Australian society is culturally and linguistically diverse, with languages other than English spoken in many homes and communities across the country. As a result, significant numbers of students enter the schooling system learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). Together with all other students, they are required to develop advanced language and literacy skills to fully participate in the curriculum and engage in increasingly higher-order thinking. The educational goals for Australian students as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Barr et al. 2008) underline the role of teachers in addressing the needs of EAL/D students by requiring all schools to promote equity and excellence, and to empower all students to become successful learners as well as confident, creative, active and informed individuals. The Australian Council of TESOL Associations’ (ACTA) EAL/D elaborations of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers highlight how pedagogies informed by the needs of EAL/D students play into all three domains of the teaching profession (ACTA, 2015).
Therefore, a review of recent theoretical and empirical research on pedagogical issues as relating to teaching EAL in Australian mainstream classrooms is essential to inform teachers with a better framework and best practices to address EAL/D students’ needs. In the following annotated bibliography I selected and reviewed five important journal articles on this topic:
Dobinson, T. J., & Buchori, S. (2016). Catering for EAL/D students’ language needs in mainstream classes: Early childhood teachers’ perspectives and practices in one Australian setting. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(2), 32–52.
Toni Dobinson, a lecturer with the School of Education at Curtin University, and Sylvia Buchori present a qualitative case study on selected Australian primary teachers’ knowledge and perspectives on catering for EAL/D students in mainstream classes. Reviewing relevant literature, the authors develop the argument that EAL/D students require specific guidance and support in academic subject- matter language acquisition. This includes structured implicit and explicit learning opportunities, appropriate “linguistically responsive” pedagogies (p.35), a multi-lingual mainstream literacy education inclusive of home languages, and teachers that serve language needs rather than act as “teachers of content” (p.36). The research part is based on interviews and class observations of four teachers and illustrates obstacles and well-intended but contra-productive pedagogical pitfalls. These include a lack of meaningful home language provision, strong beliefs on the benefits of monolingual classrooms, linguistically uninformed instruction, exclusive and deficit-focused ability grouping, and little explicit English language scaffolding. As solutions, the authors recommend teaching EAL/D- informed pedagogies to pre-service teachers and increased collaboration between mainstream ‘content teachers’ and specialist EAL/D teachers in the development of unit plans and differentiation strategies. The paper provides useful insights into the practical challenges faced by Australian primary school teachers in addressing EAL/D students’ needs. The authors demonstrate how specific knowledge on how to teach English as a new language is important and illustrate what can go wrong.
While not providing much practical pedagogical advice per se, their conclusion that a change in mindset away from content knowledge-only teachers towards discipline-knowledge and literacy teachers is convincing, and can inform our pedagogical practice in many Australian primary schools.
Gibbons, P. (2008). ‘It was taught good and I learned a lot’: Intellectual practices and ESL learners in the middle years. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 31(2), 155–173.
In this much-cited paper, Pauline Gibbons, Adjunct Professor at the University of New South Wales with extensive professional experience teaching and lecturing on EAL/D, makes the case for ‘high challenge, high support’ pedagogies for EAL/D students. She recommends combining an intellectually challenging curriculum with language scaffolding, which is essential to develop academic language and literacy across the curriculum. Based on collaborative research between university staff and primary school teachers in New South Wales, Gibbons sets out to define both the characteristics of intellectually challenging mainstream classrooms and the needs of EAL/D students. Challenging classrooms provide opportunities for students to engage in higher-order thinking with discipline-specific key ideas and concepts. This helps to transfer learned information to new contexts through inquiry-based learning, and to construct individual understanding through active participation and substantive conversations. For EAL/D students, information-transfer exercises, such as accessing and producing meaning from multiple sources of texts, are important but linguistically demanding. Gibbons offers pedagogical advice on how to create a supportive environment for EAL/D students, i.e.:
- providing students with authentic contexts for collaborative inquiries and problem solving
- explicit whole text-embedded teacher modelling of registers and genres, and
- creating opportunities for EAL/D students to practice and contribute, because “[s]tudents learn […] about language in the context of using language” (p.171).
Gibbons provides a useful framework for teaching EAL/D in mainstream classes by highlighting the benefits of pedagogies that provide high cognitive challenges and high levels of differentiated support for all learners. Her approach to focus on EAL/D students’ potential provides a critical non-deficit perspective. While focusing on the bigger picture, however little practical advice and scaffolding strategies on EAL/D are forwarded.
Hammond, J. (2012). Hope and challenge in The Australian Curriculum: Implications for EAL students and their teachers. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(2), 223-240.
Jennifer Hammond, Director of the former Centre for Language and Literacy, University of Technology Sydney, investigates the Australian Curriculum (AC) from the perspective of how EAL/D students’ needs are explicitly and implicitly recognised, and how specific EAL/D pedagogical approaches are positioned. Hammond first outlines the needs of EAL/D students in relation to the curriculum:
- knowledge about language, literacy and language development, i.e. mastery of academic language registers and discipline-specific literacy,
- intellectual challenge and ‘deep knowledge’ through high teacher expectations for all students,
- planning and implementation of support programs providing required language scaffolding.
Hammond next summarises the hopes and concerns in the AC v3 for EAL/D students and teachers. Hopes are in the rejection of alternative/simplified curricula for EAL/D students, instead targeting equity through high intellectual challenge in mainstream education. A concern is that equity through challenge only works if teachers provide EAL/D students with targeted language and literacy support to access all areas of the curriculum, placing the onus on discipline teachers to also act as language teachers and scaffold for EAL/D students. This responsibility was not made explicit in AC v3, where the development of explicit knowledge about language is primarily placed in English. In the AC v8, literacy is more prominent and as a ‘general capability’ at the core of the national curriculum that needs to be addressed in all learning areas, making pedagogical knowledge around teaching language and literacy an important professional development area for many teachers.
