EAL/D literacy and numeracy

Who are EAL/D learners?

In NSW Public Schools, more than one third of students come from a Language Background Other Than English (LBOTE). This means that a language other than English is spoken at home. The student, one or both of their parents, or another primary caregiver may use the language. EAL/D learners are a subset of LBOTE students. Around one quarter of all students are learning English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D). These students require additional support to access the curriculum and develop the academic English language proficiency required for success at school. EAL/D learners include Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students who speak Aboriginal English or an Aboriginal language at home, students who were born in Australia or come from overseas as migrants, international students and students from refugee backgrounds. EAL/D learners may begin school in Australia at any age.

EAL/D learners come from a range of backgrounds, prior schooling experiences and levels of academic ability, as explored in this short video.

Diversity of EAL/D learners

In NSW Public Schools, we collate data about the backgrounds of our students as this information helps us know our learners and the school community.

More than one third of NSW public school students come from a background in which languages other than English are spoken in the home. LBOTE students are those students who speak a language other than English in the home, or have a mother, father or guardian who speaks a language other than English in the home. These students are identified as LBOTE students – Language Background Other Than English.

Many LBOTE students use standard Australian English in social and learning contexts.

EAL/D learners are a sub-set of LBOTE students. They are students whose first language is a language or dialect other than Standard Australian English, who require additional support to assist them in developing English language proficiency.

They are students who have been assessed on the EAL/D learning Progression as Beginning, Emerging, Developing or Consolidating phases of English language proficiency. These students require explicit and systematic support in English language learning. Approximately 24 percent of NSW public school students are EAL/D learners.

Diversity exists within EAL/D learners as it does within all student groups. EAL/D learners may have been born in Australia or overseas, be here permanently or temporarily. They may be Indigenous and speak Aboriginal English or an Indigenous language.

EAL/D learners come to our classes with a wide variety of first language proficiency and education levels.

Some EAL/D learners have a strong educational background and well-developed first language skills. Some may be high potential and gifted, Other EAL/D learners include students with a disability or learning difficulty. Some have disrupted or little education, and low levels of literacy in their first language. Some EAL/D learners have experienced trauma and loss.

These students join our classes in any school year and can be at any stage of learning English and on any phase of the EAL/D Learning Progression.

All EAL/D students bring into our classrooms rich experiences, abilities and knowledge developed in their first language and cultural background.

The diversity of our LBOTE and EAL/D learners is a strength for classrooms and schools, a resource to be harnessed as we program, plan and implement teaching and learning experiences.

Learning English as an additional language

English language learning takes time. Learning academic English requires support and significant time, up to 12 years if the student has limited education in their first language. English language acquisition is explored in this short video.

English language acquisition

Most children, from the moment they are born, are surrounded by spoken language.

As children grow, they hear and participate in increasingly complex conversations about objects, their feelings, behaviours, rules, responsibilities and so forth, continually augmenting their vocabulary and conceptual understanding. Many are exposed to print and develop an understanding of the relationship between print, spoken language and meaning.

Students whose first language is English enter kindergarten with 5 years of oral English, the foundation of their development as readers, viewers and writers of English.

The English language learning of our EAL/D students may not resemble this process of language acquisition.

EAL/D learners enter NSW public schools at any age and into an age-appropriate stage.

EAL/D learners, at any stage of their schooling, are learning the language modes – speaking, listening, reading, viewing and writing – simultaneously. These students are learning English, while learning about English and learning curriculum concepts through English.

Thomas and Collier’s research suggests it takes up to 7 years to acquire full proficiency in academic English, and potentially longer if the student has had disrupted or little schooling.

All EAL/D learners bring to the classroom linguistic resources from their first language. Proficiency in first language assists EAL/D students to develop proficiency in English.

In planning teaching and learning activities, it is important to factor in that EAL/D students are learning all language modes simultaneously, while learning English, learning about English and learning through English. It may take a considerable number of years for students to become proficient in academic English.

There is a difference between conversational or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and academic English or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. This short video explains the difference.

Basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP)

Why may it be that your EAL/D learners speak well in conversations yet don’t demonstrate the same level of English language proficiency when discussing school work and curriculum concepts?

Canadian academic Jim Cummins was struck by EAL/D students’ varying English language proficiency as well. His research into how children acquire and use language led him to develop a continuum representing two kinds of language proficiency: BICS and CALP.

BICS is an acronym for basic interpersonal communication skills, and CALP, an acronym for cognitive academic language proficiency.

Put simply, BICS is conversational fluency – the ability to talk about an immediate object or experience. On the other hand, CALP is the oral and written language needed to succeed in school subjects. Students usually master BICS within one or two years of learning English, while mastery of CALP can require up to 7 years with English language support. Or even longer for those students who have experienced disrupted schooling.

Students’ acquisition of English is related to their proficiency in their first language. In the classroom, we may not see all the linguistic and other skills students bring to the classroom because they are obscured by their low level of English language proficiency.

Equally important to note is that a high degree of mastery of BICS may disguise a low level of proficiency in CALP. Cummins’ framework is a conceptual pathway to develop teaching and learning activities to harness EAL/D learners’ proficiency in BICS, the language of the everyday, to develop CALP, the academic language required to succeed at school.

An effective teaching and learning sequence harnessing proficiency in BICS would commence in quadrant A in which the task and language are high in context and low in cognitive challenge. Matching words to pictures from a video which the students have just seen would be an example of this. The next task, with its increasing cognitive and linguistic demands, moves students to quadrant B. In this quadrant, the task and language are still very much embedded in an immediate context but the cognitive demands have increased. A cloze passage relating to the video, for example. When formative assessment indicates the students are ready, the language and tasks move to quadrant D, such as writing independently.

Cummins’ work on BICS and CALP allows us to plan and implement targeted English language support to assist our EAL/D learners achieve syllabus outcomes. Our students may be fluent conversational speakers yet require tailored support to speak, read and write academically in each KLA.

Literacy and numeracy for EAL/D students

Literacy and numeracy are important because they form the basis of our learning. They are required to learn other skills, as well as for participation in everyday life. For EAL/D students, extra support is usually needed to develop literacy and numeracy skills in English as this is not their first language. Cultural differences, disruption to schooling and other factors can also influence the development of a student’s literacy and numeracy development.

On this page you will find resources and information to support EAL/D students and students from refugee backgrounds particularly with the development of their literacy and numeracy skills. Further information on EAL/D students and resources to support them can be found at the Department’s Multicultural education English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) webpage.

EAL/D resources

The following webpages provide additional resources relating to:

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