Here in the UK, more than one in five primary school children are learning English as an Additional Language (EAL).
In some institutions, pupils speak as many as 70 different home languages. The diversity of home languages, as well as the sheer volume of EAL pupils, can be very hard for teachers and other education staff in schools today to manage. The number of EAL pupils in primary and secondary settings continues to rise. But teacher recruitment and retention are on the decline so there are fewer teachers per pupil, plus a shortage of EAL expertise in schools.
The national challenge of EAL in schools presents barriers to learning. As a team of linguists, developers and designers already working with technology to aid foreign language acquisition here at Learning Labs, we knew that we were in a unique position to help.
Learning the English language can pose a range of unique challenges. Its complex grammar and irregular spelling system can be overwhelming for beginner learners and even students with higher proficiency levels can struggle to integrate fully into school environments. This is partly because of the highly specific vocabulary demands of the curriculum, the speed with which new words enter the vernacular – about 1,000 new words each year – and the profusion of idiomatic and figurative language used both on the playground and in the classroom.
We knew it was vital for learners to use their home language to support the development of their English. It is a part of their identity which should be encouraged and not dismissed as a hindrance.
We worked with hundreds of schools to create FlashAcademy®. This is a pupil-centric, language-learning app that teaches English curriculum content in 45 home languages to address the real problems that teachers and pupils face every day.
One of those schools is Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham where pupils speak over 30 home languages. It is an ambitious and positive school surrounded by a fantastic community. Everyone is committed to providing an outstanding education for pupils at the school and the entire community plays a part promoting equality and inclusion.
Staff are committed to making language as accessible as possible for their students and this led them to explore using the FlashAcademy® platform. The app has become a core part of the curriculum for EAL learners, with pupils using the platform regularly alongside established classroom methods to help master general vocabulary, grammar and literacy skills. Now, Anderton Park is a FlashAcademy® Centre of Excellence.
The app also supports teachers who all too often have had no training on how to teach children who have limited knowledge of the English language. The platform has a teacher dashboard that provides customised reports and gives access to hundreds of tailored EAL resources.
Claire Evans, Deputy Head at Anderton Park, has seen how the technology has impacted her pupils and is now a keen advocate for the app: ‘We know that those who learn English best are those who are fully immersed in the language and so we use FlashAcademy® alongside established classroom methods, including discussions and working in small groups. Our children get the best of both worlds! The fact that it can also be used at home with families is a huge plus factor, so the learning doesn’t stop at home time.’
They had an initial taster session to assess how the app worked and what it could do. They were so impressed; they bought 100 licences to support those children who speak little or no English and attainment for pupils with EAL has doubled since using the FlashAcademy® EAL resource.
In the weeks leading up to lockdown, the Learning Labs team worked closely with Anderton and hundreds of other UK schools to ensure they had all the support and materials they needed to continue learning from home. The app encourages independence, and this is vital right now when it is feared school closures will widen the attainment gap even further.
It is proving increasingly important to provide learning on all devices, including smartphones and tablets. Often mobile phones are more readily available than PCs and the app means all pupils can access resources when studying remotely and won’t be held back by a lack of technology.
‘As FlashAcademy® is an interactive, fun app, children practise pronunciation and can play competitively against each other,’ said Claire. ‘They enjoy it so much; they forget they are learning!’
FlashAcademy® are now offering a free trial to further support pupils during school closures. Click here to book your demonstration and free trial today!