English as Additional Language (EAL) students and their families take on a tremendous challenge when then enter schools in the hope of receiving an extremely valuable education in a language which is new to most newcomer students at the time of entry. Our job as educators is to help them adapt to a completely different school culture and then give them the tools to be successful in this new culture so they have the best chance for success while out in the rest of society. For us to be able to do this, we must have access to the best information and resources that are available to ensure we can do the best job possible in this area. In Saskatchewan, our education system has had to quickly adapt to a quite dramatic increase in EAL students from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Rising to the challenge, our system has developed a strong protocol for these students, and in the following pages evidence will be presented to support the strength and success of our programs.
The reason for choosing this area to expand upon is that, as a middle-aged soon to be new educator, I have seen the evolution of our society and our education systems. Memories of the way education was delivered when I was younger, in the direct instruction, one-fits-all style, would not work at all with the diversity of cultures and learning styles that are in nearly every classroom today. This realization, coupled with the fact that my wife has taught for nearly 15 years, has shown me that extra resources will be an absolute must for me, no matter where or what I teach.
The first sections of this paper will explore some of the resources provided by the Government of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. Later sections will look specifically at resources provided by two urban school divisions in the province. The final section of the main body of this paper will discuss literature that we can use to help us prepare, on our own, for the challenges in this field. At the end of the main body, a final discussion section will attempt to synthesize all the information with the thesis, and explain how this information can assist teachers in their schools.
Let us begin with what is available on the Government of Saskatchewan website Information on Pre-K to 12 Education for Newcomers . Here, EAL students and their families can find easy to use links for all aspects of starting school in the province such as who needs to go to school, age requirements, language interpreters, assessment guidelines, and immigration services. All are in easy to read documents that will be a tremendous help to both students and families There is also a link to the “Quick Reference for Newcomers” which is a PDF, printable four-page checklist for families to use in relation to education. This just provides the basics for families to get a good start upon arrival in our province.
This website also discusses how funding is provided to school divisions to assist with both initial and ongoing assessment. There is also information on which school divisions worked together to develop assessment kits to be used. These are primarily urban school divisions, which makes sense, since the vast majority of EAL students are located in urban centres. This was covered in Module 1 of this course and supported by data in Slide 8 of the Power Point for this section. (ECUR 415, Module 1 pdf, pg. 8) Contact information is provided on several fronts for anyone having questions about information provided on the Government of Saskatchewan site.
The next resources to be discussed are those provided by the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF). These resources are provided solely to teachers and are funded by the teachers. One of the main ways the STF supports teachers in gaining knowledge on EAL issues is with the use of Professional Development opportunities. The STF provides short, one-day, educational sessions that give educators new instructional and assessment strategies for use with EAL students. These are provided at a small cost to teachers (www.stf.sk.ca) and are put on at a variety of locations around the province. It is important to note that the STF provides a large number of PD opportunities to its members on a wide variety of topics, and these are offered year-round. A calendar of upcoming events, as well as online sign-up, are provided on their website.
The STF has a large library that is accessible online as well. This resource is free of charge and has copies of all matter of literature and information, relevant to K-12. Upon request, STF librarians will locate all related literature on the subject requested, and ship them to your school. Postage-paid stickers will also be sent with your material for easy return, or you can do this in person as well.
Next, information will be examined about two specific urban school divisions, and what resources each provides. The first one that will be examined is the Saskatoon Public School Division. On their website, www.spsd.sk.ca, they provide information on an EAL flyer. There is contact information for what they term as their “Newcomer Student Centre” as well as a brief overview of the benefits, skills and types of support available through this division. This is also where EAL families get a brief look at the common framework used to categorize EAL students, which is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or CEFR referenced by Coelho (2012). The information on this site is brief, but it is a good beginning point for new EAL families.
The second urban school division to explore is the Regina Public School system. On their website, www.rbe.sk.ca , there are links to a wide variety of documents related EAL students and families. They start out with links to their EAL Flyer and the Regina Newcomer Welcome Centre to give families a good starting point and then move into a link to a 4-part video presentation called “Supporting Refugees in Schools”. There is also a link to the “Immigration Presentation” that is provided by the Ministry of Education. The next section on this site has many documents with information on initial assessment, program recommendations, and progress reporting for EAL learners. Here again we see information on the Common Framework of Reference (CFR) and how it would be used. This site gets far more in depth than most and families of EAL learners would need a higher level of comprehension of the English language or probably assistance to ensure a proper understanding of all the information.
Literature is a resource that is accessible for all of us to improve our instruction and assessment of all students, not just EAL learners. In this course, we were provided with two examples of great texts that will help us in our careers: Elizabeth Coelho’s Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms, A Practical Approach (2012), and Look at Me When I Talk to You (2012) by Sylvia Helmer and Catherine Eddy. The Helmer and Eddy text gives us information on the cultural and personal side that EAL learners and teachers must navigate. There are many aspects of culture that I had not considered prior to reading this book, such as cross-cultural values and non-verbal communication.
Coelho’s (2012) text, as demonstrated by the title, is a very practical text with examples of assessment and learning strategies. Examples of actual teaching strategies such as scaffolding, cloze sentences, charts, and guided projects are given in great detail. This text even breaks down strategies for individual subjects to help us understand how they would work for students. Implementation ideas are discussed and assessment strategies are also explored in detail.
In conclusion, it is my belief that the need for EAL assistance will only continue to grow, as our world continues to be more accessible for all. Canada continues to be a wonderful safe haven for families trying to ensure the best for their children and hopefully this does not change. For those of us going into the field of education, the challenges of successfully assisting these students may seem overwhelming at times, but with use help of the resources discussed earlier as well as the support of staff and administration in our schools, we can be successful. If there is one thing I learned in this course, it is that communication between all groups involved, (parents, students, staff, and administration) is the key. Even with tougher financial times in the field of education, with a little creativity and hard work, educators can still offer the very best for all their students.
Coelho, E. (2012). Language and learning in multilingual classrooms. A practical approach. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Government of Saskatchewan. (n/d). Information on PreK-12 Education for Newcomers. Retrieved from: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/residents/education-and-learning/prek-12-education-early-learning-and-schools/information-on-prek-12-education-for-newcomers . Regina.
Government of Saskatchewan. (n/d). Quick Reference for Newcomers. (PDF). Retrieved from: http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/11/82969-82969-quick-reference-for-newcomers.pdf Regina.
Helmer, S. & Eddy, C. (2012). Look at me when I talk to you: EAL learners in non-EAL classrooms. Toronto, ON: Pippin Publishing Corporation.
Prokopchuk, N. (2017). ECUR 415.3 Current issues in EAL. Class Power Point handout (PDF). Retrieved from: https://bblearn.usask.ca/bbcswebdav/pid-1866463-dt-content-rid-9063105_2/courses/41330.201705/readings/ecur415pp0101.pdf
Regina Public School Division. (n/d). Regina Public Schools website. Retrieved from: www.rbe.ca
Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. (n/d). STF website. Retrieved from: www.stf.sk.ca
Saskatoon Public School Division. (n/d). Saskatoon Public Schools website. Retrieved from: www.spsd.sk.ca