Friday, 6 November 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #2

ORd5#This photo is of an inspiring Enfield Libraries early years session I was lucky enough to attend. Most of the participants had English as an additional language.

In this second blog in a series on developing language and literacy skills with children with EAL in the EYFS I am going to concentrate on effective ways to support spoken English. Unless children have a good grasp of this, all aspects of communication and literacy will be a struggle.

Nurturing children’s home languages is crucial for aiding English language acquisition. I explored its importance, and methods that help, in my previous blog. Below I discuss the benefits of songs and rhymes, and next time I will talk about sharing stories and books. While I’m still on the topic of support for home languages, let me stress the benefits of bilingual story-times and rhyme sessions, involving practitioners and, if possible, parents and carers. Any who are daunted about performing live could record their contributions at home. Children with EAL will gain enormously from this valuing of their home language, and exposure to a range of languages and scripts is to everyone’s advantage.

Most children go through a silent phase when first learning a new language, sometimes lasting months. Despite not speaking, they gradually understand more and more. There are many ways to build their confidence and expertise. They need thinking time to process what they hear. They need interaction with English-speaking children. They need support, including visual support such as photos, illustrations, artefacts and visual timetables. They need encouragement. Value children’s non-verbal responses, their responses in their home language, and of course their utterances in English, as they begin to speak it.

Learning English as an additional language is hard work and very tiring, so give children with EAL time out from English and provide opportunities for them to express themselves in their home language some of the time.

Make sure there is always plenty of talk, even when there is no verbal response. Provide a running commentary as children play. (It’s worth knowing that children with EAL may speak more in outdoor play. In fact this applies to most children.) As children start to speak in English, build on their utterances, modelling English language use. If a child says ‘I goed home’ the practitioner might say ‘you went home and then ….’. Make open comments and ask open questions. Closed questions like ‘what’s this called?’ don’t develop language skills.

What else? Children with EAL need active teaching of vocabulary. They need to know survival words like yes, no, toilet, hello. They need language used in meaningful contexts. They need attention drawn to letters and sounds.

Songs and rhymes are excellent for developing language, and help lay the foundations for reading. They build speaking and listening skills, phonological awareness, vocabulary and comprehension. Lots of songs and rhymes have repeated words and phrases, and this, combined with a compelling rhythm, help make language stick. Aid children’s enjoyment and understanding with action rhymes and props and puppets. As I mentioned earlier, there’s great value to rhymes in children’s home languages. I find Mamalisa a good source.

Stories, books and reading aloud are far too important to cover in a couple of paragraphs, which is why I’m going to devote my next blog to them.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Supporting communication, language and literacy with children with English as an additional language in the early years #1

Pol17I took this lovely photo at a meeting of a Polish under 5s group in Enfield. It was a snowy day, hence the snowman book. As well as books, there were songs, rhymes, discussion and activities in a seamless meld of Polish and English. The children – far more than just the four here – were enthralled. So were the adults.

I was delighted to give a webinar for Liverpool early years practitioners last week on current thinking and advice relating to children with English as an additional language (EAL), and inclusive strategies and resources for developing communication and reading. In this first of a series of blogs I’m concentrating on the benefits of bilingualism, the importance of supporting children’s home languages, what children have to learn to become proficient in a new language, and official guidance on supporting children with EAL in the early years.

For many years now it has been recognised that bilingualism is an asset and should be valued as a positive skill. Bilingualism not only aids the learning of English and other languages. More broadly it develops concentration, cognition and memory as well as empathy, self-confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing.

We know it is vital to support children’s home languages at home and in settings. The EYFS Statutory Framework and the EYFS Reforms Early Adopter Framework contain identical guidance: ‘Providers must take reasonable steps to provide opportunities for children to develop and use their home language in play and learning, supporting their language development at home.’

‘Children will learn English from a strong foundation in their home language’ in the words of the new Development Matters. Both the original Development Matters and the new version are adamant about the importance of encouraging families to use their home language.

‘Talk to parents about what language they speak at home, try and learn a few key words and celebrate multilingualism in your setting’ says the  new document. It is worth unpicking and adding to this sentence. It’s crucial to spend time with parents and carers finding out about children’s abilities and experiences in their home languages. Crucial too to ensure children can hear and use their home languages in settings. Bilingual staff should be valued and involved. Children with the same home language should be enabled to play and talk together.

It’s invaluable to learn a few key words in children’s home languages: hello, goodbye, toilet for instance. Everyone should respect children’s home languages. How important it is to pronounce children’s names correctly.

None of these are new ideas and recommendations. They are all emphasised in the original Development Matters too.

In terms of celebrating multilingualism, the environment should visibly reflect and value cultural and linguistic diversity. This is often taken to mean settings should have lots of notices in a range of languages and scripts, but inclusive play equipment, displays and books send out stronger messages to young children.

As the following list makes clear, there are many things children with EAL may have to contend with in order to learn a new language. (This comes from a valuable overview and checklist by my Early Education colleague Julie Cigman.)

  • a new set of sounds and sound groupings
  • new intonation patterns
  • a new script or alphabet
  • a new set of sound-symbol relationships
  • new vocabulary
  • new grammar
  • new non-verbal signals
  • new rules about social conventions and language
  • an ability to relate to people and express feelings and emotions in a new language

It’s important to make no assumptions. All children learn differently and the rate of language acquisition is very variable. Understanding is likely to be well in advance of spoken language for most children learning English as an additional language. Many go through a silent phase, and for some this may last months. It’s crucial not to pressurise children to talk before they are ready to.

