Many recent articles and posts about English language education in Australia have highlighted the fact that this area is ever-changing and reflective of what is currently happening in our society. Undoubtedly, the teaching of English as an Additional Language or Dialect is undergoing transformation at a government and policy level with changes to funding and allocations, but also at a grass-roots level as various groups of people arrive in Australia, many of whom have been forced to flee their home countries. Under the UN’s Rights of the Child, the children that inevitably arrive here amongst these groups are entitled to an education and to access an age-appropriate curriculum (ACARA).
For EAL learners, who may arrive as refugees with potentially very low levels of literacy in their first language and are now attempting to learn concepts at the same time as learning a new language, accessing this curriculum becomes a challenge for both them and their teachers.
Jennifer Hammond and Jennifer Miller’s book Classrooms of Possibility: Supporting at-risk EAL students explores the range of experiences that refugees bring with them and the implications for their education here in Australia.
The contributors recognise that there is significant evidence “that the strongest predictor of educational success for students learning in a second (or additional) language is the level of formal education in their first language (Thomas & Collier, 1997)” (Hammond and Miller, p. 18). For students who may have had limited or disrupted schooling in their first language, learning the academic style of English required to succeed at school will be much more difficult. Additionally, they often have to adjust to new institutional structures, form social relationships, and negotiate needs with teachers and other students. They may also have to deal with traumatic incidents from their past, which can influence how they adjust in our school system.
Despite these challenges, however, EAL students with disrupted schooling can still flourish with the right support. Hammond, Miller and their contributors use many years of research and experience to suggest ways that we can support these at-risk EAL learners in mainstream classrooms. Amongst these – and to me one of the most important – is the notion of “cultural capital”; that EAL students feel that the language experience they do have is important and a valuable tool for their future learning. Depending on their experiences as a minority group (it is important that we avoid treating all refugees as a homogenous group), these students may have become culturally and linguistically disenfranchised, made to feel lesser or as an “other.” One of the most valuable things we can do as teachers is to encourage them to maintain connections with their language and culture and, when they feel comfortable, to share that with others as a rich resource for learning.
I recently observed what may be a very simple example of this: a newly arrived Kindergarten student is often hesitant to use the English that she does know for fear that she might make a mistake. Instead, she prefers to speak to her teacher (a native English speaker) in her home language through her more confident older sister, who then translates as best she can. A noticeable change has occurred in the last couple of weeks however, with the kindergartener taking greater risks with her use of English. This seems to have coincided with the teacher making an effort to learn and regularly use a few words and phrases in the girls’ home language. The students, who come from a refugee background, are sharing knowledge with the teacher, rather than the language learning being one-directional. It would appear that, as a result of this, the younger girl has developed more of a sense of her own cultural capital (although I’m sure she wouldn’t phrase it that way!) which has in turn facilitated a greater confidence with her own language learning.
The general message here and from the far more research-based claims made in Hammond and Miller’s book is that whilst the needs of at-risk EAL learners are exceedingly complex and challenging, there are simple things that we can implement in the mainstream setting that support them to access the curriculum equitably.
A great test of this is imminent with the arrival of an extra 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, set to be resettled permanently in Australia starting in December. This will present a challenge for many of our schools, but the children have a right to an education and we have a responsibility to ensure they receive it on an equitable basis to their Australian-born peers. To the teachers and school leadership that this will affect, Classrooms of Possibility is an invaluable resource with a positive message about best practice in supporting these learners.
Wait. What do you mean it’s Week 4 already?
This term feels like it has gone from nought to a hundred in less than 0.25 seconds. And it’s not slowing down…
As many readers of this blog would know, I made the move to Sydney at the end of the last school year. 2015 has brought with it a new city, new job(s), new school(s), new colleagues, new kids, new system, new processes…new just about everything. Needless to say my head’s been left in a bit of a spin at times.
Today provided a great opportunity to take a breather and take stock of what’s happened so far and the direction in which my role as a secondary EAL/D teacher in a Catholic girls’ school in the south-west of Sydney is headed. A cross-regional EAL/D Induction Day offered the chance to meet key contacts within CEO Sydney and other new EAL/D teachers, to generate greater clarity about our role description and to engage with a range of resources.
Some of these resources were the same as ones I had engaged with in Adelaide, but many are different. Some are designed specifically for EAL/D specialist teachers, and others are for mainstream classroom teachers. The fact that EAL/D strategies are effective for all students in a mainstream classroom is something of which I have become acutely aware in my time as a specialist teacher in Adelaide. However, the cultural demographics I am working within Sydney’s south-west have truly reaffirmed this in a very short amount of time. In a school where roughly 70% of the girls are identified as LBOTE or ESL, it is simply impossible for an EAL/D teacher with a 0.6 FTE allocation to offer direct support to every student. Therefore the role of the classroom teacher in developing the language and literacy levels of the students is of the utmost importance.
