As part of my role as Language Coordinator at the Netherlands Inter-Community School (NIS), I was tasked with helping to oversee the set-up of the English as an Additional Language (EAL) department. When setting up an EAL department, I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution, and many factors came into play when setting up ours.
The first question is budget; how big of an EAL team can you afford? If there is a small budget, is the school open to charging additional tuition fees for students needing the extra support? This can provide extra funding to cover the costs of the additional staff. Originally, this is the model we went with, charging extra tuition for EAL students based on the amount of support they required during the day – 25%, 50% or 75%. In this way we were able to support one EAL teacher per class and a department head. The model changed with the arrival of a new principal who didn’t believe in charging extra fees, but we were able to maintain this ratio during my time at NIS.
B. Goal of the Program
Once the size of your team is determined, a decision must be made on the philosophy behind your department. It was our goal to maximize the time students spent in the mainstream classrooms, and minimize pull-out sessions. We believed that in order for students to be able to access the curriculum, they needed to stay in the classroom as much as possible. Because of the ratio of staff to EAL students we were able to do so. Only students who came in speaking little to no English had pull-out sessions to provide them with survival English vocabulary so they could function in the classroom. Had the team been smaller, we would have needed to explore alternative options.
C. Clear Expectations
It is important that both mainstream teachers and EAL teachers understand their roles and expectations. Sometimes EAL teachers can be perceived as assistants and are treated as such. They are not, they are teachers and are there to ensure the students they work with are able to access the curriculum.
D. Team Planning & Open Communication
In order for an EAL teacher to offer support to students, they must be clear on exactly what they are supporting. Is your curriculum/are your curriculums clear? In the model we set up (The Language Framework), mainstream teachers needed to provide detailed information on upcoming units two weeks prior to their commencement. This allowed planning time for the EAL team to prep materials, scaffold activities in advance, and move in unison with the mainstream teacher once the unit started.
E. Admissions & Testing
We decided against formally testing student English levels before entering the school simply because we were accepting students with zero English. We required parents to disclose if a student would need extra support, and we gave students a chance to settle into the classroom before they were formally evaluated. Had there been a minimum level of English required to enter NIS, our model would have changed.
F. Assessing Students
We chose to use the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) as our framework of reference, and found it worked well. Once students reached a B1 level, they were released from receiving EAL support. We felt at this point students were able to access the curriculum independently.
G. Report Cards
We decided on keeping the EAL comments based on the CEFR, and having teachers report on subject areas separately. So a student’s math comment reflected their math abilities, not their language abilities.
H. Training for Specialist Teachers
Are the specialists at your school trained in supporting EAL students? If your EAL team is not attending specialist classes, are your specialist teachers trained in offering support to EAL students and scaffolding activities? I once walked into a class where students were all taking the same music test, regardless of English levels. If EAL students weren’t understanding the questions, could the teacher have fairly assessed their knowledge of musical theory? Most likely not.
Has your school set up a successful EAL program? Are there any tips that you would like to share?