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    "It’s all Bulgarian to me!" Building Language Skills in Secondary


    31 Aug, 2018

    10 : 00

    • This year, Yew Chung International School of Beijing is building on its EAL (English as an Additional Language) programme in Secondary to ensure students who are new to English language realise their full potential in IGCSE and IBDP. We speak to Ms Rebecca Flavin, Head of English, about our EAL programme and the role of our new Secondary support teacher Ms Susan Botcharova – who last week led a lesson entirely in Bulgarian.

      Please explain the changes to our EAL programme in Secondary

      This year we’re expanding our EAL provision in Secondary to help students who are new to English acquire language skills, while still having full access to the IGCSE and IBDP curriculum. Susan will play a key role here, acting as an in-class support teacher who will work with students and teachers to ensure that language is not a barrier to subject learning. This in-class support will, for the most part, replace the “sheltered programme”, where new English-speakers are taken out of mainstream classes for EAL subject teaching.

      As well as being a support teacher in lessons, Susan will work with teachers to plan their lessons so that they can be more accessible to EAL students. This will involve employing certain techniques that enable students to understand and acquire new vocabulary without detracting from the curriculum content.

      Please explain the Bulgarian lesson that took place last week

      Susan is originally from the United States but is fluent in Bulgarian having spent much of her life in Bulgaria. Susan felt that teaching a whole lesson to teachers in Bulgarian would help them empathise with our students coming in with very limited English and help them appreciate the importance of addressing their needs in the mainstream classroom.

      Susan chose to teach a maths lesson, using a variety of visual, oral and kinaesthetic strategies to help teachers understand. At the end of the lesson, teachers were asked to reflect as learners on what helped them comprehend the lesson – both Susan’s strategies, and strategies of their own.

      What do you hope teachers gained from the lesson?

      As well as helping teachers empathise with our EAL students who have just arrived, I hope that the lesson will help them consider ways that they can adapt their teaching to help our students with emerging English.

      Ultimately, our goal is to help teachers understand that, in an international school, all teachers are language teachers. But what does this look like in the classroom? The IGCSE and IBDP In-Class Support Programme will help content teachers to build on their experience and skills to meet the needs of their English language learners and achieve greater academic success all round. Language specialists and subject specialists are working together to incorporate their combined knowledge for a more collaborative approach to teaching and learning language and content.

      What makes our EAL programme so effective?

      YCIS Beijing has an experienced team of teachers trained in second language acquisition. These teachers are playing an increasing role in our planning and teaching across all subjects and across both Primary and Secondary to ensure that language learning remains a priority in class.

      I also think that our concept based curriculum in Middle School is beneficial for EAL students. We teach all our subjects in accordance to concepts (Sustainability and the Environment, Tradition and Culture, Identity and Perspectives etc.) This means that similar vocabulary, terms and concepts start to recur across subjects, aiding memorisation and comprehension, and also allows EAL students to take part in all of the same units as fluent students – so that they aren’t removed from school life at all.

      Finally, we make every effort to celebrate all language abilities. At the end of October, we will be having a poetry sharing event for the whole of Secondary during which all Secondary students are invited to read poems that they have written. Sometimes those with limited English language produce the most original and effective pieces of work.

      What advice do you have for students learning English for the first time?

      Firstly, study smart, study frequently. For example, 20 minutes of reading every day is better than two hours once a week.

      Secondly, read a book that is at your level. It doesn’t matter how basic the book is – if you can follow the story it will be much more rewarding.

      Thirdly, collect words, write them down and have the courage to try using them.

      And finally, be resilient. Learning a new language is tough so you’ve got to be too!