IT speaks my language! Inclusion and literacy for pupils with English as an Additional Language : a computer-based home language intervention.
This study explores issues relating to the participation of English as an additional language (EAL) pupils within the National Literacy Strategy and in particular the Literacy Hour. A review of the literature highlighted a range of issues relating to the English language demands placed upon beginner EAL learners within the mainstream classroom, with many EAL pupils excluded from the communication process due to their inability to 'keep up' with classroom discourse solely in a language that they are only just beginning to learn. Inclusion within the curriculum can be increased by encouraging the use of the pupils' home languages within the classroom. The 'ideal' scenario is considered to be copious amounts of bilingual support from a bilingual class teacher or bilingual assistant. However there are serious constraints placed upon such support in terms of the availability of bilingual staff members, the range of languages to be covered particularly in classrooms where a number of languages are present and the provision of relevant funding. In reality, bilingual support is often provided on a piecemeal basis and for only certain languages within a class, resulting in a 'double dose' of exclusion for some EAL pupils. Existing home language support for many EAL pupils is therefore non-existent or inadequate. This study aimed to address the need for increased home language support via the medium of the computer. With the increasing profile of ICT use within the school environment, it is suggested that ICT offers a cost-effective way of providing home language classroom materials. A key feature of the study was the development of computer-based 'talking stories' which provide a practical means of utilising home languages within the Literacy Hour. Based upon initial fieldwork findings, computer-based home language materials were designed, piloted and implemented. The short term effectiveness of these home language materials in assisting EAL pupils to identify unfamiliar English words and to retell stories in English was systematically evaluated. It was found that listening to a story with a home language translation increased EAL pupils' ability to correctly identify unfamiliar English words compared to a story presented in English only. These gains also remained over time indicating that the EAL pupils had retained the meaning of the unfamiliar words following exposure to the stories. Listening to a home language translation also enabled EAL pupils to provide more detailed story retellings suggesting that an increased awareness of the components of the story was gained in comparison to a story received in English only. Initial fieldwork findings conducted in two primary schools sampled for this study, uncovered feelings of frustration experienced by young EAL learners due to the teachers' reliance upon the English language as the means of communication in the Literacy Hour. The enjoyment gained from the use of home language materials and their perceived value for EAL pupils was also captured. This mixed-methods research approach therefore enabled the experiences and perceptions of EAL pupils, teachers and support staff in relation to the Literacy Hour to be explored and also provided the opportunity to design home language 'talking stories' aimed at increasing 'access' to the Literacy Hour for EAL pupils. Whilst this educational tool is not considered a panacea for the educational disadvantage faced by EAL pupils, it does offer one form of practical help for both pupils and teachers.
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