So here are some resources that have helped me on my short, yet information-packed journey within CEO Sydney so far and that would serve both specialist and mainstream teachers very well in the work with LBOTE and EAL/D students…
Written by the team at CEO Sydney, this book provides definitions of roles, strategies for identifying and assessing EAL/D students and for supporting them in the mainstream classes, suggestions for effective practice for EAL/D practitioners. Whilst the language of ESL is still used, chapters are being updated throughout 2015 to align with the language of the Australian Curriculum. The content, however, remains fantastic and useful for teachers of EAL/D in any state. Available to order at the CEO Sydney Bookshop.
A document specifying the characteristics and behaviours of EAL/D students as they progress in their language development. It has been used since the 1990s, and the South Australian Language and Literacy Levels document has developed from this and the ACARA documentation. Available at the CEO Sydney Bookshop.
Overview, advice, EAL/D learning progression, annotated content descriptors for English, Maths, Science and History, and student illustrations of the learning progression. Created specifically for mainstream classroom teachers. Available here.
CEO Sydney’s online learning modules for individual teachers, school groups and leadership.
Twitter Hashtag #ealdconnect
A handle for EAL/D teachers to connect and discuss learning on Twitter.
Last week an EAL Consultant from Catholic Education SA, who I have worked closely with over the past couple of years, invited me to create a video sharing my experiences, observations, data and reflections on the use of Reading to Learn in my English and Italian classrooms. It was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on my own practice, but also to speak to a number of students and hear their reflections about how useful they find this approach to language and literacy. The kids astounded me with the depth of their insights, and I wish I was able to share their videos here (privacy policies prevent me from doing so). Fortunately, their voices will be heard at a formal presentation that the above-mentioned consultant is preventing both overseas and in South Australia. In the meantime, I can publish my own video, so I’ll let the vlog below speak for itself!
I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus this month – but for good reason! I am frantically getting work completed early in preparation for a 17 day study trip to Italy with fourteen of our wonderful Year 10 and 11 students. Anticipation is building, and there are just a few more assignments, exams, reports and administrative jobs to complete.
One of the tasks I set myself this weekend was the completion of an assignment for a course I am participating in through Catholic Education South Australia. This course explores the DECD Language and Literacy Levels for EAL learners at the secondary level, focusing on noun groups and nominalisations, passive voice and sentence structure, foregrounding and evaluative language. Since I wil be absent for the final module on evaluation, the presenter suggested the creation of a multimodal presentation. Below is the finished product, created on the fabulous ICT tool Powtoon.
THE ASFLA Conference 2013 wrapped up yesterday with the final key note speakers and presenters presenting their research papers and workshops.
Pauline Jones opened proceedings with her key note address “Learning to teach grammar: orchestral moves and virtuoso moments.” She posed the question: How will teachers enact the Knowledge about Language strand of the Australian Curriculum: English? Jones explored the relationship between teacher’s knowledge about language and their curriculum and pedagogic expertise. She used a case study of primary school teachers to investigate how they enact functionally oriented grammar in their pedagogy through multimodal exchanges. An analysis of these exchanges show that in their teaching of functional grammar, the teachers in this case study follow the process outlined in the diagram below. They complete each step multimodally through the actions identified in red above each phase of the cycle.
This is a cycle which I recognise from my work with Reading to Learn, however Pauline’s session prompted thinking about how that could be further embedded in my teaching in a secondary context.
The first workshop following the key note address explored how Reading to Learn is being implemented in a Danish English as a Foreign Language class. Susanne Karen Jacobsen and Anne Kryger Larsen explained how Anne, a classroom teacher of English was implementing Reading to Learn in her class to improve students’ reading and writing skills in the target language. This was particularly interesting for me as it is something that I am also working on implementing in my Italian classes. Whilst Anne is still in the early phases of the project, the results that she presented from her English class reflected some of the positive outcomes I have also noticed in my Italian students. I was particularly impressed at the level of text that she had her language students working with, which is food for thought about what kinds of texts I could be bringing into my Italian lessons. Discussion after the workshop with Peter Mickan from the University of Adelaide raised many questions about current practice in secondary LOTE classrooms, but also possible solutions that I would like to try in my own language classes.
