EAL: Connecting you to inspiring work in the field

6 Language Diversity - Working

Welcome back! Did you navigate your way here from our email? This post will take you to the inspiring EAL resources that we mentioned there.

So, language diversity is positive. Being able to think across languages is a good thing. It goes without saying that we want pupils in UK schools to develop fluent English. We also want students with other languages in their lives to know that those languages are valued too, and to feel that their linguistic ‘repertoire’ is a positive tool to use in conscious ways. As I’ve already shared, Sarah Vogel - #notobsessed - and Deborah Perrin talk about ways to do this under the banner of translanguaging. We want to be sure that our terminology reflects all these positive ideas as much as possible, whilst doing its bureaucratic duties. That’s where we are so far.

It’s time to get practical. To make it happen.

Luckily, there is a lot of advice available from highly-respected organisations. Start with this piece for NALDIC by Jill Bourne. Another organisation that does good work in the EAL field is NASSEA; its assessment framework is full of ideas for teaching, and suggests resources: ‘Dual language books help to promote the status and value of the language(s) of the home. Some parents who are literate in the home language will be able to support the child’s learning using dual language books.’ Mantra Lingua’s bilingual books don’t really need more introduction or justification. The thought of including parents or carers who are strongest in another language is particularly compelling. NASSEA suggests, with particular reference to the EYFS: ‘With the pupil, make simple mini-books and/or scrapbooks with pictures, labels, captions and audio files where possible’. Mantra enables mini-books, which are in fact widely used for all ages; viVOS makes adding audio to textured scrapbook pages eminently ‘possible’, if you want to get really creative with your sound-enabled resources. As we said in the email, the resources are beautiful but the audio, added through the PENpal, is what makes them particularly powerful. (Conference guests often simply decide that these products must be ‘magic’).

NASSEA rightly says that no single resource is the answer, and does not constitute a provision. Our work is flexible and creative, and is about enabling you as you create your strategies.

5 Because Language Matters

You’re reading a blog post that is connected to Mantra Lingua’s communications with friends and colleagues. Aiming to be welcome, helpful visitors to your inbox, our emails touch on the work and research of many different teachers and academics. One of the jobs of this blog is to gather together links to the work that we’ve been discussing, so that you can explore further. Enjoy your explorations!

In our last email, and in the post below, we unravelled some of the tricky terminology behind EAL. We found that the category of EAL is a bit weird in that it covers competencies ranging from ‘just starting’ to ‘totally fluent’. We looked into anxiety about whether an unwelcome thing might happen: unnecessarily thinking of a British-born, fluent-in-English child with migration in her ancestral story as ‘different’ simply because she knows another language at home and thus comes under the EAL umbrella. However, we accepted that we can treat the concept of EAL as a recognition of valuable language diversity, without attaching judgement to the word ‘additional’.

Those words are important. In an article in the EAL Journal from Autumn 2016 (‘The Facebook Debate on Labelling Learners’), Suresh Canagarajah of Pennsylvania State University discussed the American and Canadian term for EAL: “English Language Learners’, or ‘ELL’. A group of school students had created a petition to have the label changed to ‘multilingual learners of English’, because ‘ELL didn’t accurately describe the resources they bring from diverse other languages and cultures…ELL focuses only on their deficiency’ (p.17). Placed against such feelings of dissatisfaction, ‘EAL’ as a term feels more progressive.

In this country too, though, people are exploring and developing terminologies. They are conscious of what language reveals and indeed creates in terms of attitudes and ideologies. In the Spring 2017 edition of the EAL Journal (you can see that we are fans of the EAL Journal in the Mantra Lingua office), Paul Nancarrow says of his school in Rotherhithe: ‘Rather than seeing students as English-language learners, students are encouraged to see themselves as emergent bilinguals’ (p38). Remember that phrase! If you’ve been following this blog from its beginnings, you’ll know that we love Sarah Vogel’s discussion of ‘emergent bilinguals’.

The terms we use create the reality that people experience. It’s worth taking the time to sift through the language.

