Dr Naomi Flynn is associate professor at the Institute of Education at the University of Reading, member of the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM), primary school teacher educator and co-director of Bilingualism Matters@Reading.
Her research focus is on children with English as an additional language (EAL). Despite the fact that in primary schools in the UK there are around 20% of children that have English as an Additional Language, there isn’t much training available to teachers working with these children. Over the past 10 years, Naomi has been trying to find ways to support them in their daily practice. In this interview, we asked her to talk about her research on practictioners working with EAL and about how her research output feeds back into her teaching.
Watch the entire interview here
Naomi’s research has been looking specifically at Polish children in an area of the South of England, where there is a high concentration of migrant families. This is particularly relevant, because Polish is the most spoken language after English in the UK. About 10 years ago, when Polish immigration was just starting, Naomi asked school teachers in this area to talk about their experience working with such a highly heterogeneous group of pupils. She found that teachers felt challenged for two main reasons: 1) because the national curriculum is very monolingually oriented and 2) because there is little training offered on how to best support EAL pupils. More recently, in 2016, Naomi went back to interview teachers in that same area and, interestingly the situation seemed to have somewhat improved. While teachers are still feeling very constrained by the national curriculum, they have also developed, through years of practice, their own sense of what education for EAL should look like. For example, it is good practice to make sure that the curriculum is rich in vocabulary, so that all children have access to the vocabulary of the subjects they are learning. It is also good practice to ensure that the grammar of the English language is made very explicit, and that similarities and differences between English and Polish are highlighted and used as a learning tool. Teachers also find that it is useful for pupils to use their home language in their classroom when appropriate, for example during a complex maths class, where a deep understanding of the concepts is essential. Naomi concludes that there is still not enough training nor funding for EAL practictioners, but the good news is that teachers are adapting their practice to best support bilingual pupils.
Naomi is also working on a second project, in collaboration with colleagues in Indiana and Nebraska, which has the aim to identify good practices for EAL. In order to do that, Naomi will be using an adaption of the Standards Rubric, developed by Professor Teemant at the Indiana University, to closely observe teachers’ EAL practice in the UK and in other countries. The Rubric is a way of assessing what a teacher is doing and identify both strengths and areas to be improved. The goal is for teachers to really strive to make their classroom language rich, vocabulary filled and really oriented towards the different levels of language proficiency that children might have in English. In their pilot project, Naomi and her colleagues found that the Standards Rubric can really capture what good practice looks like and this informs her research and drives what she teaches her students, who are training to be primary school teachers.