I work in a large secondary school with 66% of the learners speaking English as an Additional Language (EAL). From Year 10 (14 – 15 years old) onwards some choose the Academic Language Program (ALP) as one of their GCSE options. This is because they are at DfE Proficiency in English code A or B. Code A and B suggests that an EAL learner is new to English (Code A) or at the early acquisition (Code B) stage of proficiency in English. These students require high levels of language support to access the mainstream curriculum. To support these learners in accessing the mainstream the ALP aims to develop their academic language within the context of the mainstream curriculum. When I plan for these lessons I need to consider the language demands of subjects that learners are studying. Planning for language development is essential for all learners and vital for my learners who study on the ALP.
I usually take a genre based approach to planning my ALP classes. I analyse the key command words in GCSE examination questions such as explain, describe, compare and evaluate. Close analysis of different GCSE command words suggests that there were some common command words that were used across different subjects, mentioned above. I base my ALP lessons around these common command words and linked language learning to content that my learners might study in their mainstream subjects.
It is essential that any language learning I plan for is done within the frame of the subjects the learners are studying. Standalone language learning that has no context does not support EAL learners language development. The problem at GCSE level is that learners can choose different options and there were variations in what subjects the learners were studying. In the past I have randomly chosen different subjects to base my ALP lessons around. However, I recently read some research from the USA which suggested that it is better to focus intervention lessons around core subjects or those with lots of writing in. Therefore, I try to focus on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science and plan to develop learners language through the context of these subjects that all learners were studying.
When planning for language development, I always find it helpful to refer to Pauline Gibbons’ Question Framework for Assessing Writing which can be found in her excellent book Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning. Although, as the title suggests, it is a way to assess EAL learners writing I find it helpful to use the different assessment criteria when I am planning for my EAL intervention classes. The criteria Gibbons uses in her framework are:
- Text Type – linked to the genres that my learners will study
- Overall Organisation – It is important the EAL learners have an understanding of how the text type is organised.
- Cohesion – One of the most important focuses for my learners is developing cohesion in their writing. Often my learners might be able to write basic sentences but are unsure of how they can develop basic sentences into connected complex and compound sentences. Cohesion plays a crucial role in responding to GCSE exam questions
- Vocabulary – This is linked to the topic we are studying. For instance, in a recent unit on comparing and contrasting, we used the subject of Geography as the content to link the language learning off. Therefore, there are some subject specific vocabulary in Geography that I can integrate into my planning and lessons.
- Sentence Grammar – Each genre may have different grammatical structures. For example, the use of the past tense in recounts or present tense in discussions. Teaching EAL learners grammar related to the genre being studied is essential for their development and awareness of how to write in different genres.
- Spelling and punctuation – At GCSE level many EAL learners come unstuck because of the focus on spelling and punctuation that is used in their GCSE exams. They need to be aware of how to spell words (giving spelling tests now again can’t hurt! Can it?). Punctuation is vital if you are going to communicate effectively and gain marks at GCSE level.
Using the criteria above really helps me to plan for how I teach genres to my EAL learners. Writing plays an integral role in all learners ability to gain good marks at GCSE level and it is essential that EAL learners are taught how to write successfully in different genres. There are relatively few command words that are used frequently in exams. If I can help my learners develop greater awareness and control of writing in these genres, then their chances of success at GCSE level are greatly enhanced. Using Gibbons’ Assessment Framework for writing helps me to get a clear idea of what I should teach in my intervention sessions.
Other articles on the Gibbons’ framework!
NALDIC have a very good article on using the framework which I recommend reading. It is available by clicking here. Whilst Collaborative Learning have a good article about planning for improving EAL writing which is available here.