Britt Johansson’s session immediately after morning tea was also particularly inspiring. Britt has been working on a long-term project in her school in Knutby, Sweden, to close the gap between linguistically and culturally diverse students. Pauline Gibbon’s work on SFL is the foundation of her approach and she has been training teachers in incorporating functional linguistics in their pedagogy. The results have been excellent, with a continual increase in students’ result in national tests affirming that they are on the right track with their literacy program. The greatest lesson Britt’s workshop held for me is that changes such as these are long term projects. Britt has been working on these changes in pedagogy for the benefit of the students at her school since 2003 and it is ongoing. Things do not change overnight.
Kristina Love and Carmel Sandiford from the Australian Catholic University then presented the initial findings of a project which tracked the metalinguistic development of teachers and their students as the teachers undertook professional development based on Halliday’s principles of ‘using grammar to think with.” Teachers were interviewed about an initial persuasive text that students were required to write, before undergoing the training. They were then interviewed again after students wrote a second text that had been taught using SFL. One of the teachers was an early career educator, whilst the other had significant teaching experience. Subjects’ metalinguistic development was mapped against their previous interview and results were positive, demonstrating improvement in knowledge and understanding both of the teachers and the students.
The final workshop of the day for me was Damon Thomas’s presentation “Persuasive writing genres from two theoretical perspectives.” A PhD candidate from the University of Tasmania, Damon explored why so many students reported having difficulty with the persuasive writing component of the 2013 NAPLAN test. He did this by outlining the persuasive writing in schools is grounded in two language theories which complement each other. Firstly, Classical Rhetoric divides persuasive language into judicial discourse, epideictic discourse and deliberative discourse. On the other hand, school-based persuasive genres are often taught from the SFL lens of analytical exposition, horatory exposition and discussion. We can see elements of judicial, epideictic and deliberative discourse within any of the SFL models. Damon suggests that the reason students struggled in 2013, was because they had been prepared for the traditional persuasive text prompt such as “Homework should be banned in schools. Do you agree/disagree?” which focuses more on deliberative discourse. However, this year’s prompt of “Choose someone who you believe is a hero and explain why you think they are so,” called for students to draw more on the epideictic discourse, the function of which is to praise. This was a fascinating and practical workshop, which did also demonstrate that SFL can work with complementary theories of language to improve students’ (and teachers’) understanding of language.
The conference was an intensive but incredibly rewarding four days of professional learning. I certainly leave Melbourne with many questions answered, and even more raised about how we can use approaches to SFL in practical ways in the classroom to improve student literacy and general learning outcomes. As Britt Johansson demonstrated, it is a long journey, but it is for the benefit of our students’ learning. And isn’t that why most of us are here?
Today saw the 2013 Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference 2013 kick off with the pre-conference workshops. Given the work colleagues and I have been doing with Catholic Education Office, it was fantastic to hear Dr David Rose speak about his pedagogy.
David began by talking about the background of Reading to Learn, before focusing on the Detailed Reading step of the teaching and learning cycle, running participants through how to plan a detailed reading lesson and implement it in the classroom.
The afternoon saw a simulation of a joint reconstruction of a sample text. Participants were positioned as students and recreated a passage from a narrative using the same language patterns. Students love this part of the cycle because it gives them the opportunity to imagine and play with language. They can also share their ideas and build on them and those of others prior to completing their independent construction.
Finally, David took participants through a detailed reading of factual texts, which can be rich in language features that make it difficult for students to access content. These include metaphorical language, unfamiliar technical terms and abstract concepts. The Reading to Learn scaffolding helps students to decode such a text, but also to practise using these language features in their own writing.
The workshop was full of discussion and questions from people from Australia, Scandinavia and the United States with a range of experience in Reading to Learn. For some it was an introduction to David’s approach, for others it was useful to clarify understandings and be challenged to extend their prior professional learning and to network.
Throughout the day there were whispers of building more formal partnerships between the education systems in Melbourne, where Reading to Learn has been used for a decade, and Adelaide and Brisbane who have been working with the pedagogy for the past few years. With delegates from Scandinavia and the United States also in attendance, the potential for individual teachers, educator trainers and educational consultants to network and share ideas about and experience with the pedagogy is exciting!
I count myself as very fortunate to have been involved in Catholic Education South Australia’s Reading to Learn professional development program over the past two years. Given the fact that it has been at the front of my mind for the past term and going into the ASFLA conference next week, I felt it required a descriptive/reflective post to explain my fervour.
