Last term, I was asked to plan some in-service training for teachers on strategies to support our Secondary EAL learners. This was highlighted as an area for development across the secondary school, based on observations, self-reflections, informal chats, and so on. The session was delivered online.
Here is an overview of how I approached the training, and a bit about my rationale for this approach. It may be useful for other EAL teachers who are tasked with delivering a similar session.
This was a standalone, 1-hour session. To be honest, there wasn’t much of a culture of CPD at the school (at that particular time – this has changed), which kind of meant that a) you get what you’re given timewise, b) you’ve gotta have realistic expectations about what can be achieved – and what ‘impact’ looks like down the line.
Putting teacher needs at the forefront is important:
- Informal discussions throughout the year told me that lots of teachers really weren’t confident that they could provide ‘the right’ support for our EAL learners.
- EAL needs were not prioritized in subject planning (as reported by two departmental leads). Not many teachers had informally come to seek advice from EAL staff, though would often ask when prompted – there was a lack of dialogue on this topic to be honest, bit of an elephant in the room…
- The subject teachers I worked with were better at supporting EAL learners than they often seemed to think. For example, their lessons were often really well staged and scaffolded, they would often address both content and language, and so on. Teachers didn’t often see what they did well, yet there was tons of good practice at the school.
- Sometimes, the sheer panic from a subject teacher of ‘THIS EAL KID DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!’ was, from my easy-to-say-as-an-observer standpoint, pretty solvable. Some teachers would spend ages creating all these differentiated worksheets for the EAL learners when, in reality, careful staging of instructions, checking instructions and possibly working through an example would mean they could work with exactly the same material as everyone else. This was not always the case, but a lot of the time it was more about the tiny tweaks in practice than time-consuming approaches.
Thinking through all I knew and had observed from the teachers, I established these principles for the training:
- Teachers need to realise that they are better than they think. They need examples of their good practice, and they need to know how and why it is good. This should build confidence, and should help teachers to realize that there are good practitioners around them that they can turn to.
- This has to be a practical and applicable session. Lots of take homes. Strip back the theory. It’s 3.30pm and regardless of need, no one wants to be there.
- WE NEED TO TALK! This school needs ‘EAL approaches’ to be an ongoing dialogue. Get the ball rolling – fairly unstructured is fine, but providing the space for dialogue is the important thing.
- There needs to be upskilling here for the more experienced teachers. We need some strategies that address the basics of support for the learners, some which take it a bit further, and some which are more optimal (in the context).
Getting the level of input right
Based on observations, I felt the kinda ‘bronze medal’ impact here would be to get some teachers to realise that shoring up some their core skills (ie. the way they give instructions) can have a huge affect on the learning. Some teachers would have likely scoffed at that, so they need the ‘silver medal’ – more explicit focus on language as well as content, and more ideas for how to introduce/address new language. The History teacher at this point would probably be like ‘right? That’s what I do!’, so she needed the ‘gold medal’ – how can I do more to build speaking confidence among the learners? To be fair, she already does that too, so I struggled to think of ways to upskill her within this session – I just went to chat with her after about other strategies. Tut, there’s allllllways one…
Anyhow, it’s important to have something for all levels of expertise I guess, and something practical they can work with too.
Highlighting what teachers do well
I used over 20 examples from teachers’ own planning to demonstrate good practice. I referenced the teacher too. Here’s one example:
(note: blue bullet points are my talk through)
Teachers need to know that what I’m talking about is happening already somewhere in the school. I mean, not alllways, but often.
Get teachers talking
Well, this was tricky given the time. Still, you gotta get it happening. I had three stages of it. I’d talk for 10 minutes, summarizing a few strategies, then I’d have teachers reflect on their own use of them (in practice, a bit longer than 5 minutes obvs – not long enough to go off on tangents though hopefully).
Ha! I kind of lured them in with the chat about instructions – gets tougher doesn’t it!
Anyway, because this was an online session, we could get teachers to gather within their departments. I felt this was really useful, as it was a good opportunity for teachers to share best practice. This totally worked with the English department next door – I could see them bring up some quick examples of their planning and talking through some of the whats and whys in their approach.
Sure, they didn’t have long to discuss this. But it was a start. It planted the seed at least.
The points I tried to get across:
What happened after the session?
Well, as I said, with no planned follow ups or anything… no clear path to assessing the impact of the session, it’s hard to say what it achieved really.
Or is it? Two teachers came to discuss the session with me after. They actually sought out the EAL classroom – that NEVER happens. I was working with one of them already, but after the session there was much more of a ‘co-planning’ approach between us. Lots more ‘do you think this will work?’ and ‘how should I approach this?’ – a clear building of rapport and I’d hope a lasting message for that particular teacher that language specialists are there to be utilized! Impact on the learners though – that’s the big thing – and not exactly measurable here. Could have been, had the session happened earlier in the year.
There was kind of a feeling of breaking down a barrier with some teachers. Little chats in the staffroom about EAL popped up, the odd bit of advice was asked, so that was a plus. I got a couple of those ‘we do all that anyway’ type comments after the session which are inevitable – especially when they come from people who don’t actually ‘do all that’.
Anyway, I wish there had been a better way to assess impact here, but time was already running out in the academic year as this session was delivered.
If you’re planning a session yourself then I can share the slides (may have to take some examples out). Just get in touch.