Serving, as it does, as a link between the early learning of primary schools and the more elaborated learning structures of third and fourth level education, post-primary education is a crucial stage in a child’s educational development (Ofsted, 2005) and requires a wider range of “more developed language skills than those of primary [education]” (Nowlan, 2007: 7).
The concept of successfully integrating ESL learners into the mainstream post-primary curriculum is multi-dimensional, involving the successful integration of linguistic, educational and social practices. Within the post-primary context, the successful teaching of curricular lexis derived from subject textbooks and examination papers plays an important role in this integration as it informs the language of instruction and language of communication within the classroom.
Our starting point was informed by a number of considerations:
- Supporting language of instruction for newcomers is the core of successful intercultural education provision
- Language support teachers are not there to teach the curriculum but rather to open one of many doors to the curriculum for newcomer students
- All post-primary teachers are language teachers first and foremost and only then do they become content-specific teachers
- All teachers must be made aware of the impact on their classroom practice of the distinction between BICS (Basic interpersonal communication skills) and CALP (Cognitive academic language proficiency) as suggested by Jim Cummins and other researchers
- understanding content area vocabulary alone does not constitute academic language acquisition which requires skills such as comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating and inferring
- Good teaching is good teaching, namely ‘What is good for students in English Language Support is good for all students.’
We, at the English Language Support Programme recognise through our close work with both language support teachers and mainstream subject teachers that teachers need to become skilful in analysing the language demands of the content they are teaching, and be aware that these demands are not simply to do with an understanding of vocabulary, sentence structures or text types, which all children will need to become familiar with, but also how language is related to the context in which it is being used, the purposes it is used for and the ways in which it is constructed in different situations which are taken for granted by native speakers.
Equally, we are conscious that the goal of a successful post-primary ESL approach is to provide newcomer students with equitable opportunities to achieve designated learning outcomes across the curriculum and enable them to develop skills in which they can manage their own lexical learning (Harwood 2005, Sanaoui 1995).
We adopted a corpus linguistics approach to informing the materials we wanted to put into teachers’ hands. The procedure is summarised in the graphic below:
The full process of development is summarised in the graphic below:
We believe that our work with the Junior Certificate corpora will assist teachers by:
- giving the subject-specific vocabulary for each subject (keywords) thus reassuring English Language Support teachers and mainstream subject teachers that time spent teaching certain words and lexical items and developing certain materials is beneficial at a curricular level
- providing sentences that illustrate how these words are used in the textbooks and short paragraphs extracted from the actual textbooks and other similar authentic materials that present the target vocabulary in authentic, relevant and meaningful contexts
- giving language as it appears in instructions given by teachers, instructions for exercises, classroom tests, examination papers, etc.
- assisting in the development of teachers’ own materials, tasks and activities
- and by illustrating keywords as they are used across the curriculum with similar or different meanings (as illustrated by the example of the word ‘bank’ in the graphic below)
Harwood, N. (2005) What do we want EAP teaching materials for? Journal of English for Academic Purposes 4: 149-161.
NCCA. (2005). Intercultural Education in the Primary School. Enabling students to respect and celebrate diversity, to promote equality and to challenge unfair discrimination. Dublin: NCCA.
Nowlan, E. (2007). ‘Underneath the Band-Aid: supporting immigrants in Irish schools.’ Collected proceedings, Migration Flow, Sustainable Development and Neighbourhood Policy in the New EU Countries, Genoa, May 2007.
OFSTED. (2005). Raising the Achievement of Bilingual Learners. London: Ofsted.
Sanaoui, R. (1995) Adult learners’ approaches to learning vocabulary in second languages. The Modern Language Journal 79.1: 15–28.