2015 IPDA Prize winner Lorna Anderson writes about Master’s work with English as an additional Language (EAL) Learners
The IPDA prize is intended to acknowledge outstanding work undertaken by post graduate students in the field of professional learning. IPDA is reviewing the criteria for the prize and further details will be published later in the year. Here, one of the winners of the 2015 prize, Lorna Anderson writes about her prize-winning master’s study.
As part of my M Ed degree at Strathclyde University I completed the PG Cert in Supporting Bilingual Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. We had to carry out a project that addressed concerns we had around supporting EAL learners in our current context. Where I worked at the time, parents with limited English language rarely engaged with the school. I talked to these parents at parents’ night and found two main issues. Firstly, they placed priority on their child’s ability to use English and placed little value on their own first language. Secondly, they lacked confidence and didn’t believe they could be involved in their child’s learning due to the language barrier. Supporting their child with homework was the biggest issue. Homework was generally the traditional tasks such as spelling and writing sentences, and there was a real professional development need for staff in the school to rethink what were appropriate literacy tasks to set for EAL learners to do at home that didn’t exclude their parents. I decided to run a series of workshops, with help from interpreters, for these parents on supporting their children with homework and development of literacy whilst maintaining the home language. I focused very much on the positives, what parents could do to help. This then informed subsequent professional development around suitable homework tasks for EAL learners and making links with home.
Firstly, the parents and I looked at the reading books that went home and the types of literacy skills they could develop with them at home using the visuals – regardless of what language the words were written in; skills such as making predictions, recounting the story, speculating and sequencing. I emphasised that developing the ability to make reasoned predictions, for example, is the same skill no matter what language you use, and that research had proven that you can transfer concepts to a second language effectively if they are embedded in the first. We practised asking good questions, and the children had the opportunity to come and work with their parent(s) on the aspect we had been looking at that day.
Secondly, it was important to emphasise the value of maintaining first language at home, not just for educational reasons but for maintaining the linguistic and cultural heritage of the family. I made up a series of story packs, which contained a dual language story with supporting games and props. Parents could use these in the same way as homework reading books to develop literacy skills, plus use the dual language text to share stories and talk about them in their own language together at home. These were loaned out weekly and swapped for a new one the following. They were a great success, and very popular with both parents and children!
The parents all said they felt much more confident at the end of the project and were very grateful for the support. The aspects we worked on together were shared with the school staff and used to stimulate development on how tasks could be made more inclusive for parents with limited English as well as develop the literacy of the children. For example, one such task involved the use of the dual language story packs – children and parents read the story and used the supporting resources at home, then talked about what other children might want to know about it. The children then retold the story and answered questions about it in English with a small group of peers in school.
The project definitely improved the relationship between these previously quite isolated parents and the school. Some parents even came into school later that year to read stories in their own language to different classes – something they said they wouldn’t have even considered before!