Lessons to be learnt – How much trust should we give EAL TAs? Update

I was about to remove this from a page, as it should have appeared as a blog, and realised that recently whilst teaching maths the same thing occurred (see the emboldened text below). I was using translated worksheets and regularly used comments like Are you OK?, do you want help? and with the pupils use of Google translate, via their tablet, they were not only able to communicate with me, but with peers as well. It certainly helped them to settle in well. What has changed in this time is that the pupils are in main stream classroom without any EAL TA’s, so the teacher, (as I did), has to find a way of assessing quite quickly whether the student understands the topic or not, whether learning is occurring, where their level is, whether they are happy in the group they are with and whether the group they are with are happy with them.

The original post

After spending time looking at EAL support in London schools last week I was suddenly struck at the lack of support for EAL TA’s  (English as a second language Teaching Assistants).  I don’t think schools even recognise that this is happening and believe truly that they are doing their best, so it’s not meant as a criticism, but reflective practice recognising the next areas to support learning in our classrooms.

Clearly we should not give any teacher or TA 100%  trust until we have assured ourselves that they are giving 100% correct instruction. As no teacher is a super teacher i.e.  never needing support, mentoring or guidance then why should we give EAL  TA’s this trust and change policies to suit them?

Don’t  get me wrong I think TA’s and EAL TAs in particular are great, but we should not implicitly trust them to guide our youngsters in the ETHOS of the school, the teaching of academic concepts and language and assessment without having an overview of their ability ourselves as senior managers.
I watched a situation recently where a group of excellent teachers were planning and talking about the use of technology available to teach maths. They were thinking really creatively about how they could teach in their classrooms (as opposed to a withdrawn group) a mathematical concept that the rest of the year were  learning but wanted the EAL children to be part of the learning experience. For me it was brilliant they were marrying their skills with technology to save time for them when planning and delivering, but increasing the children’s learning ability whilst making it interesting.

All went well until the TA that supports them became part of the discussion and within no time suddenly the TA had convinced them they needed to be withdrawn and that it could take time for the children to learn it. What struck me most as an observer was that I had been in that situation many times and the TA on reflection was steering our teaching. Today I saw it much differently and wondered what made these excellent practitioners take another persons word and run with it? Why didn’t they question or try out their theory and review it if it didn’t work? They had built a translation requirement in, their practice was excellent, their topic was interesting, their own personal understanding of the concept was excellent and yet they let someone without the same or better credentials influence them and their decisions.

Something worth pondering on.

If you are bilingual do you change your language depending on what you want to convey?

Code-shifting is making the news recently which means that the bilingual speaker changes between languages. I wondered if they use it to their advantage i.e. to deliver either a hurtful or loving message in the best way. This led me to wondering if parents used this when nurturing their children. Some languages are known to be romantic and others harsh, so if the bilingual languages are one of each do they deliver the nice compliments and praise etc via the romance language and vice versa? What about teachers do they unknowingly do the same? I knew as a child when I was in the wrong when I was called by my full name in a tone that made it obvious, is the same true of the language used with bilingual children?

I am still wondering but have a better understanding now and it appears my instinctive answer of yes was right according to this news article. To aid your reading I have emboldened the most important points.

Bilingual children learn to switch languages to express emotion

It’s known as ‘code-switching’, and multilingual families do it all the time, apparently. It’s the habit of switching back and forth between languages to suit the emotional situation and what they want to express at any given time.

Now, a new study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science carried out at the University of California is looking at how a multilingual parents’ choice of different languages to express certain emotions affect the way their children understand and regulate their own emotions.

According to ScienceDaily, language plays a key role in emotion because it allows the speaker to articulate, conceal or discuss feelings. Now it seems that bilingual parents choose a specific language to convey emotion because they feel that language is culturally better equipped to express the particular emotion.

For example, a native Finnish speaker may use English to tell her children she loves them because Finnish is not typically an emotional language.

This means that children learn to associate certain emotional states with a particular language and, in turn,  the choice of language then influences how they experience emotion.

For example, children may switch to a less emotional language in order to decrease negative arousal.

The researchers hope the implications of emotion-related language switching can be used to explore marital interactions, therapy and work with immigrant families.