An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Evaluation of English as an Additional Language (EAL)
Presentation College Askea
Carlow, County Carlow
Roll number: 61141M
Date of inspection: 3 October 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 Presentation College, Askea. 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
Presentation College is a long-established voluntary secondary school which has been co-educational since 1979. The school, which was recently extended, is located on the outskirts of Carlow town and has a current enrolment of 506. Employment opportunities in the area have made Carlow an attractive location for workers from other countries and the town is also within commuting distance of the greater Dublin area, and these factors provide the context in which EAL students are attending the school. The school has also accepted a small number of European ‘exchange’ students, who are not included as EAL students in returns to the Department.
An allocation of four WTEs (whole-time teacher equivalents) for EAL support had been given to the school in 2007-8. The initial allocation to the school for the current year was two WTEs. This had just been increased to three at the time of the evaluation, following the September returns of enrolment numbers to the Department. A proportion of the allocation comes from supernumerary hours. The initial halving of the teacher allocation for EAL support had an impact on teacher retention and deployment in this area for the current school year.
The EAL allocation has been chiefly used for two purposes. One is the provision of approximately eighteen hours of direct EAL instruction to students in all years except transition year (TY). The other is the provision of subject-specific language support to the school’s biggest group of EAL students, who are from Poland. This entails approximately sixteen hours of timetabled tuition, which is provided by a qualified Polish teacher. Further time is used for translation and interpretation where it is required to support students’ pastoral and educational welfare. The hours accounted for at present fall somewhat short of the allocation. The deployment of the additional allocation was being arranged at the time of the evaluation. It is essential that all allocated hours be accounted for, and that their use be in line with the provisions of the Department’s circular letter, 0053/2007. In addition to extending the provision of timetabled EAL support, it is recommended that some of the additional hours be used for the provision of more targeted English language support to students who are in particular need, and also for the co-ordination of EAL.
Within the school’s posts of responsibility structure, a special duties post has been allocated to co-ordinating support for international students. A list of duties attached to the post has been drawn up and these are carried out in an effective and committed manner. The duties are wide-ranging and include student reception, induction and continuing pastoral care, liaison with the EAL teaching team, participation in the school’s care structures to advocate the needs of EAL students, and the dissemination of pertinent information to students and subject teachers. The role does not encompass the duties normally associated with subject co-ordination, nor is there scope to add these to the current very full post.
The present EAL teaching team comprises five teachers, four of whom teach other subjects in a mainstream context. The school management is commended on the criteria applied in assigning teachers to EAL. All members of the current team are either language teachers or have TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) qualifications, and all have experience of teaching English to speakers of other languages.
A smaller number of teachers was involved in EAL teaching in the previous year, and the team reported that that was a more satisfactory arrangement. In the current year, most EAL class groups have more than one EAL teacher, and this raises difficulties in relation to collaborative and consistent delivery of the EAL programme. It is strongly recommended that senior management deploy EAL teachers so as to provide continuity of delivery to the greatest possible extent.
While a TEFL background provides insights into communicative language acquisition, it is most important that the emphasis in EAL is placed on the language of instruction: that is, the language skills that enable students to access the curriculum, to make progress within it and to take the relevant certificate examinations. This distinction was discussed with senior management and the EAL teaching team during the evaluation, and they saw it as helpful in informing future practice.
EAL students enrolling in the school complete a standard application form. Students’ school records or details of their educational history are sought at enrolment. The school reported that there can be difficulties in gathering or interpreting this information. Efforts to establish EAL students’ educational history should continue, especially in the case of students entering after first year from another system. Figures obtained from the school show that most EAL students enrol at the beginning of the academic year, although mid-year enrolments were reportedly more common in previous years.
Good induction procedures involving the school’s senior management and the international students support co-ordinator are in place. New EAL students are assigned a co-linguist ‘buddy’ where available from the sixth-year cohort and an orientation day has been introduced as part of the induction process. A standardised test to assess students’ proficiency in English is administered towards the end of September, giving them time to adjust to a new language environment. EAL students are generally placed in age-appropriate settings, both for mainstream subjects and for EAL lessons. These arrangements are commended.
Currently, EAL lessons are timetabled concurrently with Irish. In previous years, EAL was also timetabled against modern European languages, but language teachers expressed the view that EAL students should take a curricular modern European language wherever possible and this, commendably, is now the practice. While EAL is timetabled with a core subject, only the first-year group has a lesson every day because no other year has Irish every day. A lesson every day represents optimal provision for EAL, especially in the case of students with limited proficiency in English, and this should be borne in mind in the drawing up of next year’s timetable. It was reported that an increasing number of students who received EAL support in primary school are attending Irish lessons, and this is a welcome development. There are no timetabled EAL lessons in TY this year. The school’s TY programme is optional and rarely taken by students requiring EAL support, although its suitability for these students should be strongly communicated to EAL students and their parents.
