I see the words in the title of this blog post a lot when EAL learners are mentioned and it frustrates me! Why is EAL seen as a challenge? Why is it seen as an issue? Why it is a problem?
One of the best things about Andrea Honigsfeld’s book ‘Growing Language and Literacy’ is how she focuses on ‘what students can do’ rather than what they can’t! She says that this will lead to our EAL learners feeling more empowered and therefore ‘able to learn English.’ Her excellent book is based on EAL learners being an asset to our school, which is the type of model of teaching and learning that should be used with all of our EAL learners in all of our schools. It’s time we embrace our EAL learners and not look at them as a challenge, issue or problem.
EAL learners bring so much to the classroom in terms of both cultural and linguistic capital, celebrating this cultural and linguistic diversity in our schools helps them to flourish. Using tools such as translanguaging (when a learner uses all of their linguistic tools for learning), scaffolding, and EAL pedagogy will allow our EAL learners to experience the same levels of success as everyone else in our schools.
Looking upon them in terms of what they ‘can do’ instead of what they ‘can’t do’ will make our EAL learners feel supported in their learning of content and language. Content and language integration is vital to the successes of our EAL learners. It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure that we are giving our EAL learners the opportunities for language and content to be developed. If we do not, then it is us (teachers) that are the challenge, issue and problem and not our EAL learners.
It is so frustrating to hear teachers say ‘they can’t do this’ or ‘they can’t do that’ when they have not even thought about how they should adapt their delivery to meet the needs of the EAL learners in their classrooms. There are some fabulous resources available to support EAL learners and with a little searching some of these can be found on the World Wide Web, even for free!. In addition, if we create resources to support EAL learners now then they will be there forever, which means they can be used over and over again.
Allowing learners to use their first language to support the learning of content and language is being proven more and more as a viable tool that teachers can use in their classrooms. Dismissing a learners first language does not make sense, not allowing the use of first language means that EAL learners will be missing a vital chance to learn the content of the classroom. Yes, it does take some of the power away from the teacher because if, like me, you don’t speak another language we have to put an element of trust in our learners. But this can be highly rewarding for our learners and for us as teachers. Our learners see that we value their language which in turn can be incredibly empowering to our classrooms and schools.
If we stop seeing the teaching of EAL learners as a challenge, issue or problem then we can empower them and support them in the best ways we can. Using an asset based model is far more beneficial than a deficit model. EAL learners bring such a vast array of skills, knowledge, experience and backgrounds to our classroom that valuing these can enhance our teaching and learning. Embrace what they bring to our classrooms!