This week the Guardian Teacher Network has this from EAL teachers around the UK.
Teaching in multicultural classrooms: tips, challenges and opportunities
What does a range of nationalities in class bring to the teaching and learning experience? A collection of teachers give us a glimpse into their multicultural classrooms
Rachel Coombe, subject leader beliefs, philosophy and ethics (BPE), The Voyager Academy, Peterborough
Peterborough is a very interesting city with a population of second, third and even fourth settled generations of Italian and Asian communities. In recent years, because of a variety of reasons, the city has had an enormous influx of mainly eastern European migrants, and because our school has the space they are joining us; at the rate, at the moment of about 25 students a week. We have 40% EAL (English as an additional language) students at the moment.
I have Roma, Hungarian, Czech, Lithuanian, Slovakian, Russian, African Portuguese, Afghan, British and Asian students (I’m sure I’ve probably missed some!) in my classes. We have a department of support teachers who assess the students when they arrive and we are in the process of setting up a series of induction classes from every subject so that the students get an idea of what goes in school. We then give the students another similar (age/nationality/gender and so on) student to shadow for a few days and then the students are placed into classes. We feel that they will learn English best if they are immersed in the language; however, we are aware of possible issues (such as war trauma) so we are sensitive about how we deal with each student.
We have a number of adult translators in school, and on occasions, where necessary, we do use students [to translate] but we try not to as that’s not why they’re in school. We also have a number of teachers who are interested in EAL, of which I am one, and we try to support others when they are not sure how to manage when sometimes the class is made up of predominantly EAL students.
As we teach we try to use a lot of visuals, a lot of student discussion, translated key words, sentence/writing frames and so on to help those EAL students. We also have started having outside of school hours time for families to come in to understand about how the education system works. We had a Roma day last year, as an example. It is a challenge but it can also be enriching for the other students. Some come with incredible talents, such as one particular Roma student who can play the piano and violin extremely beautifully just by listening to a piece of music and then copying it.
Jess Hamer, science teacher at Lampton School in Hounslow
Lampton is a ‘complex urban’ academy in west London. The school is non-selective and its pupils, who come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, fall below the national average both in terms of ability and socio-economic circumstance. Three quarters speak English as an additional language. However, student achievement is above average and the school has been deemed outstanding in challenging circumstances by Ofsted.
I wouldn’t use the word “manage” – it’s great to have such a diverse range of nationalities and cultures as students bring their different backgrounds and experiences to the classroom. As a school we celebrate many different festivals from around the world and there is a real sense of understanding between students, more celebrations = more fun! It’s reassuring and heart-warming to see that the prejudices that exist in the adult world are virtually non-existent in the classroom.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to teach students with EAL even with support in the classroom. I’ve had some very amusing “conversations” with students. Once I was trying to explain what a rabbit is and I ended up having to act out a rabbit by jumping along with my hands upright on my head pretending to be ears! The student thought it was hilarious but understood. Having pictures prepared really helps.
I’m also a year 12 form tutor and guiding students who may be the first generation from their family to apply to university is really rewarding. Sometimes these students need additional support through the process as their families have no prior experience to draw from. Role models are really important for students, seeing scientists from a range of backgrounds raises their aspirations. We regularly host events and have visitors or Stem ambassadors giving lectures or taking part in career speed networking events. I’ve travelled a fair bit and it really helps my awareness of places and cultures that students talk about. Having conversations and showing understanding really helps build relationships in the classroom. Many teachers at Lampton have had specific EAL training, myself included. I found it to be really useful as it helped me develop strategies for scaffolding language for students and it also taught me to ensure that my lessons are visual and that provide opportunities for students to practice their English.
Raising literacy standards is a big issue for many schools, schools with a high proportion of students with EAL is particularly important. At Lampton we’ve had a big push on academic literacy, and I’m part of the working group. Each department is implementing strategies for developing subject-specific literacy. In science, we’re focusing on the process of reading information and then distilling it to scaffold a succinct paragraph of writing. With my year 7 class we’re reading the Horrible Science books and then writing a review.