The school’s written policy on provision for its international students declares a commitment to facilitating access to the fullest possible range of mainstream subjects. It was reported that arrangements are made to accommodate student choice and aptitude, and this was supported by observation during the evaluation along with documentation from senior management showing the distribution of EAL students in the option blocks. Polish, which is one of the non-curricular languages examinable in the Leaving Certificate, is taught by the Polish teacher employed by the school. Senior-cycle EAL students who do not take Irish or a modern language and whose home language is not one of the non-curricular languages have a reduced number of Leaving Certificate subjects and significant gaps in their timetables. Any shortfall in the required instruction time for these students must be addressed. The possibility of offering these students a language or another subject ab initio was discussed during the evaluation and merits further consideration in the interests of optimising their chances of progression to third level.
The EAL resources available in the school, including accommodation and materials, are generally good, although some areas for development were identified. A budget is available, and a stock of textbooks and authentic language materials, as well as audiotapes and DVDs has been built up and is regularly added to. An international room, situated close to the school’s main foyer, provides an affirming resource for EAL students. It is a base room for the Polish teacher but contains materials and visual displays relevant to the spectrum of EAL students, including bilingual dictionaries, word charts, maps and posters. Most EAL teaching takes place in two mainstream classrooms which have been well developed as resources for language teaching and learning. It is suggested that the school library stock be further developed with the needs of EAL students in mind. In particular, bilingual texts and a larger range of accessible books geared to the EAL reader should be acquired as resources permit. Greater access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the EAL classroom is recommended, and should be identified as an area for development by the EAL teaching team and subject departments.
During the course of the evaluation, many teachers identified a lack of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities in the area of EAL as a cause of difficulty. However, members of staff including members of the core EAL team have considerable expertise in this area, and it is recommended that ways of sharing good practice among the whole staff be investigated as a means of informing mainstream classroom teaching of EAL students. The school is encouraged to avail of the forthcoming EAL training in a way that will build capacity and raise the profile of good EAL practice in the school. The school’s contact in the past with Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and their newly-forged links with the English Language Support Teachers Association (ELSTA) are commended.
Planning and co-ordination
Senior management has recently renewed whole-school planning. and has invited the assistance of the School Development Planning Initiative (SDPI). A post to co-ordinate and support subject planning has been created. A range of whole-school policies with a bearing on the enrolment, progress and care of EAL students is at various stages of completion: some fully ratified, some in final draft, and others in development. The policies include those on admissions, pastoral care, guidance, the code of behaviour, special needs, and international students. Reference to some of these policies has already been made. In relation to the school’s code of behaviour, it is commendable that a simplified version of the main school rules illustrated with symbols and visual text has been created in the main home languages of the school’s EAL cohort. Commendably also, a policy on international students including EAL students has been ratified, and it places a clear responsibility on the whole school community to support and include international and EAL students.
The EAL teaching team meets at the beginning of the school year, again three weeks later in the context of student assessment, and at the end of the year, with informal meetings on a regular basis. Minutes of formal meetings record decisions taken and focus on planning the content of lessons, particularly where classes are taught by more than one teacher. Documents in the EAL planning folder also reflect consideration of areas such as teaching mixed-proficiency groups, planning collaboratively, and providing external accreditation of progress, such as the Cambridge tests. While there is an obvious need for collaborative planning where classes are shared, it is commendable that the team also recognises the need for planning to inform the bigger picture, and not simply the routine aspects of EAL delivery.
The EAL planning folder contains outlines for work for each year group on which individual planning is based. All groups are taught in mixed-proficiency settings, except in fifth year where the EAL group is divided once a week on the basis of proficiency. It is recommended that, in further developing the current year plans, the team identify learning outcomes for their students. In doing so, they should draw on the ‘can do’ statements used in the English language proficiency benchmarks, referencing these to material appropriate to the students’ year group. EAL students must acquire academic as well as social English language proficiency: for example, the skills of extended writing and of understanding the wording of examination questions in an academic register. A focus on appropriate learning outcomes would guide the team in sourcing and developing materials appropriate to achieving them.