I will blog soon about more ways to support spoken English, vital for all aspects of communication and literacy, as well as self-confidence and wellbeing.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Children’s reading news

reading books

My last round-up of research and articles about children’s and young people’s reading was in early March, before lockdown hit. This latest one – illustrated with some of my favourite contemporary and classic books about children’s reading – includes a number of reports about its impact, as well as several other interesting and valuable studies.

Research by Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) reveals that England’s nine and 10-year-olds are bucking international trends by showing an increasingly positive attitude to reading.

The latest annual survey of children’s reading by the National Literacy Trust has less positive findings. Children and young people’s levels of reading enjoyment continue to decrease. Just over half say they enjoy reading, the lowest level since 2013. Children and young people’s daily reading levels are the lowest ever recorded since the survey started in 2005. The gap between girls’ and boys’ engagement in reading is large. A third of children and young people cannot find things to read that interest them. As the report makes clear, these things matter. Children and young people who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than those who don’t, and children who read daily in their free time are twice as likely to read above the level expected for their age than those who don’t.

According to ‘Children and young people’s reading in 2020 before and during the COVID-19 lockdown’ children’s reading enjoyment has increased during lockdown, as has the amount they are reading. Fiction has been particularly popular. Children have reported that reading has supported their mental wellbeing. On the downside, the gap between girls’ and boys’ reading has widened, and for some children and young people the lack of access to books has negatively affected their ability and motivation to read.

NLT research published in July indicates that children have listened to audio books more during lockdown, and that this too has been beneficial in terms of mental wellbeing and interest in reading.

Dr Carina Spaulding of The Reading Agency explores the benefits of family reading in and out of lockdown in a blog for DCMS.

New research tells us that video games help literacy skills in boys and reluctant readers. Video games were also found to be effective at engaging reluctant readers with stories, boosting writing and communication, and supporting mental health during lockdown.

Interesting and useful evidence has been published about the value of watching television with subtitles for children’s reading skills. Subtitles aid vocabulary development, decoding, comprehension and reading fluency. They are immensely beneficial to children who are deaf or have hearing loss. They improve the literacy skills of children who are economically disadvantaged, those who are struggling with reading, and minority language speakers.

A recent study demonstrates that pupils eligible for free school meals are more likely to use the school library daily than their peers who are not eligible. For many, it is a safe haven. Pupils who receive free school meals and use their school library enjoy reading and writing more, read and write for pleasure more, have greater confidence in their reading and writing abilities and engage with a greater diversity of reading material and writing than those who are eligible for FSM but do not use the library.

Finally, the NLT has published an interesting report on the effectiveness of place-based, cross-sector programmes and campaigns in improving outcomes for children.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

10 day picture book challenge

picbks

I felt very honoured to be nominated to take part in the on–going ten day picture book challenge on Twitter. Thank you Sue McGonigle. It was incredibly hard to choose just ten books out the hundreds that I love. And formidably difficult to sum them up in only three words, a key aspect of the challenge. These are the glorious books that I eventually picked, and my descriptions of them (which I discovered are somewhat repetitive only as I put this together).

Day 1. The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton. Tate Publishing, 2018.
Nature – Optimism –  Community
Day 2. Tilly’s At Home Holiday by Gill Hibbs. Childs Play, 2014.
Affirmative – Inclusive – Hopeful
Day 3. You Choose by Nick Sharratt and Pippa Goodhart. Puffin, 2018. First published 2003.)
Interactive – Inclusive – Irresistible
Day 4. Through the Eyes of Me by Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding. Graffeg, 2017.
Joyful – Affirmative – Autism
Day 5. 15 Things Not to Do with a Baby by Margaret McAllister and Holly Sterling. Frances Lincoln, 2015.
Funny – Subversive – Touching
Day 6. The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Orchard Books, 2013.
Beautiful – Sensitive – Reassuring
Day 7. Dog on a Train by Kate Prendergast. Old Barn Books, 2015.
Sensitive – Beautiful – Wordless
Day 8. Ernest by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan, 2019. (Originally published 2009.)
Very – Determined – Moose
Day 9. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. Hodder, 2019. (Originally published 1989.)
Balloon – Magic – Powers
Day 10. Mr Big by Ed Vere. Penguin Random House, 2008.
Loneliness – Music – Friendship

For those with access to Twitter, Jo Bowers has been collating contributors’ choices. Together they make a stunning roll-call of some of the very best picture books around. Every time I look I get delightful reminders of favourite titles, authors and illustrators, and inspiration for future book delving.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Picture books about flowers and gardening and their value for children’s wellbeing

gdnThe beneficial impact of books and reading on children’s mental health is well established. National Literacy Trust research tells us that children who are engaged with reading and writing are three times more likely to have high mental wellbeing than children who aren’t. Books are great stress reducers. The arrival recently of two beautiful new picture books that highlight the nurturing qualities of plants and gardening has led me to ponder the role of such books in terms of children’s wellbeing, a matter of huge concern in these very difficult times. Many commentators have noted how especially valuable gardens, plants and flowers have been to mental health during lockdown. Flowers and gardening symbolise hope, and what could be more important right now? So for Mental Health Awareness Week, here are my recommendations of picture books that explore the healing power of flowers and gardens, and that offer positivity and optimism.

  • Mrs Noah’s Garden by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew, Otter Barry Books, 2020 (there are activities related to this)
  • Bloom by Anne Booth and Robyn Wilson-Owen, Tiny Owl, 2020
  • The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing, 2018
  • Errol’s Garden by Gillian Hibbs, Childs Play, 2018
  • The Garden of Hope by Isabel Otter and Katie Rewse, Caterpillar Books, 2018
  • Sidewalk Flowers by Jonarno Lawson and Sydney Smith, 2015
  • The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin, Walker Books, 2013
  • The Flower by John Light and Lisa Evans, Child’s Play, 2007