Can an online EAL course really make a difference in your classroom?

You’ve got EAL pupils in your classroom. Some are newly arrived and have little or no English. Some are fairly advanced and need regular support. In some cases you aren’t even sure if a pupil is classified as EAL or not, but they are struggling with academic literacy and need some extra help to gain the top grades that you know they are capable of. So you decide to apply for some CPD. A one day course would be a good start, but you know you need something more in-depth. While your school is supportive they can’t justify the double whammy of both the course cost and the cost of providing cover for the days you are out of the classroom.

So, can an online EAL course really make a difference in your classroom? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes, but only if it provides participants with access to a real-life peer group, tutor support and up to date content that meets the needs both of themselves and their broader teams.

Our online course has recently celebrated its seventh birthday. It was one of our first innovations and helped establish our reputation in the EAL field. We proudly gained accreditation with the University of Greenwich in May 2017.

Our first participants were Swansea Council’s EAL team in October 2012. We contacted them to ask what they remembered about the course. Cath Ratcliffe, told us:

 “There are some key, learned, points such as the importance of parental involvement and pupils’ literacy skills in their home language which have stayed with me and helped focus my support for these pupils. I would highly recommend the course for EAL specialist teachers who are struggling to find time to develop their specialism.”

Our course is built around two apparently contradictory principles:

  1. online learning is, at its core, asynchronous (you learn in our own time)
  2. we learn best when we are engaged through interactive and collaborative activities.

And it works. It has to be asynchronous because our participants live in different time zones. Increasingly our participants come from international schools. You can contribute to the online discussion forum and read responses from other participants or the tutor at any time of day. Tutor support for assignments used to be conducted largely by email. These days we often enhance the interactive element through Skype, which can involve one or more participants. We find the ability to share screens especially useful.

We have learnt to be flexible about assessment tasks. Sometimes participants do not have access to the kind of data they need. We often find that an alternative task (a case study, for example) gives similar opportunities to meet the assessment criteria.

We have also learnt to be mindful of the changing contexts in which EAL learners and their teachers find themselves. That might be the constant revisions to the English national curriculum and assessment systems, changes in the nature of international school student populations (which has led to a new International School unit), or changes in assessment systems, internationally or in different parts of the UK. The publication in 2018 of the Companion Volume to the CFER meant that the time had come for a new unit on Plurilingualism.

In contrast, we cling dearly to some things that are out of fashion and distinctly off Ofsted’s and the UK government’s agenda. Our unit on African Caribbean and Mixed Heritage issues survives. We update it to show that the data is as worrying as it was 25 years ago and because we still believe passionately that it needs to be urgently addressed.

We have always seen the course as both giving of key information and supporting teachers’ reflection on their classroom practice. To return to the question of whether an online EAL course can really make a difference in your classroom, the best answer probably comes from Lynsey Irish, a Teacher based at Eastover Primary School in Somerset, who upon successful completion of the course subsequently joined our team as an Associate:

 “The online course improved my own knowledge of key issues in the achievement of pupils learning English as an additional language. It enabled my school to consider the different ways in which we plan for beginner and advanced EAL pupils and how we identify any special educational needs. As a school we are now much more aware of factors that may affect the emotional and social side of a newly arrived pupil and their families. We have put strategies in place to support our pupils which we have found highly beneficial.  We have also developed our own structured approach to assessing pupils learning English as an additional language with clear targets and next steps.”

If you think our course sounds like a good fit for you, email us at contact@theealacademy.co.uk for further information or to request an application form to join our next cohort.

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