Inspiring and equipping EAL/D learners

This episode explores how teachers can inspire and equip EAL/D learners to be lifelong learners by utilising quality EAL/D pedagogy and practices. It unpacks the importance of EAL/D pedagogy and what it could look like in classrooms.

In this episode Lisa refers to the work of Beverly Derewianka in relation to the mode continuum and Jim Cummins in relation to BICS and CALP. For further information please see:

  • Cummins, J. (1979). Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other matters. Working Papers on Bilingualism, No. 19, 121-129.
  • Derewianka, B. (2014). Supporting students in the move from spoken to written language. In Englishes in Multilingual Contexts: Language Variation and Education. Dordrecht: Netherlands.
Podcast episode 8: Inspiring and equipping EAL/D learners [27:17]

Kate Harris

Welcome to the EAL/D conversations podcast. My name is Kate Harris, and I'm the EAL/D Education Advisor for K to six with the New South Wales Department of Education. Today I am joined by Lisa McNamara, and Lisa is an EAL/D specialist teacher who is currently working as a classroom teacher in South western Sydney. She has previously been a Multicultural and ESL consultant and before choosing to return to the classroom, she was also the New Arrivals Advisor in state office. So welcome Lisa.

Lisa McNamara


Kate Harris

Today we're going to be discussing ways that teachers can inspire and equip EAL/D learners as lifelong learners. And in the first podcast, we looked at how teachers can know, value and care for their EAL/D learners. And we also touched briefly on the importance of tailoring learning to the needs of individual learners. But I thought that today maybe we could start off by really thinking about why EAL/D pedagogy matters for teachers and ultimately for their EAL/D learners.

Lisa McNamara

I love how, when we look at EAL/D learners, we're not looking at children or even adults, because remember, it's not just our students that are EAL/D learners it's the parents and the community we're in. I love how the pedagogy could affect all of them. Now what do I mean by that? Well EAL/D pedagogy focuses on the learning of a language. Effectively, we're teaching students how to learn, and we're teaching teachers how to teach how to learn. And that goes in so many areas of their life: within the school, within the classroom, within the playground, but also at the shops within the community with their families. Now I want to pull out an analogy here of a wardrobe. Now Kate knows, I like to sometimes dress up a bit, and there are other days where you just wear your daggy, old sweat pants and your shirt because you know what? That's all you feel like for the day,

Kate Harris

or it's covid isolation

Lisa McNamara

or its covid isolation. And really, you have your ugg boots underneath. Mhm. The analogy that I want to work at is EAL/D is like your wardrobe. The vocabulary are your clothes that come out. Each one has its own item. A pair of socks for instance, one is a sock - when you pull out another one, it's a pair of socks. It changes, it morphs. And as Luke mentioned in your previous ones language is an unconstrained skill. Vocab is an unconstrained skill, and if you're like anything like me, my wardrobe is unconstrained too. There are just too many clothes in there, and they need a thorough declutter. But that's not all of language learning. Vocab isn't enough, though. When you look at your wardrobe, yes, you're going to pull out items to wear, but you're using a lot of other systems. You're going to be using your cultural expectations and your references. If you're going to work, and you're not in covid isolation, you are not going to wear your ugg boots. You're not going to wear your tracky dacks. You're not going to wear your plain old t-shirts. You're going to dress up a bit because the cultural expectation is that you dress appropriately for work. You also have your choices. Are you going to wear pants? Are you going to wear a button down shirt? Are you going to wear a blouse? You have to have a choice in your type of pants you're going to wear. Are you gonna wear your chinos? You're going to wear your jeans? Are you going to wear your trousers? And then, once again, that comes back to the expectation of the cultural knowledge of your school and your background knowledge of what is appropriate and what isn't.

Then you have your accessories, and that's what ties everything together and makes it look put together or complete is your accessories. Which what you're going to wear? Which necklace you're going to wear? What colour shoes you're going to go for? What high are your heels going to be? What image are you trying to portray? That's your grammar and your density of putting everything together and making it complete. So why does it matter for EAL/D learners? Because, as EAL/D teachers using EAL/D pedagogy, we are not only inspiring and equipping mainstream teachers to do this for their students in the classroom, but we also need to be aware that we need to work ourselves out of the job. We need to inspire and equip our EAL/D learners to do it for themselves because this is a lifelong journey for them. It's not nine months in new arrivals, two years in primary school, another six in high school, and then they're done. Even as native speakers, and for me who's a native speaker of one in one language? Even I find myself being aware that I need these strategies at times. It's not just context that influences our language and our language choices, and we'll go more into that in the next part of the how. But the pedagogy inspires and equips EAL/D learners to do this for themselves.

