Identifying ‘good practice’ language acquisition strategies in English as an additional language (EAL) classrooms in Spain.

Case Study

Written by Shona O’Callaghan

Published on May 9th, 2022. Impact: Issue 15.

Introduction

This study is an investigation into examples of good practice language-support strategies found in two differing EAL educational settings in Spain. Through a qualitative research lens, data was collated, validated and cross-referenced, with the aim of identifying similar good practice techniques occurring across settings. Data demonstrates a wide range of support strategies implemented by teachers daily, as reflective teachers reveal the need for more peer support, communication and tailored training for teachers in EAL educational settings in Spain. Findings of this research, it is hoped, may lead to more effective communication between dissimilar methodological approaches to language learning, for improved teacher support and development.

Comparisons between CLIL (content and language integrated learning) and non-CLIL classrooms have been drawn, with the aim of identifying effective teaching and learning, across the globe (Lorenzo et al., 2010). Similarly, in immersion contexts such as Canada, Australia, China and Brussels, comparisons have been made with native speakers of the target language (Lin and Man 2009). However, significantly less has been researched into immersion within BSOs (British schools overseas) in Europe, while CLIL continues to dominate this plurilingual research field. Educational aims within each context may vary depending on exposure time to the target language; indeed, CLIL and immersion may differ in many aspects. However, both concur that good practice can be identified through content and language learning combined in a cognitively challenging way through active learning focusing on progression of academic linguistic/literacy skills (Nikula and Mård-Miettinen, 2014).

While immersion origins can be found in French Canada in the early 1960s, CLIL was officially founded in Europe in the 1990s (Nikula and Mård-Miettinen, 2014). CLIL, while having existed in other forms, became formally established in Europe with the European Commission’s aim for plurilingual global citizens (Marsh, 2002), stating that ‘Multilingualism is part and parcel of both identity/citizenship and the learning society’ (Commission of the European Communities, 1995, p. 44).

Purpose and aims

The purpose of this research project was to investigate similar examples of good practice strategies for language acquisition occurring in dual-focus classrooms. The aim was to identify which similar examples of ‘good practice’ strategies for language acquisition are present in two differing EAL classroom settings in Spain. Comparisons were drawn between the suggested methods of ‘good practice’ guidance published and supported by the Department of Education (DfEDepartment for Education - a ministerial department responsi... More), such as those from The Bell Foundation (2017) and the National Association of Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC, 2018) in Britain, and those from the European Commission (1995) and ‘CLIL’ by Coyle et al. (2010), to clearly identify how ‘good practice’ is defined for these two differing settings.

Areas of investigation included classroom discourse support, differentiation, drawing on prior knowledge, placing vocabulary/phrases in context for understanding, peer assessment, collaborative learning, higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), teacher training/preparation, language development and ’learning outcomes realized in classrooms’ (Coyle et al., 2010, p. 1).

Methodology

While dealing with two different settings, dividing the qualitative research into a cross-case analysis made the research more manageable. Methods used were teacher interviews, observations and relevant documentation research (Merriam and Tisdell, 2015)

Case 1 was a BSO immersion school, bounded by context and time through observation of Key Stage 3 content lessons by two volunteer teacher participants. Case 2 was a plurilingual CLIL school, bounded by context and time and through observation of second/third de ESO (Key Stage 3) content lessons by two volunteer teacher participants.

The question guiding this research was:

Which similar good practice language-acquisition support strategies are implemented in two differing Key Stage 3 EAL classroom settings in Spain?

Results and discussion

Two principal thematic categories became apparent from verified data as strategies that are implemented across settings: ‘meaning and comprehension’ and ‘support for progression’, as presented in Figure 1. 

 Figure 1: Relatable data for BSO immersion and CLIL plurilingual settings in Spain

Addressing the guiding question, ‘Which similar good practice language-acquisition support strategies are implemented in two differing Key Stage 3 EAL classroom settings in Spain?’, is complex. Both contexts strive to guide learning in a supported and progressive manner, with teachers facilitating learning (Wood, 1998). The target language was modelled by teachers consistently. Pupils in immersion settings were expected to use the target language continually, whereas in CLIL this was not enforced. Teachers use signs, articles, blogs and website to demonstrate context (Mishan, 2005) and visual cues to convey meaning and move learning on (body language, pictures/images; The Bell Foundation, 2017). Data demonstrated clear matching of many good-practice classroom strategies across settings (Figure 1). However, emerging from observation/interview data was the inherent lack of confidence that teachers had in their own ability to effectively support EAL learners. Data from interviews showed that BSO teachers felt less confident to ‘effectively’ support language, commenting that they felt ‘unsure they did enough’, whereas observation data opposed this. Many similar good-practice strategies, as set out by the DfE and European Commission, including peer assessment, collaborative learning, differentiation and the employment of HOTS to challenge learners, were found.

A lack of formal training for EAL classrooms made these teachers question their support strategies. While much good practice for language support exists, more support for teachers, tailored CPD and better communication between educational settings are lacking and requested by teachers across settings. According to Crisfield (2018), in both CLIL and immersion classrooms, pupils are aiming to learn content ‘through a language they do not yet master’ (p. 28). Crisfield refers to this type of language-learning setting as ‘high-stakes’ (p. 28), due to the possible negative effects that may occur due to inadequate linguistic skills, and states that ‘in both types of classrooms is a tendency to teach to content first and expect the language learning should follow on naturally’ (p. 28). While language was a focus (primarily key vocabulary) in both case studies, the main focus, data shows, is content before language.

 

Conclusion

This research concludes that teachers in EAL settings in Spain would benefit from more specific language-support training and teacher collaboration. Sharing good practice, understanding how it is implemented at a classroom level, and sharing our challenges/problem-solving initiatives may help us to become better facilitators and boost teacher confidence. Similar strategies in line with good practice for language support in these settings were evident. However, there was no clear evidence of support/training for teachers, who consequently doubted their ability to effectively deliver to large EAL groups. NALDIC (2018) recommends ‘Training for subject-specialist teachers’ and collaboration between ‘subject and language specialists’ (p. 10) as characteristics of good practice for EAL provision in Britain. Therefore, would this not also be imperative for other EAL settings where language exposure is limited? In conclusion, similar good-practice strategies were found across settings; however, the need for improved collaboration, support and language-acquisition training for EAL teachers became evident.

References

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