Teaching students from many cultures is no different to teaching in a school with a single culture – with the exception being having to pay additional attention to language/literacy.
Christopher Waugh, secondary English teacher, London Nautical School
I’m a 41 year old English teacher from New Zealand. I’ve worked as a teacher for 10 years, the most recent three of which in London. The schools in New Zealand that I worked for had much less of a cultural mix than the one I work in now but New Zealand operates strong bicultural practices in relation to the indigenous people, so my experience there has been of great use in my teaching here, and allows a unique perspective. ( I’m also an other-national in the classroom)
The range of nationalities in my room is an asset. The differing use of language is something we study and examine, their differing cultural perspectives provide a dynamic and vivid forum for debate and the need for mutual respect adds to the general dignity of the environment. The cultural diversity of my classes also creates an imperative not to make assumptions about religion, culture and values that creates room for many other firms of difference. I benefit from this uniquely as a gay teacher as my ‘difference’ is just another dimension in the wider melting pot.
Being aware of language acquisition processes is vital. Understanding that someone from another language culture with a south London accent who communicates confidently with his peers does not necessarily have access to the same range of formal language devices as someone who comes from an English-language culture.
I find offering opportunities for students to communicate with each other about their culture, origins and background as part of the learning programme (presentations, debates, writing and reading) is a very effective method of demonstrating respect for cultural diversity as well as making the most of the richness of what it offers.
I also find that asking students and their parents for their advice and input is valuable learning for me. Don’t be afraid of asking about students’ nationality and having them take the lead on embracing the multinational classroom.
Mark Hughes, teacher, Christchurch Primary School in Ilford
I’ve worked in a variety of classes over my 12 years teaching, all with a high majority of religions, cultures and languages spoken. Christchurch has a high majority of Muslim students (when I started it was 85% but now it is 68%) we also have a high number of Eastern European and children from Asian backgrounds.
Generally most of the children I teach have English as an additional language and can converse and work quite well in English. As a school we ‘set’ children in ability levels for English work. We do projects such as language of the month, British week, Eid/Diwali/Christmas concerts as well and look for opportunities in lessons to promote different cultures.
When I first started teaching a lot of the customs and cultures of the different children were all new to me, however I’ve come to embrace them and educate myself about the childrens lives outside of school (tends to help with the teaching side if you know a bit about what goes on at home!)
The different faiths and religions within the school and my class do allow for some great topics and discussions based on tolerance and respect. My wife works in a very middle class/non multicultural school in Hertfordshire and doesn’t get the opportunities cropping up as much. We also have a take part in a global curriculum project about what it means to be a good citizen of the world. Looking at topics around the world – wars/tsunamis/child labour/respect/tolerance/historical influences on cultures and so on – all relevant to the chosen year group
I think you need to be open about how little you know; be curious; learn some words and customs, and most importantly show an interest in them.
Holly Miles, foundation teacher, Larkrise Primary
I work at Larkrise Primary – a large multicultural primary school in a deprived area. Being a foundation teacher, the majority of children arrive every September with no English.
The first term is always very quiet as children often are unable to communicate verbally especially if no one speaks their language. I use a lot of visual resources, props for storytelling and so on, and try to keep language very simple. These children do pick up the language very quickly and I hope that by July most will have acquired enough English to communicate with me and their peers.
We try to include all cultural celebrations throughout the year Eid, Diwali, Chinese new year and so on. The lovely thing about teaching this age is children are still very naive to differences in nationality and religion and so are very accepting to all.
Since teaching I have learnt a lot about cultural practices and I think the best way for new teachers to learn is to speak to parents and support staff about their cultures and find out through first hand experiences. As a nursery teacher I did home visits for all children in my class which really helped to give me an insight into where children are coming from.