Kate Harris

So you just mentioned about the How, and I guess this would also be linked to the, What would this look like in practice? So thinking about that, what would an outside observer notice when looking into your classroom when you're utilising EAL/D pedagogy to be able to equip EAL/D students to be lifelong learners?

Lisa McNamara

I think one of the first things they would notice is that even those students that are newly arrived their wardrobes are not empty. They're just full of different types of clothes. And they just represent different ways and perceptions of explaining, describing and interacting with the world. But let's go back to that wardrobe. I want you to picture your favourite colour shirt. Let it be blush pink, teal, whatever colour you like. And on that shirt is the word words. Now we're going to use that word words because it is more than vocab. But we're going to use that word to help us unpack what this pedagogy is going to look like in the classroom. So if you think of the W the first thing EAL/D learners and effective any effective learner, but mainly EAL/D learners, the first thing they looking for are the questions. They want the comprehension they want the whys, the hows, the whens, the wheres. So that w represents the full work W s and the one h for comprehension. Now, a lot of this comes back to your purpose of language. What is its function in what you're doing. Now in primary schools we do a lot of learning to, particularly in the younger grades of K-2 and in year 3 that's where things start to get harder because they're starting to use those learning to skills, learning to speak, learning to comprehend, learning to read, learning to write. And they're now you're starting to use those in a learning about way. Now, as you know, an EAL/D learner, they can come in at any point. And I'm not going to suggest that you put a 12 year old child in a kindergarten classroom because they need to learn how to do with this stuff before they learned the about. But this is where vocab can become very shallow and it becomes, and it can become such a big focus. That that's all we do when vocab is just the tip of the iceberg.

So when we look at our vocab, we need to look at it and I'll go more into this later, within the discourse. I we using it conversationally, are we using it academically? And then we need to teach kids how to identify that discourse. Am I talking in the playground with my mates? Am I reading a book? Am I reading a factual text? Am I reading a literary text? And what expectations and cultural expectations come up with that? And already you've heard me to ask the questions what, why, where. Language changes and adapts with time, not just context, not just a place of the context and the content of the context. That language adapts to social groupings as well. This is why, within your classroom for EAL/D pedagogy to be effective, they need those Ws. They need to be asking what? Why? Where? When? How? Because questioning is not just a good learning strategy, but it's an essential language learning strategy. And we also talk about this not just with vocab but with the grammatical, which we're going to go into next for your O because it's putting that word, those keywords or those key items from your wardrobe. It's putting them together so that students get to see the whole picture. Not just here's a shirt. It's here's the shirt, and this is where I would wear it, and this is how I would wear it. It's putting that all of that in context, and the main point to point out is that students need to notice it. They need to be listening for those words to be able to hear them in context and then build upon that. So now we go to the O which is the organisational structures. So w are your who what where when you're w questions with your comprehension and it's comprehensible comprehension. So it may not be comprehensible from the teacher to the student, but it can be made comprehensible by the student questioning the language that's coming back and the content coming back. Then you have your organisational structures, which is your syntax or your grammar the density. What is surrounding that word to make it important in that context. I know you talked about this with Luke, about how kids love to learn big words. And it's not just little were little kids in kindergarten learning onomatopoeia for the first time and just knowing if I say pop, I can do that. My sister in law is a high school teacher, teaching commerce, history and geography. Eve she finds, if she just takes, teaches the vocab without the organisational structure around it the kids still have no idea what it means because it's not in context. There is nothing for them to connect their schema of what they already know to what they're learning next. And part of that could simply be the word could be business management. And unless they have an idea of what business management is in context, experientially as well as as a concept they're not going to get the idea of what a business is. And that could simply be teaching the word shop business person that owns the shop business manager. Something as easy as that could be the one connection they have to doing that; Oh, I'm not talking about me going shopping. I'm talking about what that person has to do to maintain and run that shop. So once again, the density of the lexical items or those content vocab words compared to that grammatical density of the is at in all the words that don't have meaning attached to them specifically to themselves, beyond an auxiliary to help the lexical words make meaning. Your accessories. Remember they're the ones that hold everything together, make you look mwah. And we already talked about that word complexity as part of that shop compared to business. And Luke has already given you a lot of great strategies in his vocab strategies and in the reading and the why we do vocab in those podcasts. So if you haven't listened to them, go back and listen to them. That organisational structures, and I'm not just meaning orally as well. When we're reading, we're reading within the organisational structures, so we need to be looking at well Why do we have paragraphs? Why do the paragraphs have to have separate ideas? Why does this author in this text, this fictional text take us on a journey? Why aren't they just telling us about volcanoes? And once again, have you heard that already goes back to your purpose and your function of language.