May Robertson, 18 May 2017

4 EAL: The value of the first language, or home language, or L1... Sorry, could you repeat that, please?

This post is linked to another few emails we're sending out to our lovely friends, this time discussing the home language (we'll try to define that at some point) and its value. As people interested in education, we specifically want to know what value pupils' other languages can add to learning in the English-speaking classroom. We are also asking what resources can help the progressive teacher who is interested both in showing that language diversity is valued, and also in using it as an educational tool. Without giving away too many spoilers, that is where Mantra Lingua comes in.

First, though, we have to sort out some terminology. We've got a lot of different groups here - no, we haven't, we've got millions of individuals with unique situations - and the Venn diagram looks extremely complicated. You'd mangle the backs of several envelopes trying to get it all organised. Picture a classroom - yours, perhaps - with several children with languages other than English in their backgrounds. There are a few whose families have recently come to live in the UK from other countries. Let's say one speaks Mandarin and another Polish. They might know lots, some, or very little, English. There might be a fully bilingual child, and there might be a pupil who answers back to his granny when she speaks Bengali to him but who uses English as his everyday language for thinking, reading, dreaming and socialising with friends. You know people resembling all of these children. They are all classed as EAL, because of the DfE definition of EAL: ‘A first language, where it is other than English, is recorded where a child was exposed to the language during early development and continues to be exposed to this language in the home or in the community.’ This article discusses the situation. It's a bit confusing, isn't it? People who are learning English as a new language represent just one of the categories within EAL, even though they are the ones with a well-defined need and are likely to be the focus of your thoughts as a teacher. This suggests that statistics may be misleading, unless they are carefully categorised and nuanced.

Our email suggests that the word 'Additional' is a sort of progressive choice, but perhaps it's just a recognition of this lack of clarity. It presupposes no judgment of ability, which means we're allowed to put the entirely fluent child with Bengali heritage in the same category as the person who's new to English because she's been in the country for a week. It's a double-edged sword in a way. I appreciate the idea that languages are of equal value, and that there is no prejudice against being a person for whom English is 'Additional' to your granny's Bengali or the Polish that you know best because it was the only language you spoke up to the age of seven, when your family moved to the UK.

However, I'm also confused. Because I (someone who - just to give you a sense of my background - ticks the White British box on forms and is quite rubbish at learning other languages) have exactly the same native ability in English as my cousins, who by the logic of the school census must be EAL, because of the Bengali that forms part of their life through their mother's family. It just seems... an odd category. I am very wary of framing the discussion using any words that risk putting up barriers; the caricature of this, mentioned in our emails, is the famous #DespiteBeingTaughtInWelsh hashtag. (This hashtag is a great place for a browse for many humorous and thought-provoking things with implications for EAL and the status of bilinguals). Linguistic diversity, be it having Bengali in the family or #beingtaughtinWelsh, does not imply that your 'additional' English is worse than my 'monolingual' English. The drive to include may risk alienating people in another way, on dubious grounds.

Let's remember, then, the intention behind the term. 'EAL' is not synonymous with 'English as a second language'. It is simply meant as a recognition, slightly clumsy at times, of pupils' diverse linguistic backgrounds, and of the wonderful fact that many pupils have knowledge of more than one language even before a teacher begins attempting to get some classroom French into their heads (clearly my memories of school are still strong). Nobody is trying to alienate anyone.

There are new official categories, now, for EAL learners; we recommend subscribing to the EAL Journal to get the lowdown on this. They range from A (New to English) to E (Fluent). This seems sensible, given how impossibly broad a category 'EAL' on its own seems to be. It's a lot of work for you teachers. But we like the way in which the NALDIC/Bell Foundation EAL assessment framework uses those categories and turns them into a practical tool for you to use, crucially for setting goals.

