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EAL Program Empowers ISB Students to Learn with Confidence
By Tom Fearon 26-Apr-16
Starting at an international school can be a daunting experience for any student, but it can be an even more challenging transition for non-native English speakers. Daphne C. and Alexandra R. still remember the difficulties they faced keeping up with classmates’ conversations and understanding certain words used by teachers when they started at the International School of Beijing (ISB) last year. However, these Grade 7 students have gradually rediscovered their confidence for learning through ISB’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) program. With a student body representing more than 50 nationalities, English is a second or even third language for many ISB students. This language barrier can cause self-doubt to develop among normally enthusiastic learners, especially students still adjusting to their new learning environment. “When your English is limited, you don’t really want to contribute in class. I used to worry about my pronunciation and how it might cause classmates to think less of me,” said Alexandra, a native Dutch speaker who grew up in Belgium and the Netherlands. Daphne, who joined ISB from a French school, was also reluctant to speak up in class because of her accented English. It wasn’t until she joined Alexandra in ISB’s EAL program that she began to grow in confidence and realize there were others just like her. “When I first came to ISB, I felt very anxious about speaking English. Although I still make mistakes, my classmates help me to improve each day,” she said. ISB’s EAL program aims to ensure that every student benefits from the school’s L21 curriculum based on international standards. The EAL program aligns with ISB’s Strategic Plan IV by nurturing the whole child and advancing the school’s vision by promoting global understanding and respect within and between cultures. EAL specialists primarily work in regular classrooms in Grades 1 to 8 with additional pull-out sessions for some students. High school EAL support is provided through an additional class, along with specialist consultation to subject area teachers. EAL teacher Jason Muhl described it as a “sheltered immersion” program that allows students develop their English in the context of the regular curriculum. “We strive to support students from both a pastoral perspective, by helping them ease into life at ISB, and a linguistic perspective, by helping them develop their language in support of their academic learning. Our goal is to help bridge those gaps,” said Mr. Muhl, one of three middle school EAL teachers at ISB. Daphne and Alexandra attend 45-minute EAL classes each school day with other students learning English as non-native speakers. Their lessons include reading and writing activities, in addition to games such as BrainPop that help build their vocabulary so they can communicate confidently in and out of the classroom. The program also fosters friendships among students, each of whom are committed to helping each other improve in an environment built around respect and global-mindedness, two of ISB’s core values. “We aren’t like classmates; we’re friends. If you need help with learning, it’s nice to know that there is always someone who is going through the same experience and can lend a hand,” said Daphne, a student in ISB’s Futures Academy. The academy is an innovative learning model that is centered on project-based learning model and flexible scheduling. “As a Futures Academy student, I have a lot of projects throughout the year, so when I don’t have time to finish a project in class I can ask Mr. Muhl for help and he is always willing to support me,” she said.
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