Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #3

Tower Hamlets class visitMany thanks to Tower Hamlets Idea Store and Libraries for this lovely photo. The perfect illustration for the final blog in my series on communication and literacy with children with EAL, this one looking at stories, books and reading.

I want to start with story-telling and reading aloud, because their impact is so enormous. Please tell stories and read aloud as often as possible – one-to-one, with small groups and to the whole class. A brief explanation before sharing a book the first time will help children with EAL, and others too, so they have an idea of the context and of key vocabulary. The biggest focus though should be on making story and reading times special. Use lots of oral and facial expression, big body movements and different voices. Repeat books and stories as many times as the children want. They learn so much from repetition, and love it. Provide opportunities for children to join in. Use puppets and props. Leave the books and the props around for children to play with afterwards. Create activities that tie in with stories and books, not least artwork, role play and re-enacting books. All these strategies send strong messages that stories and books are fun. And all hugely aid vocabulary, comprehension and literacy skills.

As much as possible, share books and stories in children’s home languages, calling on the prowess of staff and parents and carers. They can record themselves at home if they feel unable or nervous to perform live.

Make sure there are literacy opportunities everywhere and all the time. Reading, mark-making and writing are mutually supportive. Book-making, including in children’s home languages and dual languages, scribing children’s words where necessary, is great for developing literacy skills.

It’s well worthwhile to embed books and reading and writing routinely and imaginatively in everyday activities and topic work. There are lots of literacy opportunities to be found with cooking and construction for example.

What sort of books help when sharing with children with EAL, and for them to read for themselves? Actually, the same range as for everyone. Every setting should have a good range of culturally appropriate books that authentically represent children’s experiences. All children need and deserve books in which they can find children like themselves. All need and deserve books that provide opportunities to learn about how other people live. (For more on this topic, see the article I wrote for the English Association ‘Using inclusive books in the early years and key stage 1 – why, what and how?’) We should scrupulously avoid and get rid of books that reinforce stereotypes. What else? Books with clear illustrations help understanding and provide respite from the hard work of reading. Wordless books enable children to formulate thoughts in their home languages and to behave as readers. Dual language books are extremely valuable. Books with rhyme, rhythm and repetition build enjoyment, involvement and skills. Books with predictable story patterns make reading easier.

Please make sure to have cosy and attractive reading areas. Children with EAL – indeed all children – will be more inclined towards books and reading if they feel comfortable and safe.

And what about when children with EAL start to read? A big focus on phonics, needless to say, is utterly crucial. Don’t forget that depending on what their home language is, children with EAL may have to learn new sounds and sound groupings, a new script or alphabet, new sound-symbol relationships. Remember too all the new grammatical structures and the huge amounts of new vocabulary they are coming to grips with. Pre-teaching vocabulary makes a big difference. And of course, lots of support, positive feedback and praise for language and literacy progress, so that children with EAL experience success, something everyone needs.

In fact, the more I reflect on what is good literacy practice for children with EAL, the more I realise that it is good literacy practice for every child.