Where do you stand on using simplified or authentic texts with EAL learners?
My views are mixed, on the one hand, EAL learners that are new to English or at the early acquisition stage sometimes struggle to access authentic texts they read at secondary school level. Whilst, on the other hand, simplified texts do not model the language that EAL learners need to develop.
I had an interesting experience this week whilst adapting a text for a Y10 (age 14 – 15 yrs old) Religious Studies (RS) lesson. The students that the text was being adapted for are EAL learners who are at the new to English / Early acquisition stage of their language development. I looked at the section I was asked to adapt and thought it would be best to simplify the language. However, as I was simplifying it I seemed to be making it more difficult to read. I use a readability calculator to evaluate how difficult a text is to access for my EAL learners. There are a range of readability calculators available on the web. As I was adapting the text and using the readability calculator I noticed I was actually making the text more complex to read!
Now, I know readability calculators are not the perfect way to evaluate the complexities of a text but they do provide some insight. As I simplified the text, I would paste it into a readability calculator and each time I was told it was becoming harder to understand. It was interesting to note that shorter sentences and more simplified vocabulary did not help to make the text more comprehendible but more difficult to read! As a result, I decided to look at other ways to support EAL learners accessing the authentic text.
In a linguistic analysis of simplified and authentic texts Crossley et at (2007) suggest that simplified texts might contain more high frequency words and common connectives. This might create problems for EAL learners because high frequency words and common connectives can be used across a range of subjects. Whereas, authentic texts are more likely to contain tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary that are specifically related to the subject or text type. High frequency words and connectives might make comprehending simplified texts more difficult than using subject specific, academic language because they are found in a wide range of subjects. Maybe, rather than simplifying texts we need to think about how we can support EAL learners in accessing authentic texts.
In my opinion, EAL learners of all levels (possibly except total beginner) should be exposed to authentic texts. There are a number of ways in which teachers can scaffold authentic text reading to make it accessible to EAL learners.
When I was adapting the RS text I found a number of scaffolds helped to make the text more accessible.
- Sub -headings – Including sub headings that identify the main idea of the paragraph helps learners gain understanding of the section they are about to read
- Highlighting key words – thinking about tier 3, subject specific vocabulary highlighting it in a text will draw learners attention to the word.
- Glossaries – as part of No.2 providing glossaries of the highlighted words might help learners with understanding. There are a number of different glossaries could be used.
- Key visuals – visuals are really helpful to all EAL learners. Including visuals with the text helped to make it more comprehensible.
- Graphic organisers – arranging the text into manageable chunks through the use of graphic organisers helps to chunk information and focus learners attention on particular parts of a text.
- Margin questions – Margin questions are questions placed around a text that point to where information can be found. This takes away the need for learners to locate information and focus on understand the text around where the question is placed.
- Immersive Reader / translating text into learners first language (L1) – tools such as Microsoft’s Immersive reader can be used to support learners who are literate in their L1. In addition, Immersive reader includes tools such as picture dictionaries / dictionaries to help learners.
Whether you give whole texts to EAL learners or certain parts, using authentic texts will provide learners with exposure to the types of academic language and vocabulary specifically related to the subject or topic. If scaffolding is used correctly we can support EAL learners of all proficiency levels in accessing authentic texts.,
Crossley, S., Louwerse, M.M., Mccarthy, P.M., McNamara, D. (2007) ‘A Linguistic Analysis of Simplified and Authentic Texts’, Modern Language Journal, 91(5), pp.15-30. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227718830_A_Linguistic_Analysis_of_Simplified_and_Authentic_Texts