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Partnerships: EAL and multilingualism

This post is the fourth in a series of four about EAL schools. The first is on complexity in EAL, the second is on advocacy for multilingual learners and learners with EAL, and the third is on EAL provisions. This post picks up on issues around advocacy and looks at the people, programmes, and places that form strong partnerships for improving our EAL provision.


Provision for English as an additional language in schools is always complex, and that complexity requires working well in partnership with all the people involved in the education of students with English as an additional language. Every child with English as an additional language comes from a home where another language or languages are used. The role of the parents in supporting their children, in partnership with the school, is defined in two ways. The first is the crucial role that parents must play in ensuring the continued development of the home language/s. Research is very clear that a strong home language is the basis for strong English development as well, so the school and parents need to be aligned in understanding and planning for continued development of the home language. Parents also have an important role to play in helping their children access learning while English is being developed. But for parents to know how to support content at home, the school and teachers need to have a strong system to communicate with parents about students' learning journeys. This can be through an online platform such as Seesaw (with built-in multilingual potential) or it can be a simple weekly newsletter. A consistent system across the whole school for the parent-school partnership will enhance this relationship and ensure best support for children both for learning at school and for development in the home language.


In the last post I talked about EAL programmes, now we turn our focus to home language programmes. While some may argue that English is the school's job and home languages are the parents' job, I think that is both short-sighted and ethically weak. When we agree to admit students who are learners of the school language, we have a responsibility to support them in learning the language well enough to thrive. But we also have a responsibility to support them in their overall development, which includes their home languages. There are a variety of ways that schools can support home language development, from an integrated translanguaging approach through to a formal home language programme. Whatever model a school chooses, support for home languages needs to be a part of the partnership that serves our multilingual students. Home language teachers must be considered members of the teaching community, and included in professional conversations focusing on student development, they are part of the people that form the village of language opportunties for our students. Communication across members of this team - teachers, home language teachers, and parents - will ensure that we understand a child's development and their needs.


The final element of or partnership is place. How do we ensure that our learners with EAL are full members of our school community even when they are still learning the community language? This requires setting EAL programmes, people, and partnerships at the centre of our community, and not on the periphery. All too often, our EAL programmes are delivered in out of the way locations, which may not even be consistent over days and weeks. I've seen students receiving provision in hallways, closets, or the busy common area of a year group hub. And all too often our EAL specialists are also not in the centre of our teaching and learning community, but on the outside. I've been told 'our EAL team likes to do their own thing' more times than I can count, and I don't think that's accurate. I think that we often don't prioritise the role of the EAL specialists in our schools, and so we don't find the time to build the professional partnerships needed for EAL specialists and classroom teachers to work well together. This is also true of leadership; it's rare to find an EAL specialist on a senior leadership team, and many schools still do not have a designated leadership position for the EAL team (or even a team!).

None of these message the importance of what happens in EAL, and it's difficult to message that with clarity when we can't show a clear programme and progression. As I mentioned in the previous post, if we are not systematic in our approach to EAL programming and decision making, it makes it harder to advocate well for our students, and to advocate for the importance of putting provision for EAL at the centre of our schools. The reality is that if we don't get languages right, we don't get anything else right either, so language learning, including EAL, should be placed at the centre of all we do.


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