Could edtech be the shared language for EAL pupils in the classroom?

Primary school children work together in class, close up
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Helen Abell, Principal, reflects on how edtech solutions have helped teachers who support EAL pupils in their progress

Helen Abell is the Principal at Godolphin Junior Academy (ages 7 to 11) situated in Slough. About 70% of the pupils at the school have English as an additional language (EAL). Here Helen reflects on how edtech solutions have helped teachers at the school to support EAL pupils as they progress in their studies.

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More teachers than ever before are utilizing edtech solutions

More teachers than ever before are utilizing edtech solutions after the pandemic and at Godolphin we have really experienced the positive benefits of utilizing technology in our classrooms to tackle pupils’ attainment levels. This has been especially true for our pupils who have English as an additional language (EAL).

Recent research by Renaissance and the Education Policy Institute for the Department for Education found that by the end of the first half of the 2021/2022 autumn term, primary school pupils were on average 0.8 months behind in reading, compared to where they would be in a typical, pre-pandemic year. The majority of our pupils were negatively impacted by the pandemic but EAL pupils in particular face unique challenges as they try and recover learning losses. Many of these students have non-English-speaking parents at home and mostly never speak English with their families. Due to the pandemic, this has made their English reading and comprehension skills more difficult as they have not been exposed to native English speakers as they would in school. Learning in lockdown meant their only interaction with learning was online classes.

In our school, 75% of our students speak English as an Additional Language. The wide range of their languages ​​includes Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu and Panjabi, as well as Polish, Romanian, Somali, Arabic and Pashto. This affects our teaching in school because teachers need to be equipped to meet the needs of learners, who might be further behind than the core curriculum assumes. We use programs such as colorful semantics across the whole curriculum to cater for this.

Using edtech to support EAL students

Using edtech allows staff to proactively teach, monitor and assess student learning to better support them. Through edtech, our EAL students have been able to develop better vocabulary, comprehension and writing skills.

In particular, we have found Accelerated Reader has helped engage our pupils with their reading and encouraged greater progression. Pupils read a book and take an online quiz afterwards which gives them immediate feedback. The fact it is a self-run program has been essential for our EAL pupils. Many have come straight from their country of origin, into our schools and straight into the Accelerated Reader program and Star Reading – that’s the main reason they’ve done so well. Within these resources are guided independent reading courses which include, quizzes, points, interviews, and book reports to improve students’ comprehension abilities.

All our EAL students benefit from edtech learning as they enjoy using digital tools, which are easy to use and understand, whilst also helping them feel they are learning and progressing with their classmates. A key challenge for EAL students is language barriers and since technology is more universally understood, many find it a better means of learning than non-technological methods.

Improving sentence structure, acquisition of vocabulary and language barriers

Through these digital tools, they are able to challenge their communication skills and enhance key skills such as sentence structure, acquisition of vocabulary and overall language barriers. In addition to this, teachers are not restricted in their lesson plans to a one-size-fits-all model as they can tailor edtech tasks to suit each student’s abilities and challenge them accordingly. This is really great for us as we can ensure the progression of each student in areas specific to them and their needs.

Some of the edtech resources our teachers have utilized and found particularly beneficial for EAL students are visuals, phonics and early reading resources. We also use Accelerated Reader a lot to progress EAL learners in their reading, which has positive effects on their verbal skills too. These resources have useful worksheets, grammar videos and immersive resources that are inclusive of EAL learners. When using these resources we can track the entertainment data of our EAL learners and their progression through the proficiency codes on Insight Tracking.

We want our students to enjoy learning and edtech has certainly played a key role in that. Many of our EAL students enjoy it as it helps to remove barriers and provide access for them in areas that they might not feel comfortable doing through other means. It is an inclusive method of learning and caters to each individual’s needs.

As teachers, we would advise all schools to make the most of the edtech available to them, generally but also particularly to help support EAL students, or other vulnerable pupils to remain engaged in their learning as we navigate the pathway back to normality. There are a number of useful websites and edtech programs you can explore to support this.

Contributed by Renlearn. If you’re interested in finding out more about Renaissance solutions, visit: www.renlearn.co.uk

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