Hammond’s critical review has been influential in emphasising literacy across all areas of the curriculum in later versions of the Australian Curriculum. It also sets the scene for discussing the roles teachers need to fill, and consequently the pedagogies teachers need to explicitly teach language and literacy skills in all learning areas.
Michell, M., & Sharpe, T. (2005). Collective instructional scaffolding in English as a Second Language classrooms. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 20(1), 31–58.
This paper complements Hammond and Gibbons’ widely cited paper (2005) based on the same collaborative ESL scaffolding action research project. Michell, writing as Senior Education Officer with DET NSW, develops a contextual, multi-modal model of instructional scaffolding to address linguistic and cultural needs of EAL/D students in mainstream classrooms. The model is grounded in socio-cultural theories incorporating both intellectual (task-enabling support) and social semiotic (language-mediated co-regulation) perspectives, and is informed by the analysis of authentic classroom practice. The intellectual aspect involves instructional scaffolding along the zone of proximal development trajectory, managing task complexity and focus to cognitively challenge the student to learn, while providing the support required. Along this trajectory, support evolves from more explicit modelling towards guidance and allowing the student to take more control. The social semiotic aspect focuses on interactional dialogue providing students with the emotional support to fully participate and persevere, as well as opportunities to advance academic thinking and expression. The analysis of observed instructional scaffolding provides detailed insight into how lead teachers apply and inform the theoretical framework, including the resources they routinely draw on. The authors summarise the contextual pre-requisites for scaffolding.
The paper contributes to the investigation of EAL/D pedagogies by providing a comprehensive and detailed model of scaffolding, informed and illustrated by classroom observations. The promoted approach of collective instructional EAL/D scaffolding is particularly informative and useful in the context of inclusive mainstream school settings in Australia. The paper complements the “network model of scaffolding” approach by Hammond and Gibbons (2005), which highlights scaffolding micro- and macro-level teacher choices.
Windle, J., & Miller, J. (2012). Approaches to teaching low literacy refugee-background students. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(3), 317-333.
Joel Windle and Jenny Miller, senior researchers at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, investigate the rate of implementation of recent EAL/D pedagogy frameworks by teachers in Victorian secondary schools that receive funding for low-literacy refugee-background (LLRB) students. They look at the explicit teaching of academic language, using students’ prior knowledge and the careful sequencing of learning through phases. Refugee students are an important category of EAL/D students who often lack literacy skills in their first language and have little prior experience of western education. The authors categorise EAL/D pedagogies into five broad categories each with examples of relevant strategies:
- scaffolding learners
- attention to comprehensible input
- direct and explicit teaching of language
- focus on metacognitive skills and strategies
- focus on critical and creative skills.
The sixty-one teacher participants reported on their routine implementation of those strategies. Accordingly, teachers were more likely to engage in strategies that demanded an active role of themselves (teacher-focused activities) rather than providing students with opportunities to practise language through student inquiries and content generation. Also, scaffolding at the level of genre or text-type features is rarely implemented, in particularly in learning areas other than English. The authors conclude that teacher professional development activities need to focus more on building student autonomy through peer-supported practice, as well as on language and literacy scaffolding in learning areas other than English.
While the authors make LLRB students a focus of their inquiry, little insight is provided on pedagogies that might particularly benefit this EAL/D category. Instead, the paper investigates how teachers of these students draw on a range of general EAL/D strategies. Despite this limitation, the paper is included for its useful tabular overview of recent language and literacy strategies and the ranking by teachers.
The starting point for this annotated bibliography is Hammond’s 2012 review of the Australian Curriculum as the national framework and space in which EAL/D support in mainstream classrooms takes place. It informs on the legitimacy of EAL/D pedagogies and emphasises the importance of making teaching of language and literacy more explicit in all discipline areas. Indeed, changes to the curriculum since 2012 indicate that prescriptive content knowledge made space for more student-centred pedagogies and an emphasis on literacy, including phonics and phonemic awareness in English (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2016). These changes directly address her voiced concerns and needs of EAL/D students.
The curriculum developments are in line with Gibbons’ (2008) call for ‘high challenge, high support’ pedagogies that combine an intellectually challenging curriculum with language scaffolding for EAL/D students, and with Dobinson and Buchori’s (2016) advise for all subject area teachers to develop discipline literacy pedagogies and work more closely with EAL/D specialists. It is Windle and Miller (2012) that provide insights into EAL/D pedagogies and strategies practised by Australian teachers. Their tabular overview of recent EAL/D language and literacy strategies is a useful starting point to investigate EAL/D pedagogies in more detail, and it creates awareness around strategies currently undervalued in practice and possible reasons why.
Against this background and insight into the Australian landscape of EAL/D pedagogies, Michell and Sharpe’s (2005) detailed model of scaffolding, informed and illustrated by classroom observations, adds critical detail and practical examples. Their focus on collective instructional EAL/D scaffolding is particularly useful in the context of the inclusive mainstream classrooms in which teaching EAL/D takes place in Australia. However, it is important to note that their model is only one among other competing and complementing approaches, as highlighted by Hammond and Gibbons “network model of scaffolding” (2005) in the same volume.