This project was set within a school where a significant number of children were learning English as an additional language (EAL). With a limited understanding of English, these children tended to be disengaged during teaching of language-heavy subjects, including science. The aim of this project was to improve engagement in science for these children, in line with Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC). The approach involved pre-teaching key concepts through home-school collaboration and support for learning sessions. These were technology-enriched learning experiences designed to build vocabulary and engagement. A successful project would increase engagement by improving independence, participation and inclusion of children for whom language has been a barrier to learning science. An increased growth mindset would also be noted using pre and post project surveys completed by the children.
The aims of the project were partially achieved amongst the four children involved. The main benchmark for assessing success was the use of pre and post project growth mindset surveys. However, it was challenging to administer these surveys to all children at once given the language barrier and the three different languages spoken (Portuguese, Dutch and Czech). As a result, an audible language translation tool (Google translate) was used to support the administration of the survey. This meant that it was done over a week instead of 45 minutes. Staffing challenges also meant that both surveys were carried out by the mindset champion. This may have had an impact on the validity of pupils’ responses, given that the mindset champion was their homeroom teacher who they were keen to please. Nevertheless, pre and post surveys showed an increase in growth mindset among all the EAL children.
If this project were to be repeated, we would ensure adequate leeway in the timelines to allow for unforeseen circumstances. This would permit the surveys to be carried out by a neutral party. We might also consider administering the surveys to parents in order to get a different perspective.
Engagement of children during science lessons was measured using observations of Schlecty’s engagement indicators. At the beginning of the project, one pupil showed indicators of Rebellion (diverted attention by simply doing something else during science class), two showed Retreatism (not paying attention or working but not being disruptive) and one showed Ritual Compliance (doing their work to a minimal standard by asking a bilingual child what to do but not listening or paying attention during discussions with the teacher or English-speaking peers). At the end of the project, two children were assessed at Engagement level (high attention and commitment) shown in their focus, questions, participation and even keenness to share their knowledge with others through pictures and games. The two other children were mostly at Strategic Compliance (high attention and low commitment) evidenced in mostly listening, knowing what to do and answering questions but not going beyond the basics by asking questions or formulating own experiments. All children moved up the Schlecty's Engagement Scale, suggesting a growth mindset - a belief that they can succeed at science. Engagement might have been further improved if we had been able to take a more active approach to teaching of the topics taught during the science lessons.
The project also looked at engagement from parents, which was consistent for two children (who eventually achieved high engagement on Schlecty’s Engagement Scale). However, the other two families only engaged in home-learning half the time. Feedback from parents who engaged showed that the children were attentive as they watched home-learning videos, able to ask questions (provided as a Google Form) and posed their own questions in response to videos and pictures provided. Only one child initially struggled to respond to questions during the first home-learning session. This feedback supports the progress observed in the classroom.
During parent-teacher meetings two weeks before the end of the project, the parents were asked for feedback on the project. The consensus was that the children had already learned about the science topic (Weather and Seasons) in their native language, hence there was nothing new to learn. This was the reason for sporadic engagement from two families. Through discussion with the families, it was clear that they did not realise that the home-learning was also a way to build vocabulary and, indirectly, confidence and engagement. More time should have been spent emphasising this point with parents at the start of the project.
Feedback from the support for learning teacher was that the children were increasingly engaged and could remember key vocabulary from session to session. They particularly engaged playing bingo one week. As a result, the mindset champion adapted the plan by providing weekly bingo games to support the weekly science sessions.
The timelines for this project were not successful. This was due to the impact of COVID-19 on staff and pupil presence. Management absence during the week of project approval meant that there was not time to fully engage parents with the aims of the project, and a decision was made to issue the home-learning alongside other homework. Given the volume of other homework and that it was not then viewed as compulsory, this probably impacted understanding and engagement of the project from the families involved.
An interim review that was planned was extremely brief due to staff shortages, but this did not impact the project. Weekly meetings with the support for learning teacher ended up being irregular and mostly done using WhatsApp, again due to absences and staff shortages linked to COVID-19. Given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the project should have had a much longer timeline to allow for significant unforeseen events. In this project, the relatively normal previous two terms were used as benchmarks for planning and did not turn out to be representative. The end of project review was also postponed until after the holidays resulting in a two-week delay.
Overall, the project's timelines were affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the decision not to promote the project to the parents. The project would have benefitted from more flexible timelines and interim review points.
