Myth or Reality: EAL Students

There was a huge debate on this question in my Teaching English as a Second Language – ELNG 326 class last night. I would like your opinion on this question and why?

When an EAL Student is new to the school and does not speak any English I think you need to change your expectations to meet the needs of the EAL Student otherwise they will not get anything out of their learning, not because they are incapable of the subject matter, but merely because they can not understand what you are saying. My prof went on saying that you should not adjust your expectations for them and told the class that you should teach them what they need to know then and now. Which in essence would be adjusting your expectations?

I then said we need to teach them the curricular objectives, if they cannot understand English, I would adapt my expectations for them and put them on an adaptation form until they are able to communicate in English and meet my set objectives for the lesson. She said, no, we don’t need to teach them “the holy curriculum” but rather what is important for them right then and there. I completely agree with her, but at the same time this would be adjusting your expectations, right?

I told her about a personal experience of when I lived in Brazil for Grade 11. I went there not knowing one word of Portuguese and was expected to attend school everyday and participate just as the other students. I ended up failing my first semester because they did not adjust their expectations for me. After about 5 months I became fluent in the language and was able to participate in my classes; however, I failed my first semester, not because I didn’t know the content, but because I could not speak Portuguese. So, in the end if they had adjusted their expecatiations or maybe even their teaching stragegy I may have been able to keep up with the rest of the class. But failed and had to take that class over again. Which contradicts her other point of placing EAL students in their proper grade.

Anyways, I would like your opinion of this whole issue.


8 thoughts on “Myth or Reality: EAL Students

  1. Ian H. says:

    I largely agree with you – I teach French Immersion and Core French, and would not be able to teach the Core students at the level of the Immersion students simply because of the language barrier. Particularly in secondary, there’s only so many things you can get across by gesturing.

  2. Mrs C says:

    Kristina, I am with you as well. Whilst I agree that all students need to be brought up to speed as quickly as possible, there must be adjustments made for those who don’t speak the language or who have other limiting factors, even if on a temporary basis. But then I teach a differentiated curriculum – it’s unusual for more than 5 students to be working on exactly the same task; language problems would just be another differentiating factor to add to those all students already have. 🙂

  3. Elaine Talbert says:

    The style of teaching needs adjustment. More explicit, scaffolding, clear focus on literacy skill development and much more.
    Does your state have a framework for teaching ESL students?
    There is a vast body of research on effective practices for teaching new arrivals and ESL students at different stages.

  4. Stephen Banks says:

    I too agree with you. I find that I am consistently adjusting my expectations to fit the needs of the individual high school student. What is the point in trying to force a student to do what they cannot do! Will not do is a different story…

  5. Jabiz Raisdana says:

    I currently teach K-5 EAL students and constantly find myself changing and altering the curriculum so it is accessible to them. Keep in mind that I am still sticking to the content that I am expected to teach, but I focus on strategies that make the material more accessible through: visual clues, drawings, music, using tools like Voice Thread etc…

    Here is a project we did in 4th grade about using vocab to talk about art:

    While the mainstream class was using this vocabulary at a higher level, i adjusted my exceptions for my EAL students while still tying to teach them the content. Through painting, talking, and labeling, I think they had a pretty good grasp of the concepts.

    The ides is to adjust expectations and teach content beyond language not through it.

    good luck!

  6. Cristina Costa says:

    I do agree with you too. School are not diploma factories and students are not robots. The ‘one size fits all’ approach is not coherent with learning, which in my opinion is about personal(ized) understanding/making sense of a given reality. That means that the individual needs to feel comfortable in his/her learning environment. That also means it’s also the teacher role to inspire the construction of an environment which is flexible and adaptable. In the end teaching and learning is about how people come together to construct knowledge, and how their interactions develop in that dialectics of giving and taking. Learning should never be regarded a the direct result of set of unpersonalized curricular rules. That does not show the full capacities of a student. But a more personalized approach to people’s learning, taking into account their background/particular circumstances might!
    I always try to adjust to my students. It makes them feel more compelled to learn, to take part. Maybe because I went through a similar situation to that you just described when I started taking German classes at the University!
    Maybe this becomes clearer when we have experienced something similar. We become more aware of such situations and want to find better solutions than those we have been offered!

    Gostei muito do post! Faz-me reflectir sobre a relação de aluno-professor. Esta tem de ser mais personalizada e aberta. No fundo, o que todos andamos a procura é de uma mão amiga que nos ajudo no nosso percurso de aprendizagem. Isso torna tudo muito mais significativo! 😉

  7. Dave Hill says:

    This is a question that will be asked more in our province. Immigrants are moving to rural areas and small schools in small communities must make adjustments. In limited experience I would have to agree that, yes, content is important but more important is learning the language, mores and customs. Your own experience tells you that in order for you to learn you must first have some type of understanding of your new language.

  8. Sarah Hill says:

    This is a great critical thinking reflection Kristina. I agree that we need to make adjustments to smooth the transition into English speaking schools through scaffolding. However, would you have learned the language as quickly as you did if you would not have been given no other choice and if the curricular adjustments would have been made?

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