There is no formal position of EAL co-ordinator in the school, although one member of the EAL team with experience and expertise acts informally as co-ordinator. It is appropriate to use some of the allocation under 53/07 for this purpose, as co-ordinated planning will lead to more structured delivery of the EAL programme and better outcomes for students. It is recommended that EAL co-ordination be placed on a more formal footing and that it focus on planning the delivery of EAL, with reference to organisation, methods of teaching and learning, and assessment practices. Liaison on a more formal basis with the post-holder for international student support would also be helpful, and would ensure a strategic approach to delivering the whole spectrum of supports, both educational and pastoral. In line with good subject department practice, the role of the co-ordinator should be discussed and agreed and a description should be included in the EAL plan.
In advance of the evaluation, the school’s planning co-ordinator organised a brief questionnaire for subject departments on subject planning to cater for EAL students, which was completed as part of a planning session. The responses were made available to the inspector and the exercise is commended as supporting reflective practice. They provided an insight into the planning practices and views of subject departments with regard to EAL students. Some departments reported very good arrangements to support the progress of EAL students, including the explicit teaching of subject-specific terminology, use of visual reinforcement, and liaison with the EAL team. Commendably, a number of departments related their practice to the school’s policy on international students and acknowledged the role of the mainstream teacher in teaching the curriculum to the full spectrum of students.
However, in a number of instances, subject department responses focused to a great extent on difficulties. As well as lack of knowledge of appropriate methods and approaches, departments cited lack of background information on students, communication difficulties, a slower pace of classwork, and content with a predominantly Irish cultural reference. In order to move the process forward from reflection on challenges to actions that might address them, it is recommended that common issues be identified with a view to establishing consistent whole-school systems and practices. In this way, the good practice already established in a number of subject areas could be discussed and adopted by all.
It is important that subject departments continue to reflect on their role in supporting EAL students, and do so within the context of enhancing the delivery of the curriculum to all students. In this regard, the commitment to supporting and fostering inclusion, which is articulated in the school’s international student policy, should be borne in mind.
The following suggestions may provide a practical focus for action. Management and staff should agree on the layout of an EAL report sheet for subject teachers to record specific areas of difficulty with language which individual students are experiencing, and ways in which teachers have tried to address them. This would assist subject teachers to pinpoint problem areas and to identify possible solutions, and would give EAL teachers useful information so that targeted measures could be taken. Steps taken and progress made can also be recorded on the sheet. Subject departments should also identify key words and concepts to be continually reinforced through classroom display, constant reference and illustration in the subject classroom. Key words that are common across the curriculum should also be identified and reinforced on a whole-school basis, an approach likely to be beneficial to all students. Teachers should guard against an over-reliance on textbooks, and place a greater emphasis on learning through doing wherever possible.
As a practical addition to the resources, underpinning whole-school support for EAL students, it is suggested that all subject departments draw up a list of the subject-specific terms that students need to be familiar with. These lists would assist mainstream teachers to foreground the teaching of specific vocabulary so that all students, including EAL learners, have a greater awareness and knowledge of the language of instruction. Lists of key terms should be shared with EAL teachers so that they can reinforce students’ learning. A second useful addition would be a bank of writing frames and exemplars designed to give EAL students a structured approach to the development of the necessary writing skills. Again, co-operation with other mainstream teachers would provide very good models for report writing, critical analysis and other relevant genres.
Teaching and Learning
Seven lessons were observed during the course of the evaluation: four EAL support lessons and three mainstream lessons in which EAL students were present. The lessons observed involved all members of the EAL teaching team, and all year groups except TY. Classroom management was good in all cases. Teachers were firm but approachable and EAL students were generally co-operative and willing to participate and ask questions. The observed teaching and learning of EAL students was satisfactory in many respects. In the best instances observed, the learning intention was clearly communicated to them, they were both challenged and affirmed, and their difficulties were addressed.
Resources used in EAL lessons included visual texts and related vocabulary, worksheets with comprehension exercises and simple writing frames, and games that reinforced newly-acquired vocabulary. The worksheets were generally TEFL-based, although their avoidance of cloze exercises in favour of a frame to support more extended writing was noted and is strongly commended. Material derived from the curriculum and from students’ real-life situations should be used wherever possible, and it should be noted that a number of subject areas including CSPE (Civic, Social and Political Education) and SPHE (Social Personal and Health Education) generate vocabulary with both social and academic applications. In senior cycle lessons observed, students in one group were reading a non-prescribed novel and in another were using past English examination papers to develop comprehension skills. In the mainstream lessons observed, the board was used effectively to demonstrate processes and to record lesson topics. This good practice is commended. All teachers should be mindful of the importance of the board in providing immediate visual reinforcement of new vocabulary, in both the EAL and mainstream contexts.
