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The Dark Arts of Language Teaching

At the ECIS MLIE (Multilingual Learning in Education) conference two weeks ago I gave a keynote on languages in international schools. I'm going to turn that talk into a blog series, to open discussions about what needs to happen in order to make languages the heart of our linguistically diverse schools.

Although I use the term 'dark arts' in a light-hearted way, it is in fact the case that there is a lack of consistency and transparency in how we structure, manage, and teach EAL, host country languages, and home languages in our international schools. This lack of transparency means that many (most) school leaders don't fully understand what we do, how we do it, or how important it is.


All three of these areas of teaching and learning are hindered by a lack of curricula, lack of consistent and operationalisable guidelines, and lack of leadership attention (see my previous blog series on EAL).

This leads to our main issue, which is that teachers of EAL, host country, and home languages are left to create and deliver a curriculum to the best of their ability, often with no real team or a strong mandate from leadership. Their classes usually have a heterogenous population in terms of language ability, and sometimes in terms of age as well, and outcomes are correspondingly variable. How this affects teachers and learning opportunities depends on the language area in question, and this series of blogs will look at each area separately.

The first area we will explore is EAL/ELL programming. The inherent lack of transparency and clear mandate leads to a situation in which EAL/ELL specialists are often viewed as 'supporting' rather than leading, and the provision for EAL/ELL isn't time and space protected in the way that other curricular areas are. In this part of the series I will introduce a 'multi-tiered development model' for EAL/ELL provision. This is based on the commonly used 'multitiered system of supports' framework for learning support (SEN) provision, but adapted to recognise that EAL/ELL is not a support service or need, it is a part of the curriculum. This model can help schools recognise the extent and scope of EAL/ELL and how to plan for it effectively.

The second part of the series will focus on home language teaching and learning in schools, using a second integrated model. The final part will look at host country language teaching and building programmes that are purpose-driven and coherent.

To get you thinking about the issues facing these areas, here are the questions I posed to the delegates at the ECIS MLIE conference to ponder overnight:

1. How would you describe your job?

2. What is the purpose of what you do: why do you teach what you


3. Do you feel that what you teach is aligned with your purpose?

4. Could anyone else in your school describe your programme?


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