emphasis placed on planning for learning is commended. In many instances, individual lesson plans were made available, identifying learning outcomes, teaching and learning methods and activities, and resources to be used.
Teaching and Learning
Eight lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation, three in the EAL support context and five in mainstream class settings in which EAL students were present. The lessons observed involved class groups from all years and all programmes offered in the school, with the exception of the Transition Year programme, whose students were engaged in out-of-school activities at the time. The EAL lessons observed involved most of the EAL teachers with the greatest number of EAL teaching hours. Mainstream lessons were observed in core and optional subjects, including both academic and practical areas of the curriculum.
In the lessons observed, EAL students were well supported and they contributed with a degree of confidence, asking questions, responding, and taking part in class discussion and activity. Classroom management was good throughout, and teacher-student interactions were friendly and respectful. The supportive learning atmosphere created is commended. As a general observation however, teachers should avoid speaking very rapidly as this may create unnecessary difficulties for EAL students in particular. Artificially slow or stilted speech should also be avoided; a clear and moderately paced delivery is preferable. Some good practice in this area was noted in both EAL and mainstream lessons.
Lessons observed were generally well structured. In most instances teachers began with a statement of the lesson topic and the learning objective. This good practice can also be effectively developed as an opportunity to highlight and pre-teach key vocabulary and terminology, a strategy likely to benefit all students, including EAL students. Very good links were made with prior learning to provide a context for new material. In EAL lessons, the balance between language reinforcement and the acquisition of new vocabulary and constructions was good. In some instances in the mainstream setting, a brief end-of-lesson review allowed the reinforcement of new concepts and new vocabulary, and this is a helpful practice for all students.
The EAL lessons observed were delivered with energy and enthusiasm, and much good practice was noted in the selection of both English language material and of teaching and learning methods. In a junior cycle lesson with Level A1 and A2 students, very good use was made of real texts in the form of travel guides to stimulate discussion on travel and the students’ knowledge of different countries. Another junior cycle group was reading a popular novel with an Irish setting, and this provided rich opportunities for encountering language in a cultural context. The students were clearly enjoying the story and had grasped quite subtle aspects of the narrative. This use of real reading experiences in the EAL context is commended. EAL textbooks and worksheets provide useful reinforcement and practice, but should not be the main means of developing reading and writing skills. However, worksheets were used well, especially where they involved a range of tasks and so aided a differentiated approach to suit the various levels of proficiency.
The teaching and learning methods used in EAL lessons were appropriate to the development of the four language skills. With regard to the development of oral language competence, students were frequently encouraged to extend their brief initial responses and this is good practice. It is important that teachers model full sentences and more complex constructions and encourage students towards extended oral production. This in turn will assist students towards more extended writing, and is applicable to students both in the EAL and mainstream settings. In the area of listening skills, in the EAL lessons observed students were required to follow directions and respond to questions from the teacher, and to listen to each other. It is suggested that a range of real audio texts be used regularly to develop listening skills: the use of audiobooks, audio downloads and radio is recommended and would complement the existing use of real reading material.
Some form of writing task was given in all EAL lessons observed, and this is commendable. In order to further assist students develop their competence in extended written English, the use of writing frames or templates is recommended. These give students a structured framework within which to write, whereas cloze work is more appropriate to vocabulary and simple comprehension exercises. Students were asked to read both aloud and silently and were encouraged to reflect on their reading through the use of questions. Good practice was noted in the development of both colloquial and academic language. For example, the colloquial phrase “on and off” was explained and practised, and the words “share” and “company” were explained in both their general and their business contexts. The connotations of words were also discussed, thus developing a deeper and more affective language awareness and allowing students to make connections between their home languages and English.