There were a number of changes that were made to the original project plan:
Following the project, there is now a greater focus on what children can do, rather than what they can't. This allows us to use children's interests and strengths to support their areas of development. For example, we noticed that many children were inattentive to talk and picture books, but attentive to videos. So, we changed the mode of learning to use videos so that the children acquired the learning and achieved the success criteria. We are also far more flexible in our approach. When we learned that the children loved playing games such as bingo, we incorporated that into our science lesson also.
Our growth mindset champions are now far more willing to speak up about changes that need to be made at school, particularly when they are in the best interest of the children. We have worked with the principal teacher to change the way topics such as seasons are taught to enable real-life experiences to be used. Expectations of children with English as an additional language have also increased. Given the right nurturing environment, patience, visual and active approach (including dual learning), the children can achieve at least similarly to those who are native English speakers. We will continue to explore ways to support these children to raise their competence and confidence across the curriculum.
The pupils in general, are far more comfortable working collaboratively with children who have a limited understanding of the English language. They choose to work together and enjoyed working collaboratively. There is less of a need for native English-speaking pupils to translate for EAL pupils, allowing them to do their best with the given time. The EAL children’s success supports them to be seen as an equal, and this sense of being valued is likely to raise their confidence and further nurture a belief that they can be successful - a cornerstone of a growth mindset.
Target English as an Additional Language Pupils
Classroom observations show that the pupils are more attentive, engaged, curious and independent in class now. They volunteer to answer questions, and some even ask questions and engage in child-led inquiry-based learning. A couple of the target children are particularly keen to extend their learning beyond the classroom. For example, during recent learning about everyday materials, two target children (unprompted) walked around the playground pointing out rubber on tyres, plastic on the slide, wood on the climbing frame and metal on bicycles. They even asked what the chalk their teacher was holding was made of - extending their learning beyond what was taught. This shows curiosity and excitement about their learning - imperative for nurturing a growth mindset.
Beyond science, the target children now ask their teachers or support staff when they are unsure. In the past, some children would simply do nothing or play when unsure (in all lessons). Now, these children stand up and walk to the teacher to ask for support; even without the language skills, one uses gestures to communicate and get support. In maths, one target pupil uses classroom displays to help her when she is unsure. This pupil is visually challenged and stands up and walks over to view the material closely - wanting to be successful. This willingness to get out of the learning pit by seeking clarity and support is a fantastic behaviour that is indicative of a growth mindset. Pre and post surveys support the observation of the children being more comfortable with mistakes and not knowing after the project, with a 24% increase in the average score attained.
Following the project, there is now more home-school partnership working through home learning. The parents have a better understanding on the impact of home learning using videos on their child's progress learning the English language (and science). While this improvement was achieved near the end of the project through parent-teacher meetings, it sets the groundwork for continued engagement in similar home learning experiences going forward. Furthermore, the successes achieved provide positive anecdotes for engaging other parents in technology-based and/or active home learning also, with some parents discussing this amongst themselves.
During discussion following the project, staff were more willing to talk about teaching strategies amongst themselves and engage in innovative approaches. There was some exchange of ideas. This openness could improve staff wellbeing and outcomes for the children. In fact, some staff are discussing trialling out their own projects.
Please see the link below for a colourful and detailed overview of the project, showing the activities involved and the growth mindset survey responses.
Feedback from the Principal Teacher was that the project was good and that it was important to share with other staff. They felt that it would be good to see the approach taken (videos in particular) being used to support language learning. The school has a significant number of children in the nursery and primary one who speak little to no English. For the children in this project, homework might have also been good if it was on paper, possibly increasing the likelihood that parents take it more seriously.
Support for Learning Teacher
The feedback from the SfL teacher was that while she enjoyed the guidance and focus for the SfL lessons, they need to be more active and hands-on. Some of the children struggled to sit for more than five minutes. More game-based learning experiences would also be advantageous. However, there was an understanding that given the topic during the project, videos were an ideal option.
Stage Classroom Teacher (with EAL pupils)
The other stage teacher believed that using videos was good for the younger children and was less work for the parents to support their children to do the homework.
The use of videos and real-life experiences as part of home learning for children with English as an additional language will be encouraged across the school. It will also be used to support children to catch up on any missed school. And, will be used with younger children as it makes home learning less onerous for parents. Where quizzes are required, it might be better to deliver these in a paper format along with other homework.
Staff will be encouraged to improve on the project and share findings with each other during weekly meetings. Support will be offered to staff to find suitable learning experiences for the children. We also want all children to be confident sharing their learning. We will continue to build a growth mindset by raising the competence of EAL children through periodic ‘Show and Tell’. This has already begun, with children reading books in their native language to the class and sharing their home-made science videos and drawings. It is expected that as children continue to gain confidence and competence, their growth mindset will also be nurtured.