Top 10 best practices
for empowering schools to support EAL families (part 2)
We all live in an increasingly globalised world; the diversity of which is reflected in schools across the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and other western education systems.
And, successfully embracing, including and celebrating multilingualism is both a rising and ongoing challenge for educators.
In our last blog, Top 10 best practices for empowering schools to support EAL families (part 1), we shared five of the best methods for engaging the parents and families of EAL [English as an Additional Language], ESL [English as a Second Language] or ELL [English Language Learner] students.
Here, we dissect the next five, including the critical role that technology can play to make multi-language communication feasible and efficient.
6. Provide professional EAL learning and development for staff
To develop a truly holistic approach to EAL families, and acknowledge and embrace the multilingual nature of your school, it’s important that you provide teachers and support staff from outside your LOTE [Language Other Than English] department with opportunities to learn EAL techniques. These techniques can then be incorporated into general teaching practices.
For example, this might include developing a better understanding of direct teaching tactics that are engaging and enable strong participation from students with weaker native English capabilities. These techniques and concepts may include:
- Narrative and visual based resources and learning approaches
- Technology-driven aids that support EAL learning and participation
- Immersion tactics (such as role play) that don’t require sophisticated English skills, which enable EAL students to integrate socially and experience the full curriculum
Aside from specific tactics and techniques for the successful implementation of EAL-conscious teaching practices, EAL-centric professional learning and development opportunities should aim to equip staff with:
- A thorough understanding of the additional resources and areas of assistance English learners require to achieve success — in any area of study
- The ability to identify and incorporate language learning strategies when teaching content — in any area of study
- Resources and strategies to help plan and different lessons for English learners — in any area of study
- Effective evaluation and assessment frameworks for measuring EAL student progress, divergent from English language capabilities
Lastly, simply supplying sufficient information to staff about your EAL cohort’s countries of origin will also assist social and academic integration — for parents, students and staff alike.
7. Encourage bi-lingual conversation at home
Oftentimes, both EAL parents and teachers want to totally immerse EAL students in the English language, and are therefore hesitant to encourage native language usage. However, research actually indicates shunning native language conversation and learning at home can have a detrimental impact on English language development.
In fact, parents should be supported to continue native language learning at home, as research demonstrates that EAL students with strong native language skills pick-up English faster and achieve superior academic results generally. Schools can support this endeavour by providing further learning resources and reading materials in common additional languages.
While generally important, this concept is particularly critical for younger students learning the fundamentals of language construction and reading for the first time. If EAL students do not become proficient in their first language before attempting to learn English, their efforts are severely hampered because they have not previously learnt the structures, techniques, patterns and processes, which they can refer back to when studying English.
Continued exposure to both native and second-language literature is important, as: “when a child’s brain is exposed to language at a very young age, the brain develops a life-long capacity to learn language, including foreign languages” (McGill University, 2002).
Additionally, restricting at-home interactions and learning to English can also restrict an EAL parents’ ability to help their children due to their own English limitations.
- UK: Ten ways to support community languages in the UK > and School approaches to the education of EAL students >
- US: Raising a Truly Bilingual Child >
- AUS: Speak to your child in the language you know best >, Why it makes sense for children to learn in the language they know best > and Can ESL teachers play a role in helping maintain the home language? >
8. Encourage multi-language practices within the classroom too
Embracing the multilingual nature of the modern student body, outside of the traditional confines of LOTE classes, can contribute to developing the ‘whole school’ multi-language strategy discussed in point one.
The first step for introducing multi-language teaching strategies across multiple subject matter disciplines is to develop a school policy, which gives educators guidelines for effective implementation. This policy should be created in consultation with key stakeholders — teachers, EAL parents and students, as well as non-EAL parents and students.
Part of this policy should also include clear guidelines for assessing the development of EAL students, which weight achievement differently, in order to prevent inadvertently discouraging EAL parents and children from continued academic achievement, English language improvement and social integration efforts.
Such transparency and active integration can also help combat the development of false assumptions and generalized misconceptions regarding EAL families amongst non-EAL students and parents.
Additionally, multi-language engagement models can help reduce the need to undesirably cluster EAL students in common class groupings — based purely on English comprehension levels — to the detriment of ongoing integration efforts.
9. Form strong relationships between EAL families and school career counsellors
For secondary schools in particular, it’s imperative that you ensure your EAL families and career councillors form strong partnerships.
Many are less likely to know all the options available to their children: Study requirements, the ins and outs of the local tertiary education or labor markets. Empowering them to actively partake in their children’s study and career choices is vital.
Here are some of the key considerations career counsellors should be supported to take into account when discussing pathways with EAL parents and their children:
- EAL families, and therefore parental expectations vary hugely: The parents of international students may have vastly different levels of education attainment, understanding and post-school study or work expectations compared to refugee or migrant families
- Different cultures:
- Place different values on different types of education and career choices — be aware of these nuances to avoid awkward conversations
- Have diverse family decision-making processes — understand where the in order to include and balance parent and child input as appropriate
- Put varied amounts of pressure on their kids to achieve in school — know when you need to encourage parents to take a step back, or become more involved
- Explore the EAL parents’ own experiences and understanding of the labor market, putting that knowledge in context by contrasting it with employment patterns and opportunities in the local labor market
- Explain different types of educational pathways and qualifications, the opportunities with which they align, and the prerequisites that need to be considered
- Have the resources required to support EAL families to access and apply for study assistance and post-school education
- Provide multi-language support by providing access to interpretation services and translations of career advice publications where feasible
- UK: Supporting students with EAL: Careers ideas and activities >
- US: English Language Learners and Increasing College-Going Culture: Suggestions for School Counsellors >
- AUS: Engaging EAL Parents in Career Conversations >
10. Establish a reliable two-way multilingual communication process
While encouraging EAL families to improve their English skills is important, sometimes there’s no room for error when communicating critical information.
Embracing smart technology that allows EAL parents to receive and respond to school permission, consent and information requests (such as student medical conditions) in their native language can be a true game-changer.
Such technology-enabled automation not only makes two-way multi-language communication possible, but ensures accuracy of data, safety and full inclusion of EAL students in school events and activities — all while keeping EAL and non-EAL parents equally well-informed.
Teacher and bilingual learning expert, Farin A Houk, states the importance of “establishing two-way communication on both sides”, as well as the need for a translation process that is “formal, steady, and reliable.” Houk emphasizes that non-formalised and non-process-driven methods — such as “talking slower or louder, simplified words and gestures, or using students or family for confidential or in-depth translation/interpreting” — are unsatisfactory, unreliable and place EAL families at a comparative disadvantage.
In addition, automated and digitized distribution of multi-language communications also enables schools to survey EAL families in their own language, empowering them to continually improve EAL inclusivity with direct input into EAL programs and support services.
But, make sure you’re ready to take that feedback seriously and act on it — otherwise you run the risk of permanently alienating new EAL families. Houk notes that EAL parents, “should not be ‘included’ to rubber stamp school decisions, or to provide affirmation for school staff about decisions made with no real input”.
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Eliminate your expensive, inefficient paper-based processes, and empower your EAL families like never before.
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Where to next? See you soon for part two.
Keep an eye out for part two of this blog series, where we share the next five best practices for empowering schools to support EAL families.