Let's move on to how we talk about pupils' languages that aren't English. What of 'home' or 'first' language? I asked those boys' mother, my aunt, about the terminology. Her answer supported what I've learnt about the preferred term being L1, which simply implies the language which a person prefers, rather than their 'first' or 'home' or even 'mother' tongue. She lives and works in English, but when talking to babies or animals (come on - if you never feel moved to talk to animals then I am frightened of you) she instinctively goes for Bengali. Perhaps, then, we could talk about a 'soul' language, even if one is absolutely, fully bilingual, or even functionally better in the 'newer' language. However, this is not something that I am qualified to speculate on, given that my multilingual ability amounts to being able to decipher, painfully, occasional Gide, to accompany Bach chorales like I mean it, and sometimes to say 'yalla' instead of 'let's go'.

Because many people are likely to move across languages, rather than necessarily fitting into categories. That's why adjectives such as 'first' (meaning the language a child learnt first) and 'home' (the language spoken at home, though this is justified in Tony Capstick's experience by its use by EAL learners themselves) don't fit every situation. I guess I could go and ask my aunt whether my cousins' first words were in English or Bengali, but creating the distinction in their particular case seems a bit boring.

All we can really say from all of this is that many pupils have a language that isn't English in their background, and the ability in English of those EAL students will vary from 'just starting' to 'entirely, perfectly, easily fluent' (my terminology; no, I'm not sure the Government is going to give me a job immediately). Indeed, they may be better at English than that other language. 

The useful thing to take away is that there are important ways to use those other languages in home and school life. It's possible to think of the presence of other languages in the classroom as a positive thing, not a hindrance. The concept of translanguaging, beautifully discussed, if you follow the link, by Deborah Perrin, gives you an idea. Now we start to make sense of the situation, because a dual-language book in English and Bengali works across the spectrum. It's a potentially vital resource for a newly-arrived child, and a lovely connection to heritage to a child whose English is fluent, as well as being a way for her interested friends to make a connection with her ancestral language and culture. I said that Mantra Lingua came into this.

More soon...

May Robertson, 10th May 2017

3 SPaG terminology: useful or not?

(If you're coming here for the links from the emails, please head to the next post down...).

Like many of you, I expect, I was reading this piece in the Guardian this morning. It raises a lot of interesting questions!

The 'fronted adverbial' seems to have been chosen as a totem of the 'now not-so-new' (in the words of Mantra Lingua's resident teacher Ali Harwood) SPaG requirements. It's quite a good choice. It sounds intimidating and difficult. It feels like jargon; it's an abbreviation, which makes it more confusing (it's actually pretty ugly to give an adjective the function of a noun and to treat it as a piece of formal terminology). And it's true that even to those from the generation above mine, those who were taught strict grammar at school, 'fronted adverbial' sounds new. When I mentioned the phrase to my mother, she immediately assumed it was 'just made-up'. This is the person responsible for the regularity with which I mumble 'different from' under my breath as a sort of rebellion against people's abuses of the word 'to' (let's not even go near the alarmingly frequent use in that context of the word 'than'). She gets her good grammar not only from her school education but also from her own mother, an English teacher for years, whose grammar was so good my father says that it was she who told him about the correct usage of 'owing to' as opposed to 'due to'. (One is adjectival and one is adverbial, but I'm afraid I can't remember which is which).

What point am I making? The most obvious point is that to an extent, grammar is about labels, terminologies and priorities which are chosen and may change over time. A minor example of this is that I, a child of the late eighties, learnt about 'conjunctions', which I liked because they made me think of sentences as roads which could be joined together with the help of a handy little word; children now know about 'connectives', which make sentences feel like things that you are building in space. Marble-runs, perhaps. Which are also nice. Teachers and pupils may be tearing their hair out now over fronted adverbials; my mother can't believe that anybody would get 'different from' wrong; my grandmother represented a rare survival of the sacred knowledge of 'due to' versus 'owing to'. The stuff that you have to learn changes. 

