Finding innovative and engaging ways to teach our children may feel daunting, especially when crossing a language barrier. You may have provided opportunities for a virtual get together, pre-recorded teaching sessions or creative activity webinars for families to engage in with their children. These prove to be successful for some families but rely on the time and language understanding of both the learner and their family to ensure that the child gets the most out of the experience.
So, despite being a little out of your comfort zone, you give it your best shot and record an ‘all singing and all dancing’ video. Then, being a naturally reflective practitioner, you start to analyse your performance. This reflection might well include you wondering how inclusive the opportunity was for the learners with English as an additional language (EAL) and their families. Were they able to access the session? Did they understand the follow-up activity? Or why are they not uploading their learning online for you to see?
If this sounds like a reflection that is familiar to you, you might find the following recommendations useful. They are based on tried and tested techniques gathered from my own practice and from working with early years practitioners during the autumn term of 2020.
As a starting point I’ll refer back to the impact of using visuals mentioned in my last blog Supporting bilingual learners in the Early Years. A single picture can explain a thousand words. Don’t underestimate the power of pictures and modelled examples. Providing EAL learners with exploratory activity ideas that provide a visual image of the resources needed for the task, and maybe a sample of what they might produce, provides clear indications of the practitioner’s expectation of the required task.
If, for example, I wish for my children to explore den building, I might provide a flow chart of visual images to explain my process and show an example of my finished creation. This might look similar to the instructions you might get with flat-pack DIY kits. It takes out the guess work for parents and can actually be used to support children in becoming more independent in accessing the activity.
- use visuals alongside instructions to support parents/carers in understanding expectations
Pre-recorded learning can be successful as it also provides the child with the familiarity of their practitioners and provides them with the opportunity to watch the recording again if needed.
- this can provide native English speakers and those that have grasped an early understanding of the English language to digest, at their own pace, the contextual language being used in the recording.
- for children at the earlier stages of English acquisition a ‘live meet’ that is one-to-one or in a small group meet might be more beneficial for them and their family, and a lot less stressful. This enables the practitioner to slow down the pace of language used to reflect the needs of the child, alter vocabulary and provide more opportunity to check the child’s understanding.
- providing a variety of remote opportunity does not mean that the child is receiving more support than the other children who are learning from home. Instead, it provides a level of differentiation to allow that child to access the content of the learning that the other children can with a pre-recording.
You’ve arranged a one-to-one ‘virtual meet’ but both the child and family have little spoken English – what to do now?
The greatest way to start the conversation is with a smile! Making the child and family feel welcomed and valued through your use of non-verbal communication goes a long way. The simplest thumbs up, high five or smile helps to activate neuropeptides that fight stress by sending the message to your body that you're happy. This will help both you and the family relax instantly.
- smiling is actually contagious so when you connect to that ‘virtual classroom’ or organise an online meet with the child of a family that is new to English, start with a smile!
For children that are shy or at the silent stages of English language development you could try using a puppet to support the engagement of the child and to provide a two way conversation. Sharing conversation with the puppet and having the puppet answer provides a conversation for the child to listen to alongside a model of how to respond.
Once you have ‘broken the ice’, you might like to use the puppet with the child as your audience for a story telling session or to share a book. The puppet could model asking a question or finding things in the book.
Choose your book carefully, ensuring you have vibrant and engaging pictures that stimulate conversation. As you explore the book allow the conversation to be carried by the pictures and allow the written word to compliment but not lead. Look out for the child’s smiles or excitement through the story, they may not contribute verbally at first, or at all.
Valuing the child and family contributions
Teaching and learning online can be a new and somewhat different experience for the child and the attention span of an early years child might be lower- but that’s ok! Stopping the story part way through or in response to the child’s interest’s means you are responding to their needs. Now encourage the child/family to share something special with you, maybe a book or a favourite toy. This shows them that you value their contribution and want to learn more about them and also gives an insight into the child’s interests.
Remember, like practitioners, children and families with EAL need time to settle and build a routine around the best ways to access remote learning. And they are also doing this whilst learning a new language! Be that smiling face and listening ear that families want to engage with!
- show the family that their contribution is valued by asking them to share a book, toy or picture
The Early Years team are also running a series of webinars starting on 23rd February 2021: High aspirations for all, which will consider a range of specific needs that we can support children with, including EAL.