Assessment of any pupil who has limited proficiency in spoken English is always problematic. But a key is a strongly visual format and minimal reliance on spoken instructions, as you can find in the Lucid assessments.  The practice items enable most pupils, even those with very little English, to understand the tasks, and where there is uncertainty a teacher or assistant who speaks the pupil’s mother tongue can help with explaining instructions if available.

Obviously many pupils with EAL have low formal literacy attainments  (phonological skills, reading, spelling), reflecting their lack of experience with English.  However, on the memory and reasoning tests scores will normally reflect their true abilities, as these are largely unaffected by language factors. This is provided, of course, that the pupil can cope with the digits 1–9 in spoken and written form in order to attempt the auditory sequential  memory test. The Backwards Span test in the Dyslexia Screening Test serves a similar purpose but is harder than the one in Lucid because you have to recall numbers in revers order. I haven’t found anything that reliably assesses visual memory.

Girl (1st profile), aged 8 years 2 months, and Boy, aged 9 years 1 month, are both pupils for whom English is an additional language. Despite several years in school neither had acquired a particularly good standard of spoken English and their literacy skills were poor.

The teachers are divided regarding the likely cause of their problems. Some believe that their difficulties were those of the typical child for whom English is an additional language, and that a greater amount of language stimulation was needed. Other teachers wondered whether Girl and Boy were perhaps not as bright as they had first imagined, and that consequently educational expectations were being set too high.

Finally, some thought that there might be more serious underlying problems that were impeding these children’s progress. To help understand these cases, LASS Junior was administered to both pupils and the results are shown here. In neither case could low ability be taken to be the cause of their problems. But they differ markedly in their diagnostic test results. Of the two, Girl is clearly more able (at least as far as non-verbal reasoning is concerned).

Girl appears to be making some progress in reading and spelling, suggesting that the teaching methods that have been adopted were working, albeit rather more slowly than her teachers would have expected.

Girl has good memory skills while Boy has poor memory skills — in fact, his profile is that of dyslexia.

Boy needs a more highly structured multisensory programme directed at his dyslexic difficulties.  Girl, on the other hand, should be able to cope with ordinary classroom literacy activities supplemented by some additional practice to help her increase her fluency.  

Both of these pupils require continuing support in English.

Basic strategies in teaching pupils with EAL who show learning difficulties in literacy involve a mix of building on existing strengths and compensating for areas of comparative weakness. (Not much different, in truth, from teaching all students with literacy difficulties).

Strengths

  • Competence in other languages, including literacy knowledge and skills
  • Breadth of cultural experience
  • Phonological awareness and skills
  • Motivation
  • Self-esteem

Strategies for compensating for areas of comparative weakness might include:

  • Offer consistent, predictable routines and demands in the reading curriculum as well as in other classroom practices.
  • Offer culturally appropriate choices of reading material to enhance motivation and self-esteem
  • Provide practice (and, where necessary, explicit instruction) in metacognitive and cognitive strategies
  • Activate/introduce appropriate schema through pre-reading discussion and retelling
  • Help pupils to develop the habit of organising in advance by skimming or previewing headings, pictures, summaries and text
  • Undertake constant checks on oral and reading comprehension, making clear the teacher’s concern for comprehension and engagement rather than simply for accurate reading aloud and speed
  • Help pupils to develop the habits of slowing down their reading rate to aid and check comprehension, using context to sort out a misunderstood segment, and using key visuals and mind mapping to organise information during reading
  • Employ multi-sensory approaches
  • Stress the value of over-learning (e.g. for spelling) – but in meaningful contexts
  • Modify tasks to enable pupil to show comprehension of what is read in a way that does not place heavy demands on expressive language or writing skills
  • Use collaborative approaches through pair and group work that will enable peers to scaffold emerging skills and knowledge with a struggling reader

Adapted from the chapter by Deponio, Landon and Reid and from McCarthy.

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