English as an Additional Language (EAL) – Key Factors in Supporting English Language Learner Success
16 May 2024

Jeremy Otto | Director of Teaching and Learning 

BEd, B Creative Ind, MEd, Cert School Mgmt & Leadership

With around 17% of the world’s population speaking English as a first language, our classrooms are increasingly reflecting the rich tapestry of cultural and linguistic diversity that shapes our modern society. This multiplicity of languages and cultures presents exciting opportunities for educators to create learning environments that celebrate multilingualism and develop students’ intercultural understanding. At the same time, supporting the needs of students who are adding English as an additional language requires intentional pedagogy. At Westbourne Grammar School, our Inspire teaching and learning philosophy emphasises holistic student development through nurturing character, agency, and wellbeing (CARE). Our Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CALD) strategy anchors this vision by providing a framework to cultivate an inclusive environment where all students can thrive, regardless of their linguistic background. We recognise that maintaining and celebrating students’ mother tongues is crucial for affirming identities, facilitating conceptual understanding across languages, and empowering students to fully engage as global citizens. Meanwhile, opening opportunities for families’ home languages to be heard and valued within our school community enriches us all.

Having worked in international schools and for the International Baccalaureate, I have witnessed firsthand just how pivotal language is in shaping students’ identities, worldviews, and pathways to success. Language is the medium through which we make sense of our realities and construct understanding. It carries the histories, values, and ways of knowing passed down through generations. In culturally and linguistically diverse school communities, sustaining home and heritage languages while providing robust support for additional language acquisition creates empowering environments where all students feel they fully belong. The multilingual mind exhibits enhanced cognitive flexibility, metalinguistic awareness, and cross-cultural competencies that translate into lifelong advantages. Personally, throughout my extensive travels, I have often felt the limitations of being monolingual, speaking only English fluently. There is a frustration in being unable to fully connect, understand cultural nuances, and access deeper personal relationships when language barriers exist. My experiences have instilled in me a profound appreciation for the assets multilingual students bring, as well as the urgency of implementing best practices so all learners develop effective communication abilities across languages. Ultimately, investing in our students’ multilingual growth is key to developing globally competent individuals prepared to lead in an interconnected world.

As highlighted in the CALD strategy, a key objective is “to adapt teaching practices and pedagogy to support CALD learners.” This involves personalising learning experiences, providing English language support, giving students autonomy, using inclusive texts, and building essential skills like notetaking.

There are some key factors that can empower English language learners to succeed:

Building Relationships and Inclusive Environments

Learners thrive in environments where they feel safe, valued, and a sense of belonging. Educators can build strong relationships by learning about students’ cultural backgrounds, affirming their identities, and creating opportunities for cultural sharing. The CALD strategy emphasises “nurturing a safe, supportive and inclusive environment” by promoting cultural celebrations and providing anti-racist resources. When classrooms become inclusive spaces, English learners feel confident to take risks and actively participate.

Leveraging Students’ Existing Language Skills

Rather than viewing students’ home languages as deficits, we should recognise them as assets on which to build new knowledge. Encouraging students to make connections between their first language and English can deepen comprehension and accelerate acquisition. Simple strategies like allowing vocabulary translation, connecting concepts to students’ lived experiences, and valuing multilingualism as a strength can go a long way. This aligns with Inspire’s focus on developing “character and agency” by affirming students’ identities and empowering their voice.

Differentiating Instruction and Scaffolding Learning

English learners are a diverse group with varying proficiency levels, educational backgrounds, and cultural perspectives. Effective instruction differentiates based on students’ needs, using multiple entry points, visual supports, cooperative learning structures, and opportunities for language production. By “scaffolding” and gradually releasing responsibility, educators can bridge learners to higher levels of English proficiency and content mastery aligned with Westbourne’s “developmental” approach across all grade levels.

Emphasising Academic Language and Literacy

While conversational English may develop more quickly, academic language presents unique challenges. Explicit instruction in vocabulary, grammar structures, and discipline-specific terminology is vital. Modelling strategies like notetaking, annotating texts, discussions of language forms and functions can accelerate academic literacy. As our CALD plan suggests, “appropriate reading texts with guided questions” and direct teaching of strategies like “skimming and scanning” can boost English learners’ capacity to engage with rigorous content.

Promoting Student Agency and Leadership

Our goal is for English learners to become self-directed, resilient, and adaptable – key attributes in Westbourne’s Learner Profile. We can foster student agency by offering voice and choice in topics, tasks, and assessment methods that allow them to represent their learning in diverse ways. Opportunities for peer teaching, mentoring programs, and leadership roles empower students as “active agents of their own development and success,” a core tenet of Inspire.

By implementing inclusive practices, validating students’ linguistic and cultural assets, differentiating instruction, emphasising academic language, and cultivating student agency, we can create learning environments where English language learners gain the “courage, community, creativity, and scholarship” embodied in Westbourne’s values.

As educators, we have an immense opportunity to shape globally minded citizens who can “inspire the world” and appreciate the richness cultural and linguistic diversity brings. Supporting English learners’ multifaceted needs is also a dedication to developing empathetic leaders prepared to thrive in an interconnected society. Our resolute focus on providing an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and equips students with strong language abilities across cultures is paramount. By nurturing these competencies, we uphold our promise of shaping globally-minded individuals who can inspire positive change through understanding and effective communication.

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