Helping Teachers Improve Educational Outcomes for EAL Students

Innovative Online Tool Supports Educators to Assess & Teach Students Who Use English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Australia is home to a great diversity of migrants and languages. Over six million of its total population was born overseas, over 300 separate languages are spoken and 21% of Australians reported speaking a language other than English (LOTE) at home*. In Victorian government schools in 2016, 29% of all students were identified as LOTE background, with more than 70,000 identified as requiring EAL support, with numbers rising every year.

This situation brings benefits, but according to Professor Chris Davison, has also highlighted a problem: many teachers have not been trained to properly assess their English as an additional language (EAL) students’ English skills.

As world-leaders in English language education and school-based assessment, Professor Davison and her team at the School of Education, UNSW Arts and Social Sciences, decided to work towards a solution.

In 2014, in partnership with selected government, Catholic and independent schools in Victoria, over 10,000 EAL students and their families, and the Federal Government, Davison and her team started work. By 2015, they had developed a solution: a website called TEAL.

As a first-of-its-kind online resource, TEAL – Tools to Enhance Assessment Literacy for Teachers of English as an Additional Language – offers tools and advice for the assessment and reporting of the English language proficiency and progress of students within an ‘assessment for learning’ framework (AfL).

This includes tailor-made professional learning resources about EAL and AfL designed for small group or self-directed study; an original assessment tool bank; a range of assessment-for-learning and teaching exemplars; and an online teacher discussion forum for teachers to share problems and strategies and to moderate or benchmark work samples. By May 2019, the website had received almost 520,000-page views, with a sharply rising trajectory.

“State and federal governments, educational organisations and teachers in Australia, have come to rely on TEAL as a first resource for learning about and promoting the support and development of EAL learners across all stages of schooling,” says Professor Davison.

A secondary school principal from Melbourne commented: “TEAL has helped me recognise the need for a whole school vision and less formal, yet consistent and varied, forms of assessment for our EAL learners.” A secondary school EAL teacher from Shepparton, Victoria says TEAL heralded a complete shift in their thinking: “It’s a wake-up call about assessment for learning. I can do much better!”

Internationally, TEAL is now recognised as an example of best practice in assessment and teacher professional learning and represents an enduring model of partnership and end-user participation in research. It has garnered interest and engagement from teachers and researchers in a wide range of countries (including Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UK, USA, and Vietnam) and has inspired similar research and development projects in Singapore, Thailand, Burma and China.

* Australian Bureau of Statistics: Census Data 2016