EAL lessons observed provided good instances of oral language development and the extending of students’ vocabulary in the context of a range of topics, including a visit to the doctor, descriptions of people and places, and examination terminology. The explicit teaching of commonly used terms such as ‘define’, ‘contrast’ and ‘illustrate’, and their introduction into class discussion is highly commended. Instances were observed where mime and movement were used effectively to explain words encountered in texts, and the connotations of words as well as their literal meanings were discussed. A focus on the affective and figurative aspects of language in EAL lessons is very helpful, as these are usually the most difficult areas for learners to grasp. The work observed in a number of EAL lessons is commended in this regard, and the greater use of stories, poems and songs is to be encouraged.
Most teachers were effective models of good oral language use. However, in the interests of developing EAL students’ speaking and listening skills, all teachers should bear in mind the need to speak clearly and at moderate speed, and to use gesture and expression where appropriate to clarify the meaning of words. Repetition of instructions, information and individual words was well integrated into both EAL and mainstream lessons. In some instances, EAL students’ responses to questions were very short and were either accepted or extended by the teacher. It is appropriate to model an extended response and then ask the student to repeat it, and teachers should look for increasingly extended responses as students gain confidence and proficiency.
Students were engaged in some level of collaborative work in many of the lessons observed. In mainstream lessons, EAL students tended to sit and work together, although some teachers said they discouraged this to support inclusion or because students’ attention could be distracted.
Methods supporting contextualised learning were observed in both mainstream and EAL lessons. In EAL lessons, tenses and parts of speech were taught in a context that required their use, and this is good practice. For example, the use of the present continuous was taught in the context of a visit to the doctor and students were taught how it was formed, then practised its use in spoken and written dialogue. In a Business Studies lesson, students were working on household budgets and showed a good grasp of the relevant terms and concepts in following worked examples and in their own calculations. Further developing active and experiential learning methods and incorporating them into classroom practice would be beneficial for all students, including EAL students.
Some good examples of affirmative practice in relation to the variety of cultures in the school were observed. In an Art lesson, students were encouraged to consider how their own cultural backgrounds might be expressed in the individual project work that formed part of the course.
There was evidence that many EAL students were making good progress, and were enjoying their learning in both mainstream and EAL lessons. In many instances, they demonstrated good levels of linguistic and subject-specific competence. EAL students interviewed in the course of the evaluation, in particular those in the senior cycle, were conscious of the progress they had made, and were thoughtful and articulate. All students interviewed referred to subjects they enjoyed, in particular languages, practical subjects and Mathematics. Teachers recognised the progress made by many EAL students and expressed confidence in their abilities and work ethic. However, the poor attendance of some senior cycle EAL students, related often to part-time jobs, is a cause for concern to senior management and teachers.
EAL students are tested following entry using a standardised assessment to indicate their level of English language proficiency. Progress is monitored informally through observation or through class testing, rather than follow-up standardised tests. The Post-Primary Assessment Kit, developed by IILT, is shortly to be made available to schools and should be used for both initial and ongoing assessment. The school has a comprehensive homework policy. It sets out the responsibilities of students, teachers and parents in relation to homework. In the light of the concerns expressed by some subject departments in relation to poor homework practices among some students, including some EAL students, it may be timely to review the implementation of this policy.
The use of home languages by EAL students in the classroom was discussed during the evaluation. The EAL teaching team was aware that high use of the target language is considered best practice in the modern language classroom, and that translation is discouraged. Teachers follow this principle in EAL lessons, and are commended in this regard. However, 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. Teachers can then ensure that this approach is complemented and completed by the teaching and learning of the required vocabulary in English. Some teachers expressed concern that proficient EAL students who were assisting their less able peers were being held back. However, the effectiveness of learning through explaining, an important aspect of co-operative learning, is well researched, and teachers are encouraged to extend their range of approaches to take this into account.
The need to focus more explicitly on the language of instruction should be communicated to the whole staff, and ways of supporting students to acquire relevant terminology for the range of subjects should be discussed and established in a whole-school context. Subject-specific lists of key terms have already been recommended. These would assist mainstream teachers to foreground the teaching of specific vocabulary to all students, including EAL learners, promoting a greater awareness and knowledge of the language of instruction, and would assist EAL teachers to reinforce students’ learning. Additional ideas on methodologies to support EAL students can be found on the IILT web site, on the NCCA web sites (including its new ACTION web site), and at www.ltscotland.org.uk under Learning and Teaching in 2+ Languages.
