Learning English in rural secondary schools: EAL students, teachers, parents and pedagogy

Year: 2019

Author: Kettle, Margaret, Woods, Annette, Danby, Susan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we present research that was designed to address current gaps in the Australian and international literature about the use of home languages to support students who are learning English as an additional language (EAL) in secondary schools. The study brokered innovative partnerships with researchers, teachers and leaders, young people who were first- and second-generation migrants to Australia, and their parents, to develop pedagogies that were based on new research and evidence, and respectful of students’ backgrounds. The paper will report on the use of design-based research (DBR) methodologies to implement a theorised approach to improving outcomes for students learning English as an additional language by drawing on their first language resources.

The study is situated in a secondary school in a rural location in Queensland. The community surrounding the school is undergoing significant demographic change as a result of industrial growth and the arrival of workers and their families for work in the area. The research considered how secondary teachers in rural settlement areas might provide quality instruction for all of their students. There was a commitment to pedagogical capacity building of teachers in inclusive, evidenced-based strategies for teaching the academic English needed for key curriculum areas. A focus was on pedagogical innovations that utilised students’ existing linguistic resources to establish academic English concepts and vocabulary that could be put to work for developing new understandings and articulations of disciplinary content. Crucially these pedagogies were efficient to implement in classrooms across different disciplines with increasingly diverse student cohorts.

Through the transdisciplinary partnerships established, and the focus on creating spaces where researchers, teachers, students and parents and community members had opportunities to voice their opinions and perspectives on inclusive pedagogies, connections between EAL families and school staff were supported in practical and sustainable ways. The paper will report on the implications of this approach at the school for teaching and learning, and also provide insight into the values of such approaches for supporting schools to become places of belonging in diverse communities.