Words by Daniele Sinniger, EAL Teacher at IPS Hilversum.
IPS Hilversum is an international primary school that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) PYP ( Primary Years Programme) curriculum. IPS Hilversum is also part of the Dutch International Primary School Association (DIPS), which means that IPS Hilversum is not only subjected to the IB quality control system but is also subject to the Dutch Schools Inspectorate. Thus, we are part of a local, national and global network.
We are a culturally and linguistically diverse international community. Currently, the student population consists of 500 students representing 48 nationalities speaking 49 languages.
The academic language at IPS Hilversum is English. 80% of our students are EAL, and they face the additional challenge of learning new concepts in a language that is not their native one.
The purpose of my research was to find a way to impart EAL skills and knowledge to teachers new to teaching EAL students at IPS Hilversum. This consisted of two parts.
Firstly, with the cooperation of IPS Hilversum’s management, it was decided that I would be part of a team of 3 teachers to take the 5-day Lexis Education course “Teaching ESL Students in the Mainstream Classrooms” (TESMC) and become an accredited TESMC tutor. I took this course in August 2018 and, with two other colleagues, started delivering this course to a pilot group of 18 colleagues in November 2018. In time, all teachers will be expected to participate in this course.
Secondly, I wanted to find a way to ensure that learnings from the TESMC course on how to teach EAL students English in a mainstream classroom setting would this time be adopted and that all teachers would be equipped with these tools and therefore have a common language and skillset allowing for the sharing of best learning practices and experiences in (i) implementing EAL teacher learning and (ii) teaching EAL students more effectively.
Tutors conducted a pre-, a mid- and a post- course survey to measure the impact the course had on the participants.
During module 9, staff assessed the whole school’s provision for EAL on a 5 -scale framework. The results will be used by management to plan the next steps of EAL evolution at IPS Hilversum. In the principal’s words: “continuity, conformity and consistency” are the priority.
14 teachers initially volunteered, and after we started in October, 2 additional teachers joined our group due to positive word of mouth. Composition of core participants:
- Group 8 : 1 teacher
- Group 6: 1 teacher
- Group 5: 4 teachers and 1 assistant
- Group 1 : 1 teacher
- Learning support: 3 teachers
- EAL: 3 teachers
- PYP coordinator: 1 teacher
- Sector leader: 1 teacher
Another sector leader and the instructional coach joined us occasionally. The complete management team was present for the first and the last module.
The course was successful due to a combination of factors. Firstly, it was well-organized and clear to staff what the purpose was. Before the course even started, management had made it clear to all staff that the pedagogical concepts of the course are to be used as a framework for revising the language documents at IPS Hilversum. Secondly, we listened to our tutor trainer’s advice and asked staff to volunteer for the EAL course; we did not make the course mandatory. Additionally, our new curriculum coordinator joined the course and is now applying the TESMC concepts to all the school’s literacy documents. Finally, actively involving classroom teachers in this process ensures that innovation is systemic and sustainable.
The final evaluation of the course found that 100% of respondents felt more confident in teaching EAL and 100% would recommend the course to their colleagues.
Respondents have gained the following insights from the course:
- the importance of making text structures more transparent
- the importance of scaffolding ALL writers
- try to think about the EAL students in every lesson you plan
- a deeper understanding of the specific needs of EAL students
- an understanding of the needs of teachers concerning language learning within the school
- the importance of awareness with teachers that they offer EAL children language, especially texts to read, in a differentiated way.
Developing a school-wide language trajectory and integrating a language-rich planning system are both significant challenges for a school. It is a long-term process and the results may not be immediate– particularly for a school in the pioneer phase of its EAL journey. It therefore has the opportunity to learn from the experience of other schools and from academic research on what the most cost and learning efficient ways of imparting knowledge to EALs and mainstream learners are. This may necessitate further changes in how the school is structured. There are no easy fixes but the journey is an exciting one.
- Plan course dates well in advance and add them to teacher calendar.
- Deliver a presentation for staff, and ask for volunteers.
- Plan module one during the study week.
- Tell people at the beginning of the course that they’ll be building an EAL toolbox for everybody to use. All ideas for language will be collected and made available on google drive. Teachers are invited to use these ideas in their own classes.
- Create a tool bag of language learning strategies.
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