Reading to Learn was developed by Dr David Rose and is based on principles of functional grammar. It aims “to enable all learners at all levels of education to read and write successfully, at levels appropriate to their age, grade and area of study.” (http://www.readingtolearn.com.au/) This provides a key point of access to the Australian Curriculum, which also demands that students of all abilities work with age-appropriate, challenging texts across the curriculum. Whilst Reading to Learn was originally developed with EAL students in mind, the strategies are applicable to mainstream students of all levels.
Having said this, I think David Rose explains the theory behind the strategy best:
My Reading to Learn journey began with my colleague’s encouragement two years ago. Getting involved is the best thing I have done for my teaching. It has strengthened my prior knowledge of linguistics, changed my approach to literacy education, and helped me to develop a lot more empathy with my students and what they experience when learning to cope with complex genres in secondary school.
As well as its application in my English and Religion classes, I have also found the pedagogy successful in my LOTE classroom. Whether in English or Italian, I am seeing my students’ confidence and willingness to attempt challenging genres growing by the week. With this, their reading comprehension and ability to produce quality writing is increasing tenfold. It is hard work and time consuming, but the fantastic results make it worthwhile.
Reading to Learn is being used at an international scale, and my colleagues and I have had opportunities to network with visiting teachers from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, as well as teachers from across South Australia. We are looking forward to continuing to share ideas and learn collaboratively at next week’s Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference next week in Melbourne.
Some generous gifts to our school by our Scandinavian Reading to Learn visitors.
This program is not just for English and EAL teachers, either. Literacy is a cross-curricular priority, and as a school we are working with staff to develop a consistent approach across the learning areas. This is an on-going process, which is still in its very nascent stages, however there are some promising signs and I will continue to post as we progress through this stage of our Reading to Learn journey.
I would love to hear from other teachers and schools using this pedagogy. What have been your successes and challenges? How do you implement it in your classroom and across the curriculum?
This afternoon I was fortunate enough to be present at the launch of Composing Written Texts: Across the Australian Curriculum F – 6. This fantastic resource, aimed at a national audience, represents several years of work from Beverley White, Anne Hamilton, and Kylie Pedler from Catholic Education SA and Bronwyn Custance from the Department for Education and Child Development.
The book is a practical manual for classroom teachers to support the scaffolding of written language in English, Science, History and Mathematics. The writers set out to provide “written models that illustrate the language features for particular genres at specific stages of linguistic development” (White & Hamilton 2013, p. 5). They have drawn upon genre maps to determine which genres students are expected to write at each year level in the Australian Curriculum. They have then developed writing samples for each genre which reflect the AC’s expectation of linguistic capacity at each year level. Each year level and genre is aligned not only to the Australian Curriculum, but also to DECD’s 2012 Language and Literacy Levels across the Australian Curriculum: EALD which have replaced the former ESL Scales and “describe the development of language and literacy needed across the year levels to access and demonstrate curriculum knowledge, skills and understandings for all learning areas” (DECD 2012, in White & Hamilton 2013, p. 6). Hence, the content of the book is relevant to all students in a mainstream or EAL classroom.
It is important to note at this point that while the resource draws heavily on functional grammar, it is not a guide to functional grammar and does not offer further explanation of terms other than in the glossary. That is not its purpose, although it provides references for those who do wish to learn more about the linguistic theory that underpins the work.
Structurally, Composing Written Texts is divided into year levels Foundation to Year 6. Annotated samples of the genres expected at each year level are found within the sections. These annotations include details about text cohesion, text structure, grammar and word knowledge, which are features described in the Language and Literacy Levels. Immediately following the annotated samples are practical suggestions for scaffolding the learning of students at this stage in their development. The scaffolding is structured around the following teaching and learning cycle:
This cycle allows teachers and learners to engage in a continual process of assessment for learning, and provides the flexibility necessary for differentiation of learning at any point depending on student needs.
Finally, at the end of each sample, specific links are made to the Australian Curriculum for English, Mathematics, Science and History to demonstrate where these units of work meet AC requirements.
This edition of the resource only covers Foundation to Year 6, but there were whispers at the launch today of an edition covering the scaffolding of writing from Year 7 to Year 10 (where the Australian Curriculum stops and the South Australian Certificate of Education begins). This would take some time to develop, but as a secondary teacher I am excited about the possibilities. Having said this, I still think that Composing Written Texts: Across the Australian Curriculum F – 6 is an incredibly useful resource for secondary teachers. It is a reality that we do have students working at the language levels that are explored in the book. This may be for any number of reasons, but regardless of what those are we must meet these students where they are at and work to move them up the levels. Composing Written Texts provides a practical guide for doing so that I will certainly draw upon in my role as both an EAL teacher and a mainstream classroom teacher in a secondary setting.