In previous schools I have worked at ESL students have been provided with support during mainstream classes, whether from the classroom teacher themselves or from ESL teachers, but support was not provided during specialist classes, such as P.E., Music, etc., and my question is, why not? Are these classes not deemed as important? And if we do not provide support for those ESL students during specialist classes, what are the consequences? The consequences are that aside from difficulty understanding the lessons, they may not be graded accurately in those classes. For example, I walked into a music teacher’s classroom one afternoon during a test. No differentiation was provided, no scaffolding of questions … all students, regardless of language background were required to sit the same exam. The music teacher wanted to test their knowledge of music, but for certain students, it became an English exam, because if they couldn’t understand the question, there was no way they were going to be able to provide the correct answer. Can the music teacher be entirely to blame for this? No. For various reasons, all too often specialist teachers are left out of ESL training sessions that are provided to mainstream teachers. The same goes for extra teaching support given to ESL students – those teachers are usually only provided in the mainstream classrooms. This is an area that needs to be addressed in education, and the mentality that these are ‘only specialist’ classes needs to shift. Music, Art, P.E. etc. are as important as mainstream classes, and at no point should we be letting students flounder in any of their classes. Lessons in all subject areas should be scaffolded to accommodate varying language needs, and grades provided in all classes should be based on knowledge in that subject area, and not just competence in English.
The solution to this? Simply ensure specialists at your school are included in any language-related training, and are provided some level of support from the ESL teachers. Each teacher at your school is equally important, and a cohesive, supported staff is the most powerful educational tool you have.
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Setting Up an ESL Department at an International School
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