The evaluation identified a number of strengths in the approaches taken to supporting EAL students’ learning in mainstream lessons. Teachers identified key words and terms, and taught these using demonstration and example, or by reference to other known terms. In a junior cycle Mathematics lesson on decimals, the terms “rounding off” and “decimal place” were taught and illustrated. They were demonstrated on the board and overhead projector, with the teacher talking through the working of each example. This is a good strategy for embedding key vocabulary in the learning of concepts and processes. It was clear that all students found this helpful, and the extent to which the explicit teaching of subject-specific vocabulary assists all learners should be borne in mind by all subject departments. A senior cycle Religious Education class discussed myths and realities in relation to suicide, and careful attention was paid to the quite sophisticated and nuanced vocabulary required by the topic. Once again, the emphasis on the understanding of concepts and the significance of specific words was useful for all students.
Approaches that encouraged active learning and engagement with the topic were observed in a number of mainstream lessons. Prior to reading a poem in a senior cycle English lesson, students were asked to describe their own memories of starting school and words that expressed their emotions were recorded on the board. This exercise positioned them well to engage with the poem on this topic, and to respond to its language at the level of metaphor and allusion. To enhance students’ enjoyment of imaginative texts, it is suggested that gesture, action and other dramatic means be used as part of the teaching and learning experience. A ‘think, pair, share’ approach was used in a senior cycle lesson to encourage students to form, support and defend their opinions. Successful pair and group work in mainstream classes with EAL students requires careful preparation and it is suggested that task-based co-operative learning be investigated to this end. Additional ideas on methodologies to support EAL students can be found on the NCCA and ELSP web sites already mentioned, and at www.ltscotland.org.uk under Learning and Teaching in 2+ Languages.
The use of home languages by EAL students in the classroom was discussed during the evaluation. Whereas English is the target language and learning focus in the EAL classroom, subject lessons in mainstream classes present a different context. Here the EAL student must focus on the understanding of concepts and the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge in areas where previous learning has taken place in the home language. For this reason, the purposeful use by EAL students of a common home language to facilitate peer tutoring is beneficial and should be encouraged and supported. This approach may be particularly useful in the teaching and learning of theory and concepts. Teachers can then ensure that this approach is complemented and completed by the teaching and learning of the required vocabulary in English.
It was noted and commended that classroom interactions between teachers and students in the lessons observed were inclusive of all students. Questioning was usually directed to named students and was also used in the course of class discussion to ensure wide participation. Where questioning is used to assess or consolidate understanding of a process or a concept, teachers should ensure that they elicit a sufficiently substantial response from the students, giving adequate time and asking follow-on questions where necessary. Some good use of non-verbal clues to help communicate meaning was noted, including tone, gesture, action and visual prompts. These are of great assistance to EAL students and their use in the mainstream classroom also ensures that a range of learning styles is catered for.
Good practice was noted with regard to the assessment and monitoring of the progress of EAL students. EAL teachers used established criteria to identify levels of proficiency and to measure progress. Students’ EAL work in copies and folders showed evidence of improvement and growing competence. Helpful developmental feedback was given, affirming progress and identifying specific areas for further work and practice. In mainstream subjects, in addition to regular monitoring with some differentiation where necessary, teachers of EAL students report progress and areas of difficulty to the relevant EAL teachers. The school is considering the inclusion of an EAL progress report on the report cards sent to parents. This would acknowledge students’ work in this area and its introduction is encouraged.
Support for EAL Students
During the evaluation, in addition to meetings with the EAL team, meetings were also held with senior management, a representative group of those involved in student support including the guidance counsellor, special needs teacher, year heads, tutors and a special needs assistant. A meeting was also held with a representative group of junior and senior cycle EAL students, and a member of the student council.
The pastoral care structure in Oatlands College includes the senior management team, the guidance and counselling service, the special educational needs service and, most directly on a day-to-day level, the year heads or deans and the class tutors. The school does not have a designated care team, but class tutors report areas of concern to the year heads, who meet every week and highlight issues to senior management and other relevant personnel. Class tutors meet their class groups for ten minutes every day. A junior cycle tutor time was observed during which all journals were checked and signed, work was affirmed, and information was exchanged between tutor and students. This was a productive use of time. Wherever possible, tutors teach their tutor classes so a good level of contact is maintained. The pastoral care structure presented as robust. Those involved have an awareness of the needs of EAL students, lines of communication are good, and there is a considerable level of involvement on the part of senior management.
