I often create resources specifically for EAL students to support them in accessing the mainstream curriculum. For students that are new to English or at the early acquisition stage, many resources and tasks are never adapted to support them. As a result, they often rely on copying other students to show that they have completed work in class. A focus on task completion instead of task ownership does not support our learners of EAL and certainly does not help to develop their language skills.
For effective resources and tasks that support learners of EAL, teachers need to contemplate a number of different aspects to the resource of task design. Does the task actively develop all 4 skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking (not all tasks or resources have to encompass all, but at least one area should be developed)? How is the task or resource related to what others are doing in the class?
I always take into consideration what Professor Pauline Gibbons wrote in her book English Learners Academic Literacy and Thinking about well designed tasks. Although it is more related to tasks than resources a lot of what she discusses I see as relevant to resource design as well.
- Language is used for authentic purposes – If tasks or resources are used for authentic purposes then learners will have a real purpose for completing them. Learners of EAL need to see that what they are doing carries meaning and holds true value in the classroom.
- Tasks are embedded in the curriculum – It goes without saying that any task or resource for learners of EAL should be explicitly linked to the curriculum or subject they are studying. Decontextualised learning has next to no benefit for learners of EAL.
- Tasks are engaging and relevant – As above, they must be embedded in the curriculum but they must also be engaging. In that way we can ensure that our learners are motivated to carry out tasks and take an active part.
- Tasks are cognitively demanding – For language and content to be developed we must ensure that tasks and resources demand that learners stretch and push themselves. A task that is of low cognitive demand does not support learning much like Cummins Quadrant seen below. We need to ensure that our tasks and resources are moving our learners from quadrant B – C.
5. Tasks require participation – for language and cognition to be developed it is essential that learners take an active role in tasks and resources. Barrier activities or information gap activities are a great way to ensure participation.
6. Tasks require learners to stretch their language – To ensure that language is being developed learners need to stretch language beyond what they can already use. In this way they are working towards their Zone of Proximal Development as stated by Vygotsky. We can support this stretching of language by modelling the types of language needed to participate in tasks or complete resources we have given to our learners. In addition, we can pair our beginner EALs with more proficient speakers so that they are working with a more skilled peer.
7. There is a clear outcome for the task – All tasks and resources need to have a clear end point and outcome that is relevant to the lesson or learning objective. If this is made explicitly clear to our learners then they will have a real motivation to complete tasks or resources.
I believe that tasks and resources should encompass all of what Gibbons states above. If these resources and tasks are not being created or developed and not utilising the points Gibbons makes above then we are not supporting our learners of EAL effectively. In turn, this will mean that they fall behind and do not make the progress they could make if tasks and resources were designed and created effectively.
In summary, tasks and resource design is really important for our learners of EAL. If we are aware of the points made by Gibbons then we can support our learners of EAL in making progress in our subject areas which in turn will support language development.
Pauline Gibbons book is available to by and a review of the book can be found by clicking on this link.