English as an Additional Language

I once taught a Year 10 English class with two students who arrived at the school with no English at all. One was Chinese, the other from Ghana. By chance, both students were dedicated learners.The rest of the class watched with amazement as the two students, both girls, acquired English with rapidity and caught up with their peers. Some of the coasting students in the class, who found the subject easy, and were only performing at about 50% of their potential were put to shame when the two girls began achieving higher marks than them, and they raised their level of performance. The two girls did all the homework set with diligence and asked for more. The other students saw that doing homework well actually had the effect of improving grades. Many students began to work harder as they saw at first hand the rewards of study. They could see what I had been telling them was true – if you did your homework and worked hard, you did get the grades you were capable of. An EAL teacher came into my class once a week to support the girls. She helped with their homework, and produced extra support materials for them. Other students often asked for copies of these resources, which were, for example, simplified plots of the texts we were reading, to help them revise.The two girls would ask the other students if they did not understand things, which meant that the others had to understand things themselves before they could explain them. The two girls, who had spoken English for only two years, achieved ‘C’ grades in their English GCSEs. It was also my best year for adding value at GCSE for the whole class. I am convinced that that success was in large part due to the presence of the two non-English speakers in my class.

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