Student Diversity

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Who are EAL/D students?

EAL/D students are those whose first language is a language or dialect other than English and who require additional support to assist them to develop proficiency in English. EAL/D students come from diverse multilingual backgrounds and may include:

  • overseas- or Australian-born students whose first language is a language other than English
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students whose first language is an Indigenous language, including traditional languages, creoles and related varieties, or Aboriginal English.

EAL/D is the educational acronym that refers to those students whose home language is a language or dialect other than Standard Australian English (SAE) and who require additional support to develop proficiency in SAE, which is the variety of spoken and written English used formally in Australian schools. The acronym EAL/D foregrounds the English language learning needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who speak an Aboriginal or Torres Strait creole, or a variety of Aboriginal English, as their home language, as well as those who speak a traditional or heritage Indigenous language; and of migrant and refugee students who speak an English-based creole, pidgin or dialect as their home language, as well as those who are learning English as a second or additional language (ESL/EAL). 

It is important to consider that students with EAL/D have diverse educational backgrounds. They may have:

  • schooling equivalent to their same-age peers in Australia
  • limited or no previous education
  • little or no literacy experience in their first language (or in any language)
  • excellent literacy skills in their first language (or another language)
  • learnt English as a foreign language and had some exposure to written English but need to develop oral English
  • already learnt one or more languages or dialects other than English
  • good academic language skills but struggle with the social registers of English.

EAL/D students are generally placed in Australian schools at the year level appropriate for their age. Their cognitive development and life experiences may not correlate with their English language proficiency. As part of the process to personalise learning for EAL/D students the student and parent must be consulted.

EAL/D students and their learning needs

Effective teaching of EAL/D students is informed by an understanding of the characteristics of EAL/D learning, including students’ learning needs and typical pathways of development. The particular challenge for EAL/D students is that they need to concurrently learn English, learn through (or in) English, and learn about English.

ACARA has developed the English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher Resource to support teachers as they develop personalised teaching and learning programs in the Australian Curriculum: Foundation to Year 10 with EAL/D students. The EAL/D Teacher Resource contains detailed information about EAL/D learners, specific advice about cultural and linguistic considerations, and useful teaching strategies to support the teaching of EAL/D students.

Identifying a student’s level of language proficiency using the EAL/D learning progression

Teachers may use the EAL/D Learning Progression to identify where the student is in their English language development and what instruction is required to move them to the next stage of language development. A student may be at different stages in writing, reading, speaking and listening.

Using EAL/D students’ cultural and linguistic resources

It is important to recognise that EAL/D students (and all students) bring a range of cultural and linguistic resources with them into Australian classrooms. These resources can be:

  • used to build EAL/D students’ English language learning and their curriculum content knowledge
  • shared in the classroom for the benefit of all students; when the curriculum directs teachers to consider cultural and linguistic knowledge and attitudes, teachers should look first to the students in their classrooms to make use of the cultural and linguistic resources already present.
Building shared knowledge

Effective teaching and learning practices are those which build on shared knowledge and understandings.

  • While EAL/D students bring many valuable cultural and linguistic resources with them to the learning context, their experiences, understandings and expectations are often different from those that are assumed as ‘common knowledge’ in Australian classrooms.
  • The curriculum often refers to the familiar and the everyday; however, the ‘everyday’ is determined by our social and cultural contexts. It is important to check whether EAL/D students possess the ‘everyday’ and ‘real-life’ knowledge assumed by many curriculum tasks. To build shared knowledge around the concept, the class might view films, make visits to a bank or do role-plays.
  • Teaching in context is vital to aiding communication and comprehension. EAL/D students require explicit teaching of all aspects of language in all curriculum areas. However, it is important not to study language in isolation.
Sociocultural factors to consider when planning for learning

EAL/D students are bilingual learners, and they are already language learners in at least one other language. They are an important resource in developing the language awareness of all students in the classroom. The maintenance of the home language of EAL/D students is important for their English language learning as well as for the preservation and development of their cultural identities and family relationships. In addition, research indicates that bilingual speakers have significant learning advantages over monolingual speakers.

Linguistic factors to consider when planning for learning

EAL/D students require specific support to learn and build on the English language skills needed to access the general curriculum, in addition to learning area–specific language structures and vocabulary. This learning must occur across the four macro skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Importantly, ‘language’ and ‘literacy’ are not the same. ‘Language knowledge’ is an important foundation skill for building competency in ‘literacy’. EAL/D students have the same capacity to understand the content of the Australian Curriculum as other students; however, they require support with the English language required both to access the curriculum and to demonstrate achievement. Therefore, it is important to identify the language requirements of tasks while still maintaining the integrity of curriculum area content.

Cultural factors to consider when planning for learning
  • All students, including EAL/D students, have cultural resources that give them alternative perspectives on issues and phenomena, as well as experiences and knowledge. Drawing on these resources will add to the learning and experiences of all students in the classroom.
  • Contextual and visual information that we often assume is supportive of learning is often culturally loaded. EAL/D students may not have experience with the cultural context or images of some books
  • EAL/D students may have additional or alternative understandings that need to be considered when teaching aspects of the Australian Curriculum. These may include knowledge and understanding of ethical actions, historical viewpoints, family relationships, mathematical problem solving, currencies, and measuring time and temperatures.
  • Body language, ‘personal space’, eye contact and gestures are linked to culture, and some EAL/D students will use and interpret body language and gestures differently. Teachers must be mindful that students schooled in one culture may take years to ‘retrain’ themselves to different conventions of gesture and body language. Explicit and sensitive assistance in this area is recommended.

For more detailed information please refer to the EAL/D Teacher Resource.

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