From there, we're going to shift from that conversational mode and that, Yes, we can pull a text apart. Great. But what does that mean? Well, the R stands for register. Your register is ultimately it's talking about your field, your tenor, and your mode. Your field is your what? What are you talking about? Your tenor is how How are you talking about it? And your mode is your whether it be oral, written or you're going to read it. Register affects how you communicate because it affects the type of communication your doing. Conversation two way. Speech one way. Your language is going to change because you need to build up your context. You need to build up your descriptions. You need to build up your language density compared to a conversation where it's Can you pass me the thing-o please? And they're sitting next to you so they know the thing-o means the black pen. And y sou don't need to remember the word because you're pointing at it. When you're writing, when we're moving through the academic discourse, which is your d we're getting there, your field becomes denser throughout the curriculum. So you start off science, history in kindergarten you're learning about yourself. Year 1 and 2 you're learning about your friends and your school in your local community and year three and four you're starting to impact on the global community. Then you're starting to look at in 5/6 the international community. And years 7 to 12 you look at the curriculum, they're looking at how do these systems from yourself to the international, how do they impact how you operate in the world as a citizen. As not only a local citizen, not only as an Australian citizen but as a global citizen? And what do you need to know about that for that? So as you can imagine, the lexical or the vocab density from kindergarten to year 12 changes dramatically. Remember that in kindergarten you're still learning to read those words. Year 3 to 4 you're just starting to do that shift of your learning how to use reading to learn when you're in year 7 and 12, you're expected to know that. When we're looking at tenor we're looking at: Are we talking to his friends? Am Iwriting a note to my friend to say, I'll be like late for dinner. I'm going to leave this on your desk. Or am I writing an email to my boss to say I'm sorry I cannot complete this project or whatever it is that I need to do who are my reasons. Or am I saying it, because how I say it is also very different to how I would write it. And that's where your mode comes in. And you've heard me talk about the different ways language has changed across the field, across the tenor and across the mode.