Some, like Michael Rosen in the Guardian article, argue that the SPaG syllabus is a case of 'terminology-itis'. We're getting stressed about these labels which sometimes aren't made to bear much relation to the language itself, and to how you manipulate it when writing and speaking. I know professional writers who say they really are pretty rubbish even about remembering their parts of speech. All of that said, terminology can be useful in simply providing a language with which to describe things. Further down this blog, there's a link to a report which quotes a teacher who appreciated being able to say 'That's great work; now could you try adding a fronted adverbial to add a bit more variety?' Terminology helps sometimes. I know that when I'm out walking at this time of year, I like to chat about how pretty the 'candles' look on the horse-chestnut trees, and how funny the blackbirds are when they interrupt their songs to make angry noises, and how great it is when the ash leaves finally come out. It's all pretty basic, but I am positive that I am more appreciative of the qualities of different trees and birds because I know their names. The terminology is useful, but shouldn't be the point of it all. (It's not set in stone anyway). 

That leads us to my second point. I'd argue that there's a difference here between the descriptive and the prescriptive. The phrase 'fronted adverbial' describes something. Knowing that piece of terminology might provide you with the idea of using a word, phrase or clause with an adverbial function as a sentence-opener consciously in your next piece of writing, but it doesn't necessarily tell you very much about how language works. The rule about 'different from' is, I'd argue, a useful bit of English grammar to learn, and a matter of being correct or not. It's prescriptive. Parts of speech are descriptive, but they lead to further uses beyond themselves (grouping spellings of related words, for instance, and explaining the adverbial/adjectival function of 'due' and 'owing', if only I could remember. Oh, and of course the ability to say 'fronted adverbial' and show off to your friends). In fact, parts of speech have an important prescriptive function; don't say 'we can likely do this for you' in UK English. Not every word ending in 'ly' is an adverb, right? I just used terminology to explain a point of grammatical correctness. You don't say that 'May writes lovely'. (You're also now very unlikely to say that I am a lovely person, having witnessed my evident bad-temperedness around grammar, even though it would make grammatical sense...).

Personally, I'm a believer in grammar taught and learnt. I think that being able to explain the difference between 'me' and 'I' shows that you are in command of your language. (So let's all make sure we learn about subject and object). I think it's telling that my awareness of grammar in the context of French, which I learnt consciously and painfully at school, is better than in English, and I would have liked to have had the English grammar that my parents gave me backed up in school, to give a stronger foundation to my personal linguistic creativity in my home language. My musical training gives me the prejudice that a bit of rigour is a useful backdrop for artistic inspiration. I'm also interested in what can be learnt from the experience of pupils who are new to English; can these learners instruct us in what a conscious rules-based knowledge of the structures of English, built up alongside natural conversational learning, looks like, and would it benefit everybody's literacy? That's something that is coming up in a lot of conversations in the Mantra Lingua office at the moment.

But it may very well be that the system as it is at the moment isn't serving people. Those fronted adverbials. In cases of stress, I would encourage people to have a look at the work of Mantra Lingua, and particularly the eGrammar Tales in this context, as there are some inspiring ideas that are particularly useful for EAL learners.

And I just checked with my dad. 'Due to' is adjectival and 'owing to' is adverbial. His fall was due to a banana skin on the pavement; he fell owing to a banana skin. I'm sharing your knowledge, Grandma.

Although what you'd think of fronted adverbials, I don't know, and I can't ask you.

May Robertson, 9th May 2017

2 EAL: The home language as a practical strength

Welcome back! We want this blog to become a resource for you. It's about sharing links to outstanding work in the field of EAL: academic writing, blog posts, video documentaries, or performance poetry. The references in today’s shorter post give some background to the information and ideas that we’ve been sharing over in our email communications, discussing Mantra Lingua’s eGrammar Tales. If you’ve just navigated your way here and want to know the context, you can sign up for the emails, or check out the tales. You don’t need to though. Please do simply enjoy and explore the links that we’ve put together.

In our first blog post, we introduced the thinking behind the idea that having English as an Additional Language (EAL) can be a strength. We love a series of videos, ‘Teaching Bilinguals (Even if You’re Not One)’ from the other side of the Atlantic, produced by Sarah Vogel. The first video suggests calling EAL students ‘emergent bilinguals’, with all the world advantages that this implies, and recommends looking for ways to ‘leverage’ the home language as a pupil improves their proficiency in English. The second video in the series looks at ways to begin to do that, sometimes very touchingly.