Tutors interviewed during the evaluation identified their role as primarily pastoral, in accordance with the written description of their function. They see the principle of inclusion as central to their role and monitor student interactions informally. Some reported that EAL students may feel frustrated because of their limited English, and found members of the EAL team very helpful in reassuring students that they were making progress. The EAL students interviewed recalled meeting their class tutor as part of their induction to the school and said they would feel able to discuss problems with their tutors.
The school’s anti-bullying policy defines bullying behaviour quite comprehensively but does not specifically refer to racist bullying, and this addition should be considered. However, the school is a participant in the Cool School programme which includes the raising of awareness of this form of bullying, and this is commended.
The school’s guidance service is informed by a comprehensive whole-school guidance plan. Areas of particular relevance to EAL students include the question of subject choice and the range of examination subjects available to them including non-curricular languages. Continuing efforts should be made to encourage EAL students to avail of the language options open to them. EAL students are given detailed advice on third-level and other options, and were reported to be generally highly motivated and ambitious. Good provision is made for EAL students with specific learning needs. A small number of EAL students with special educational needs work with the resource teacher on a regular basis. Good liaison between learning support and mainstream teachers ensures that EAL students with additional learning needs receive help in relation to specific subjects.
The school has an active parents’ association and parents of EAL students have been involved on its council and in the organisation of events and activities. It was reported that very few difficulties arising from a language barrier have arisen with parents. The student council is still at an early stage of development but its aim is to be representative and inclusive. The idea of an international day to celebrate inclusion and diversity was discussed by students during the evaluation and the student council showed enthusiasm for it. However, initiatives that express the school’s commitment to interculturalism are a feature of school life, including a mural created as a co-operative project with a visiting artist, and a performance piece by a TY Young Social Innovators group entitled ‘Integration for the Nation’. The many extra-curricular activities offered are used within the school as engines of inclusion, and the endeavours and achievements of the diversity of students are marked in the photographic displays on the school corridors.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school has shown good initiative in fully and appropriately using the allocated EAL teaching resource.
· The school’s enrolment procedures are transparent and inclusive, and enrolment criteria are clearly set out.
· A written policy on inclusion is in development and will be a formal statement of the school’s commitment to supporting inclusion and diversity within its community.
· Senior management supports collaborative EAL planning through its scheduling of and attendance at regular formal meetings of the EAL team. The co-ordination of
EAL support and the development of integration and inclusion practices form part of a special duties post of responsibility.
· The EAL lessons observed were delivered with energy and enthusiasm, and much good practice was noted in the selection of both English language material and of teaching
and learning methods.
· It was noted and commended that classroom interactions between teachers and students in the lessons observed were inclusive of all students.
· Good practice was noted with regard to the assessment and monitoring of the progress of EAL students.
· Initiatives that express the school’s commitment to interculturalism are a feature of school life.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· A smaller EAL team is recommended, in order to facilitate collaborative planning and the building of expertise.
· It is recommended that the planned inclusion policy make specific reference to the role of all teachers in supporting EAL students to acquire the level and register of
English necessary for learning and progress. It should also reflect the good practice observed whereby students’ home languages and traditions are acknowledged and affirmed.
· It is recommended that more specific learning outcomes be identified for levels 0 to B1 in the EAL plan. The plan should identify and link learning outcomes, effective teaching
and learning methods by which to achieve them, and appropriate modes of assessment to ascertain progress in learning.
· Teachers should avoid speaking very rapidly as this may create unnecessary difficulties for EAL students in particular. It is important that teachers model full sentences
and more complex constructions and encourage students towards extended oral production.
· In order to help students develop their competence in extended written English, the use of writing frames or templates is recommended.
A meeting was held with members of the EAL teaching team, the principal and deputy principal following the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published December 2009