Well remember Luke's vocab podcast? He talks about tier one tier two and tier three vocab. Your tier three is your academic. You only use it once. Tier two is still your academic, but it can be used across a range of settings. And one was that great example that Luke used where he was finding keywords within the different classes he was going into. And your tier one is your conversational- in the playground yelling at your best friend. And once again, this just shows that the complexity for language and language learning is huge. So why not teach kids to identify the field? To identify- Oh, I'm writing to my friend or this person has sent me a text message as a friend, not as a stranger. This person has sent me an email, but they're telling me what to do. So there's a different relationship there as a partnership. And why aren't we teaching them? Like I know one thing I had all my class was big target when we came to science and history. So what looked like in my classroom was each learning area had a section on the wall and it had a target with tier one being on the outside, the tier two words being on the the middle ring and tier three on the middle. And they learn that tier two words, we put them in that middle ring because I could use that English. If I'm going to talk about a frog morphing, we talked about morphemic knowledge in spelling. So that's a tier two word, and that can move from here to here. And I know it means change, because I know we have learned that base word that root word, the entomological understanding of morph equals changed. And then our tier three words. When I come to writing my assessments and when I come to working with my projects, they're the key words I need to understand for science, for this field of science, for this field of history, for this field of geography. And I'll come back to that at the end. So in the classroom register is actually very important. You need to be exploring it all the time. And how are we exploring it? in our organisational structures, within the written text we produced, within the written text we read within the written texts that are read aloud. Within conversations with each other, within groups within pairs within other classes, as well as questioning all the time. Why is that word tier two and not tier three? When do I use that word? What field knowledge am I pulling out of here? If I'm going to the winter side of my wardrobe and that's where all that language associated with the winter wear because I'm not gonna wear ugg boots in summer, definitely not an Australian summer. Then what other words go within that winter concept that go together that might be the science strand you're looking at? And some of that science strand of how you're looking at changes might impact what you're studying in geography and how the land changes. And some of that language would actually overlap. So we've got our W the comprehension questions of the ws and the H. Our O, the organisational structures of the grammar and the density. We've got our R the register of the field, the tenor and the mode. And now we've got our D which is our discourse. So discourse is moving your conversational language to your academic language. So for those who know Bev Derewianka's work with the mode continuum. That's what it is. It's also the work of Cummins with your basic interpersonal communicative skills moving that into your cognitive academic language proficiency. Where we operate in skills that's where our language is based in schools. That's what we're doing. We're apprenticing students in education. So discourse is paying attention not only to the setting we're in, but it's the cultural connections and the cultural expectations. That's the choice of words were doing. And not only that, it's the presentation. Am I going to do this orally? Am I writing this? Am I reading this? Do I need to pull information out? Or do I need to give information out? Which is your expressive...expressive and receptive. We have already talked about that, and discourse can be quite a thing in itself. But what does this look like in the classroom? It comes back to children actually making particular choices of words for their purpose, for their function. It's them experimenting with the grammar, with the density, with the complexity of language and how they organise their texts and their thoughts when they're speaking not only group speaking but in speeches in reporting back. It's them engaging in the field and the tenor and their mode. So they're able to tell you because we are talking about science and we're talking about this aspect of science. I'm going to be using those two tier three vocabulary because it is a specialist field.

Already we've got the W the o, the r the d. Now we have the s the systematic intention, the intention of learning the intention of teaching. And this is supposed to spark and connect in your mind with learning intentions. Because not only do we have learning intentions, we can have language intentions. And for those who would like to set specific language intentions, use your ESL scales. Use the EAL/D Learning Progression, perfect examples of observable outcomes of what kids can do. And then as soon as they can do it, they can say, I did it, I can see it and other kids can see it. Systematic attention though, also comes back to your scaffolding, comes back to your differentiation of assessment and task design. So what does this look like? Well, it's your backward mapping. It's pulling out not only the content that is going to be most important for them to get the main idea of that field of study. It's also pulling out that main language. What is it you want them to say? Be able to comprehend? Be able to use in their writing in your assessment? Whether it be a rich task, whether it just be a quick quiz, whether it be a presentation, whatever it be. Now why is it systematic? Because it needs to be introduced so that students are noticing it. It's in a controlled environment where meaning is managed, and then they get that chance to recycle it, where you're starting to hand over that responsibility for the using of the language with the kids. And then it's that assisted practise when they're starting to recast it. They're not only recasting the language, but they're also recasting their content knowledge. And when we look at that differentiation of ESL assessment task design, that's where we come straight back to the beginning podcast that Kate was talking about earlier about knowing your EAL/D learner. If it is a science concept you're doing, such as the growth of plants, a beginner learner might just draw and label a plant. They can still use that tier three vocabulary that is up on the walls or in their books or wherever it is found. An emerging student might draw the plants and add a simple sentence. They're starting to use those organisational structures and put them in context. You're developing learner might write, but add a drawing to enhance the meaning they've got in their writing. And you're consolidating learners would write, but they might have an option to add diagrams to enhance their learning. And because their diagrams are not simply drawings now, they're diagrams. So therefore they have headings, they have labels, and they have meaning attached to them connected to the text. So to inspire and equip EAL/D learners is to inspire and equip EAL/D learners for life.

Kate Harris

You've given us so much to think about today, Lisa, and I particularly liked your analogy of the wardrobe and having your favourite t-shirt with the word 'words' across it. And I think reflecting on the meaning behind each of those letters will really support teachers to ensure that they're utilising quality EAL/D pedagogy and practices to support their EAL/D learners to become lifelong learners.

So thank you so much for joining me today.

Lisa McNamara

Thanks for having me, Kate. It's been a blast.

Kate Harris

And thanks everyone for listening to this episode of the EAL/D conversations podcast.

[End of transcript]


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