As mentioned in our previous post, the excellent Kamil Trzebiatowski is insistent on the need for not being complacent in your approach, and using a range of tools. Any resource such as the eGrammar Tales, therefore, will be just one part of a teacher’s individual ‘arsenal’ of techniques. Trzebiatowski also happens to be the giver of this detailed talk (with admittedly strange musical choices by the editor) that explains the concept of DARTS (direct activities related to text) rather well. DARTS are fundamental to the eGrammar Tales.

Scaffolding is the other concept that we were discussing. There's an explanation here, with lots of possible examples including ‘encouraging learners to use L1 ability on which to ‘hook’ learning in the additional language’. Hooking, leveraging… the words used are different but the idea is the same: to acknowledge ability in the home language, and then to use it to improve EAL ability. If you need an image of how this works, Mantra Lingua’s eGrammar Tales are a very simple example of it in action.

We find it heartening to know that there is a large community of people who are motivated by the desire to promote excellent English in the context of bilingualism as the goal for EAL pupils.

May Robertson, 28th April 2017

1 Some background...

Today we’ll be bold and counterintuitive. We’ll seek out the material that suggests that having English as an Additional Language (EAL) can be a strength. We’ll then apply that idea to the task of attacking the SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) syllabus at primary level.

The study-report authored by Kimberly Safford that we mentioned is recommended reading if you are involved in the primary sector, if you teach spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPaG), or if you work in the field of EAL. It raises several questions that you might like to consider. Sixteen teachers were interviewed, and all but one ‘believed that the grammar element of the statutory test strongly disadvantages pupils who use English as an Additional Language (EAL).’ This probably chimes with the concerns of many teachers. Yet the study suggests an alternative interpretation. It hints that ‘the language knowledge of linguistic minority pupils, or the grammar of non standard [sic] or English regional speakers’ could be ‘comparative resources for the teaching and learning of standard English grammar.’ This idea resonates with the concept of making use of pupils’ knowledge of other languages, which we’ll explore in the next post.

There are more ideas to pull out too. As one teacher interviewed said, ‘We’ve got over seventy percent of children with English as a second language and so the grammar’s really important.’ Like that teacher, then, you could try to move away from thinking of SPaG as an especial hurdle for your EAL students, a problem to be overcome, and reframe the specific, academic nature of the requirements as a potentially helpful tool for them. What do you think? Most intriguing of all is the study’s claim that in fact, the SPaG test is the only one in which pupils with English as a first language did not outperform EAL pupils at key stage 2. The most recent data confirms this, with a higher percentage of EAL learners achieving the expected level for SPaG nationally in 2016 than native speakers of English. This seems to make SPaG look very positive for EAL learners, but is the data trustworthy, or is it improved by the inclusion of native-English-speaking second-generation children? Looking at the study, one thing we say with confidence: multi-ethnic and multilingual classrooms are good places for children from low socioeconomic backgrounds to study SPaG. There is a lot of encouragement here. Another interesting piece of data comes from the Bell Foundation, which reports that pupils with English as their first language don’t suffer academically when placed in a school with a high proportion of EAL students. Are you feeling encouraged yet?

As you’ll be aware, there are many teaching approaches considered to be beneficial, and the British Council has put together some useful information on them here. Kamil Trzebiatowski – whose blog is absolutely recommended reading for everybody in the EAL field – gives a reminder that you need to stay creative and to work with several different techniques, because learners respond best to variety and you can never assume that you know ‘what works’. We like to think that the task of contributing to this variety is where Mantra can help.

Finally, if you need converting to the perhaps unconventional idea of thinking of your EAL students as possessors of amazing abilities, we leave you with this heartfelt post from Jonny Walker’s blog. Please stay to watch, and be moved by, the clip of George the Poet.

May Robertson, 27th April 2017