March 14th 2017
SS Philip and James’ Primary School, Oxford
Oxfordshire RIG members met in the spring term for our third meeting since establishing at the beginning of the academic year. We were delighted with the turnout, having more than doubled in membership since we started. SS Phillip and James’ primary school were fantastic hosts and we were delighted to see our network spread it wings with their help.
The focus for this meeting was reading. Our guest speaker Prof Kate Nation from the University of Oxford is one of the world’s leading experts on how children learn to read. Her talk ‘Language Skills and Learning to Read: Implications for EAL’ took us through the principle that phonic and alphabetic knowledge are fundamental and non-negotiable prerequisites for reading, before moving on to the bigger challenges to learner readers of lexis and semantics. In particular, Prof Nation discussed ambiguity in language, using an excellent example taken from last year’s KS2 English Reading SAT in which the first line of text included no fewer than seven ambiguous terms (out of thirteen in total). The important point here was that if learner readers (whatever their language status) do not have the breadth of language experience to identify and resolve potential ambiguity they will find comprehension difficult. This language experience is initially based on exposure to oral language, but then appears to flip to be more based on reading exposure. That is to say, children are initially helped to become good readers if they have rich oral language; subsequently though children are helped to become orally more proficient if they have rich exposure to reading. Prof Nation’s talk went on to cover a whole range of other potential stumbling blocks to reading comprehension, and suggested ways that these might be overcome. There appeared to be a lot of synergy between reading for EAL and reading more generally, and we look forward to following her work though her Read Oxford project, which you can learn about here.
Francis Corrie, EAL Lead at The Oxford Academy then told us about his school’s approach to reading. We heard about the aspirational attitude to reading with Year 7s. This included providing well pitched and engaging texts, and expectations for all Y7s to have a ‘reader’ in their bags at all times, an expectation that sometime disappears when children make the transition from primary to secondary schooling.
Lucy Duff EAL Lead at St Nicholas’ Primary School described her school’s approach to supporting the reading of EAL pupils. She described the inspiring inclusive ethos at St Nicholas’, including proactive parental engagement and instilling a joy for reading. Very importantly, she described the school’s expectation that all children will get “a good first teach”. This underscored the importance that all teachers understand the vital role they have to play in the education of children for whom English is an additional language. In times of dwindling resources for specialist support, this attitude is ever more important.
The meeting was concluded by Annina Hessel, a PhD student at the University of Oxford. Annina described her research project, which is using eye tracking software to determine how children deal with idioms in their reading. She invited schools to get in touch if they would like to participate.
We look forward to our next meeting in the Summer term, which will be held on July 4th at Wheatley Park School, the alma mater of Theresa May and the 90’s Brit-pop band Supergrass!
Please find links to things we discussed at the meeting:
- Professor Nation’s presentation slides
- Lucy Duff’s presentation slides
- Information about Annina Hessel’s research project
- The Bell Foundation’sEAL assessment framework (updated)
- The EAL Journal Blog site
- Oxford Brookes University Multilingual Learners in Context symposium (early bird £15 discount if booked before May 12th)
- Join NALDIC (10% discount now available for Multi-institutional membership)