Support for EAl Students
The school has a pastoral care team which meets once a week and includes the deputy principal, learning support teachers, the international students support co-ordinator, the guidance counsellor and a designated year head. Students requiring a particular level of pastoral care come to the attention of the team through psychological reports, parental or staff requests, and self-referral. The care team is conscious of particular issues that may affect EAL students, and has for example made contact with parents of EAL students where poor attendance has been noted. Initiatives to raise awareness of bullying and racism have included visits by school theatre companies in which such issues are dramatised. The team reported good links with external agencies including the educational psychological services (NEPS) and a counselling agency established by local school principals. Where necessary, members of the team liaise with social services. A member of the trustee order acted for many years in the past as an informal home school liaison service, and the care team was keenly aware of the value of this work. The group of year heads also meets weekly and there are close links between the two groups.
The co-ordinator for international students held an orientation session for international students last year and senior management should ensure the continuance of this helpful practice, as it provides practical information to students about books, uniform, timetables and teachers’ names. The development of a handbook for international students should be considered, and the student council could be consulted in relation to content and presentation.
The guidance counsellor has a role in the transition of students from primary school, and meets with the first-year students as part of their orientation. The role of the guidance counsellor in providing individual educational guidance to students in third and sixth year is commended. As part of the continuing development of the written guidance plan, it is recommended that it include specific reference to guidance provision for EAL students. Students’ progression to third level and the world of work has also been tracked. The guidance counsellor reported that increasing numbers of EAL students are progressing successfully. Information on progression of EAL students should be considered by the school community in order to guide future practice.
EAL students with special educational needs (SEN) and those requiring learning support are identified through teacher referral or external reports. It is commendable that a clear distinction is now made in the school between students acquiring English and those requiring learning support, as the two were not identified separately in the past. SEN support is offered through withdrawal.
The school has held international days and European days, and the students described these as very enjoyable. The Polish ambassador attended one such event, and this was a clear source of pride to the school’s Polish cohort. It is suggested that the student council consider ways of affirming interculturalism in the school. The policy on international students gives the student council a role in this area and this commendable aspiration deserves to be acted upon.
It was reported that the parents of EAL students are not involved currently in the parents association. Long working hours as well as possible difficulties in communicating were cited as reasons. The association is encouraged to think of ways of involving the full spectrum of parents in fulfilment of the school’s inclusive ethos.
A number of the teachers interviewed expressed concern at the relatively low levels of participation by EAL students in some co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, such as school trips and retreats. However, there was evidence of very good participation by some EAL students in a range of sports. The school community as a whole should accept that students will tend to gravitate to their own national or language groups, as indeed the Irish have done elsewhere. However, the importance of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities as engines of inclusion should be recognised by school management, staff and parents, and efforts to encourage greater levels of participation from the whole student body should be continued.
Summary of main findings and recommendations
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· The school management is commended on the criteria applied in assigning teachers to EAL.
· Within the school’s posts of responsibility structure, a special duties post has been allocated to the area of support for international students. A list of duties attached to the
post has been drawn up and these are carried out in an effective and committed manner.
· Good induction procedures involving the school’s senior management and the international students support co-ordinator are in place.
· A policy on international students including EAL students has been ratified, and it places a clear responsibility on the whole school community to support and include international
and EAL students.
· The explicit teaching of terms such as ‘define’, ‘contrast’ and ‘illustrate’ in the EAL classroom is highly commended as it places a clear focus on the language of instruction.
· There was evidence that many EAL students were making good progress, and were enjoying their learning in both mainstream and EAL lessons.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· EAL teachers should be deployed so as to provide continuity of delivery to the greatest possible extent.
· A lesson every day represents optimal provision for EAL, especially in the case of students with limited proficiency in English, and this should be borne in mind in the drawing up
of next year’s timetable.
· Greater access to and use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the EAL classroom is recommended.
· It is recommended that EAL co-ordination be placed on a more formal footing and that it focus on planning the delivery of EAL, with reference to organisation, methods of teaching
and learning, and assessment practices.
· Subject departments should address planning for EAL students along the lines recommended in this report.
· EAL students’ purposeful use of a common home language to facilitate peer tutoring is beneficial and should be encouraged and supported.
· The need to focus more explicitly on the language of instruction should be communicated to the whole staff, and ways of supporting students to acquire relevant terminology for
the range of subjects should be discussed and established in a whole-school context.
· A greater focus on active and experiential learning methods and incorporating them into classroom practice would be beneficial for all students, including EAL students.
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