Philosophy of the EAL Program at ISA
Our EAL program at ISA is a holistic one. By ‘holistic’, we mean that our students are not treated as “learning machines” but as young individuals who need to be shown the connections between language and life and also between language and how it should be used within the environment of an International School.
The initials ‘EAL’ stand for “English as an Additional Language”. If we consider that half of our students at ISA have Chinese parentage, then we realise that indeed, their learning of English is an effort for the acquisition of a second or ‘additional’ language. This effort is by no means a small event; unless we are talking about children starting their English-language education very young, it requires a harmonious and strong endeavour between a willing student and a zealous teacher.
Our EAL Program in Practice
At least one full hour every day (except one day a week) is dedicated to the students who are chosen to be part of the EAL Program. This is usually enough as the idea is to provide the students with sustained help and instruction, without overburdening them mentally and academically. The lessons take place in our EAL classroom or/and in the normal, homeroom classrooms when the rest of that class attends a lesson elsewhere in the school.
The teaching material is usually a combination of content from authoritative, current textbooks and material produced by the teacher himself/herself. The teacher has the responsibility of deciding the correct level and content of the material used, depending upon the language level and maturity (mental and emotional) of the students involved in their respective classes.
EAL from Year 1 to Year 5
When one observes our young students from Year 1 to Year 5, they will easily notice that most of them have a clear attitude of happiness and excitement towards learning English. At the beginning of most units, the teachers introduce key, unit vocabulary and then proceed to encourage the students to share their ideas about the new topic through direct speaking. Soon after, the students have the opportunity to practise and consolidate their new vocabulary through role-play, writing their own mini-scripts or short compositions.
They are sometimes asked to present their work to the rest of the class which actually advances the self-confidence of the individual as well as the spirit of the group. The teacher is always there to manage the interactions, assist the students with their work and correct most of their basic errors. When the students are aware that the teacher is completely on their side, they do not mind at all that some of their mistakes will be promptly corrected.
Reading skills are practised in the classroom through group readings in which the children are always prompted to identify the meanings behind the beginning, middle and end of a story while keeping their mind on the key events of the story studied and enjoyed.
Creative games and activities are employed by our teachers many times a week. We do use technology and smart screens when necessary but generally, we try to abide by more traditional methods of teaching and learning. Several studies have shown that the over-use of technology in the class is more counterproductive than productive.
EAL from Year 6 to Year 9
Generally speaking, the students from Year 6 and above are at a stage where a lot of their mental maturity has started to take place. They are at a stage of adolescence and pre-adolescence where the world seems to them like a friend and an enemy at the same time.
Their first language – usually Chinese — is how they really view the world. In several different ways, English does not view the world and its workings in the same way. What we do in this case at ISA is to gently present this “new world view” to the students. This is not an easy job, and we try to achieve this through presenting to them the different grammar, vocabulary and style that English uses to create its own world, in a novel and exciting way. The better we do this, the more understanding our students are left with.
We place a lot of emphasis on reading and analysing a variety of texts within our classes, including newspaper reports and science articles. The students are constantly encouraged to make useful comments on the ideas expressed in the texts. As a result, they are usually very happy to exchange their ideas among their classmates. A short piece of writing is expected of them nearly every day and during class time. As writing is a skill that suffers in the case of most EAL students – not just in China but anywhere in the world - this is an opportunity for our students to improve their writing and expression skills on a daily basis.
Small pieces of homework are given to our students on most days. This homework is always based on the material and topics covered the same day in class and it does not require more than 20 minutes, of work at home. It is our belief that it is not the amount of homework assigned to the students that is important, but its quality and its relevance to our lessons and to life itself.
EAL at ISA and Language Understanding
For all of our EAL students but especially in the older grades, we try to explain to them and help them understand on a daily basis, the various hidden connections between language, reality and the world. They really do need to understand that the world is no longer a segregated place but a collection of countries and cultures that are trying to peacefully coexist with one another.
The barrier of language is a true barrier towards the above understanding. If our first language dictates a specific world view to us, we tend to be limited by that view. The only way to overcome this is to keep a very open mind as teachers, while explaining continuously to our students how English grammar really works and what English vocabulary truly wants to express in an infinite combination of contexts and situations.
For example, when we need to teach our students the meaning and grammar of “To suggest something to someone” we really have to explain to them that this means to put forward an idea that is worth listening to or even following. It is just not enough to tell them that “to suggest” is “jianyi” in Chinese. And we cannot do this because we cannot take for granted that a Chinese student or any student already understands the meaning of a ‘suggestion’ or any other concept that just seems basic.
We generally choose to take nothing for granted. It is usually best to teach everything and teach it from the beginning.