Identifying the unidentified: can identification of and support for EAL/D students be better targeted?

Year: 2015

Author: Gilmour, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Ciao, talofa lava, kia ora, malo e lelei, ni hao, swasdi, zdravo, konnichiwa – all these words mean the same thing, hello, and for many students in Australian schools today they represent their home language; these students may be new to Australia or are children of past migrants who might still speak their parents’ language at home. Some of these students move through the different levels of education systems and receive little, if any, support with their English language usage because they are undetected as having English as Another Language or Dialect (EAL/D).

During the enrolment process in schools, many parents identify themselves with the dominant culture, rather than detail their actual cultural and linguistic backgrounds as they perceive that by doing this their children will be accepted by their peers and teachers. In the classrooms, teachers will only be able to assist individual students to develop language learning strategies, appropriate for their individual sociocultural needs, when they are aware that, with some of these students, first language interference may contribute to lower academic achievement, poor classroom behaviour and an unwillingness to participate in classroom activities.

By using a mixed methods approach, this research explored the scope of this mis or non-identification of students who have a language / dialect other than English in their background. An extensive survey of approximately two thousand five hundred Junior secondary state school students in Queensland assessed the level of unidentified EAL/D students. Several previously unidentified EAL/D students from each participating school, then participated in semi-structured interviews which examined further the information received in the surveys to ascertain what impact, if any, this non-identification as second language learners had on their learning. Findings to be discussed will focus on the level of unidentified EAL/D students and also the possible implications in terms of students’ academic achievement and their ability to succeed to their potential as they progress through the education system.