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The Bedrock of EAL Teaching: Tier 1

In my previous two posts I explored the challenges to strong EAL provision in schools (The Dark Arts of Language Teaching) and shared a new model for systematising practice (Multi-tiered System of Learning for EAL). In this post I will explain the rationale and implementation of Tier 1 (see model at the end of this post) of the model (followed by the other two tiers).


In my experience, Tier 1 is the most neglected area of EAL provision in schools. This is mainly because most people don't consider the classroom and main curriculum as a part of the 'EAL provision'. There is often a reductive approach to EAL, with the idea of 'support' coming from a key team (may only be one person!) designated with a title like 'EAL teacher', 'EAL Specialist', or 'EAL support teacher/assistant'. When I ask about programming for English language acquistion (ELA), I am directed to the 'support' department to meet with these specialists. While it is true that every school needs specialists, the reality is that this team actually are responsible for only a small percentage of ELA. When students spend almost all their time in mainstream classrooms, those classrooms need to be where provision for ELA is the strongest, otherwise students are missing opportunities for language development and are very likely not accessing the curriculum fully either.


Developing a language-integrated curriculum is the most significant move a school can make to shifting experiences and outcomes for students who are learning the language of instruction. If the curriculum is designed with language acquisition in mind, then all students have the opportunity to continue to develop their language skills alongside the curricular learning. A whole-school approach recognises that language is central to learning, and that a clearly articulated language acquistion pathway is as important as a clearly articulated curriculum. In any other subject, we recognise the importance of horizontal and vertical articulation, yet when it comes to English language acqusition we are all too often happy to just rely on chance that students will develop the English they need. And of course, some students do get there, but far too many end up falling short in senior school and struggling with access to higher level texts and ability to write at academic levels. We know from decades of research on immersion that the 'soak it up' model falls short in terms of development of full academic proficiency. This means that all teachers should be planning language objectives alongside learning objectives, including vocabulary, academic discourse, and disciplinary literacy.


A strong Tier 1 provision will support English Language Acquisition for all students, from beginner through fluent. It will support the development of the specific language skills that students need to access the curriculum of the school, working upwards towards the exam phase. It will be explicit, documented, aligned horizontally across each year, and vertically from early years through graduation. With a strong Tier 1 provision in place, the time of specialist teachers will be used to target those students who are earlier in their ELA development and need more targeted provision. Stay tuned for the next post on Tier 2!


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