English as Another Language (EAL) students
There are over 10,000 students from English as an Additional Language (EAL) backgrounds studying in UniSA programs and not all are international students. The cultural and linguistic diversity of the student body has many implications for teaching. It requires the implementation of teaching approaches which are inclusive of all students. This guide provides some simple strategies for enhancing learning for all students, but particularly for EAL students, in settings such as lectures, tutorials, studio sessions and practicals.
Aspects of spoken English that cause the greatest difficulty for EAL students
Even though many EAL students have had to demonstrate a minimum English language standard to be accepted into University, the comprehension and production of language in an academic context can still pose a major stumbling block. Adapting to the way language is used in tertiary study is often difficult even for those who have undertaken previous study in English or are native English speakers. A number of factors contribute to difficulties with EAL students' comprehension of the spoken word in lectures and tutorials, including:
- The accents of lecturers and tutors
- Use of idiom and colloquialisms
- Speed of delivery
- Large, noisy group settings
- Discipline-specific technical terms which may be unfamiliar to students
Participation in formal and informal group discussions and giving formal oral presentations can also be difficult for EAL students. Some are uncertain of what is expected of them. Some lack the confidence to interject and have their say. Some simply have difficulty, particularly in the early stages of a course, in comprehending what others are saying and therefore do not feel confident to contribute. EAL students can be reluctant to seek assistance from academic and professional staff in the University.
Strategies for enhancing learning
The following strategies have been distilled from various sources and are intended to suggest simple and effective steps that you can take to enhance the learning of EAL students. These strategies will also benefit all your students by aiding comprehension, clarifying expectations and encouraging and supporting all students to interact and learn from one another.
- Speak clearly and face students when addressing them - the more cues to meaning that are available to students, the better their comprehension.
- Explain colloquialisms and abbreviations - idiom and acronyms constitute 'new and unfamiliar vocabulary' that can interfere with comprehension, particularly in the initial stages of a student's university experience. This also affects native English speakers new to the discipline and/or to tertiary study.
- Provide glossaries of terms, particularly discipline-specific jargon, before presentations. New vocabulary or familiar terms used in different ways can interfere with comprehension, particularly where an understanding of the new vocabulary is a foundation for subsequent concepts.
- Invite students to tape lectures, tutorials or other presentations. Using audio recordings provides students with the opportunity to review and decode information and also to develop their note taking.
- Refer students to any Lecture Recording System (LRS) resources that you have produced so they can go over the main points in their own time.
- Avoid using long and convoluted sentences. These may work in written text where the reader can review the sentence several times to decode its meaning. However, this is not an option with spoken language and therefore it is difficult for students to review meaning.
- Pause for note-taking. When presenting information orally it is useful not only to signal when a point you are making is particularly important, but also to consciously pause after you have made your point, allowing students time to take notes.
- Use outlines and simple overheads. These provide visual aids to aural comprehension and assist students to build a mental framework for organising concepts and information. They also assist students to take effective notes.
- Distribute lecture notes or outlines. These do not need to be highly detailed, but should set out the scope, intentions and major concepts thus providing a 'roadmap' to assist students to navigate and organise new meanings. This can also be done online via LRS.
- Identify essential pre-reading. This gives students the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the topic before the lecture.
- Use diagrams and tables to support text. These provide a different organising framework for ideas and information and can provide 'shortcuts' to understanding.
- Present information in highly structured ways both during
the study period and within each lecture or series of lectures.
For example, you might:
- provide a skeleton overview of the ground you will cover (an 'advance organiser' for your material). A study period overview will give students a sense of the overall course.
- make meaningful links between previous and subsequent lectures. A sense of context and relatedness assists comprehension.
- Provide extension to lectures in the form of reading lists or other resources that supplement your presentation. However, be explicit about how you expect students to use these.
In tutorials (and practicals, studio sessions, discussion forums, or practicum settings)
- Be clear about your expectations for participation. Provide students with a handout that sets out clear expectations about how they need to participate and what outcomes are sought from the session. Make time to go through this in the first session and reinforce in future sessions.
- Assist students to get to know each other early in the course. Students will feel more confident and more able to take risks if they know the group and feel comfortable with them. Simple activities designed to 'break the ice' early can ease student apprehension and facilitate interpersonal communication.
- Model appropriate group interaction. Introduce yourself and ask all students to introduce themselves. Provide the group with a list, with pronunciation guides and preferred names. Make the effort to learn the names of all students in your tutorial groups, even if you have to get everyone to wear name-tags for the first few sessions. This will help students to learn other students' names, too.
- Make participation a positive experience. Ensure that activities encourage, support and reward appropriate participation.
- Encourage the group to agree on appropriate guidelines for group interaction. Discuss and agree on expectations for appropriate and inclusive listening and responding.
- Model appropriate cultural sensitivity. Encourage staff and students involved in any group setting to engage, understand and respect differences and similarities among people and cultures.
- Pay attention to the developmental nature of learning. Provide early and frequent formative feedback to all students on their understanding of the subject matter and in relation to their communication and interpersonal skills.
A checklist for auditing inclusive teaching
The following checklist is constructed around characteristics of inclusive teaching.
- I know the cultural, linguistic and educational profile of my student group.
- I have indicated to students the difference between a lecture and a tutorial and what I expect of students in each, and I communicate this to students at the beginning of each course.
- I provide an outline of the lecture topics, tutorial topics and assessment tasks and their sequence for my course before or during the first lecture.
- I structure my presentations clearly and effectively.
- I provide either a hard copy or online handout outlining the content, structure and the aims of each teaching session.
- I use clear and concise visual aids to support my teaching.
- I ensure that all students can see my face and hear me clearly in the classroom.
- I am aware of my pace of delivery and consciously pause when I have made an important point that requires noting.
- I encourage students to tape my lectures.
- I use the Lecturer Recording System to either record my lectures 'live' or I use technology (iSpring Pro) from my desktop/laptop computer to prepare online resources before or after my teaching.
- I routinely introduce myself and require my students to do the same in tutorials and other small group settings.
- I model appropriate cultural awareness and interpersonal behaviour with all students, particularly in small group settings.
- I provide frequent formative feedback to students early in the study program.
- I regularly invite and obtain feedback on my teaching from a representative sample of my students.
- I analyse patterns of student assessment completions and results for signs of any particular difficulties for particular groups of students.