Feedback for EAL Learners: Closing the Covid Catch-up Gap

Marking and feedback have two main purposes – assessment of learning and assessment for learning

With concern around the loss of pupils’ language development due to Covid-19 lockdowns, the need for staff to be teaching as effectively as possible is paramount. Written or oral feedback on a piece of work gives teachers vital opportunities to assess a child’s cognitive, academic and linguistic understanding of a subject.  It allows for re-evaluation and planning to make sure that there is continuous progression in the teaching sequence.

It also provides feedback for pupils to use to help their own learning and to become more critical thinkers. Research suggests that feedback needs to be cohesive and constructive to achieve this.

The purpose of providing cohesive and coherent feedback is to help students to learn from the feedback and transfer their learning to other writing tasks. Thus, feedback is a form of scaffolding, where, over time, the instructor reduces and then removes the support being provided and where the learner becomes increasingly able to self-regulate their language. (Mahboob, 2015)*.

Written marking policies are generally designed for native speakers, children who speak English as a first language. They are not designed for pupils who are learning English as an Additional Language. The challenge for these pupils is to learn the content and skills of a wide curriculum through a language that they are also learning on a day-to-day basis.

Therefore, what written and oral feedback could be most useful and effective for pupils in the early or more advanced stages of learning EAL?

If teachers put a mark against a sentence to signal that is should be improved because the grammar is askew, the word choices are inappropriate or in the wrong order, how does a student learning English make use of this feedback? Unless you are a fluent and literate user of a language, it can be impossible to correct errors if you are not sure what those errors are.

Talking through the sentence, discussing possible changes and the reasons why those changes work is a good way to support EAL learners. It gives them half a chance to understand what is amiss and how to avoid similar mistakes in future.

But what about written feedback? How can we help EAL learners to understand teachers’ comments, to help them reflect on their work and to self- evaluate future pieces?

REAL Learners has devised a simple, graphic marking system to suit the needs of EAL learners.
  • It allows staff to feedback orally on tricky sentences.
  • It alerts pupils to omissions and extra, unnecessary words in the written text.
  • It guides them towards the use of dictionaries (to check the appropriate use of a word) and thesauruses (to look for alternative word choices).
  • It suggests synonyms for pupils to think about using in each context to broaden their vocabularies.
  • It highlights specific examples from the teacher that explain an aspect of grammar that has cropped up in the student’s work.

In other words, the marking system incorporates both assessment of learning (for the teacher) and assessment for learning (for the pupil).

It also allows the teacher and pupil to focus on the form of the writing as well as the general, overall meaning of the text.

There are no symbols that suggest abstractions, for example:  I = This is incorrect. Each symbol supports the language learner to either talk through the marking with an adult (or peer if appropriate) or directs them in a way that models language for them to read and refer back to.

To download REAL Learners’ free Marking Policy, click here.

How to use the marking policy.

Below is an example of how to use the EAL marking scheme. It shows a text from an 8-year-old child in the early stages of learning EAL. There are many aspects of the writing that could be corrected: articles, verb tenses, lexical choices, sentence structure, omissions etc.

The skill of good EAL teaching is to choose one or two areas of a text to mark or feedback on. These might align with the lesson’s objective, or may need to concentrate on areas of language development to meet the pupil’s individual language targets.

This example gives feedback on two aspects of the child’s writing.

The first is on the use of the past tense to keep the narrative consistent. Rather than correcting the text, alternative word choices or word endings have been given for the pupil to think about. These can then be added into the text during the next edit or written as corrections underneath the text, to practice the amendments.

The second suggestion needs the teacher or a supporting adult to unravel the final sentence in the story. Scaffolded by questions, the pupil would re-tell the final part of the story, then use this oral re-telling to create a different sentence or set of sentences to finish the text with.

*Mahboob, A. (2015) Understanding and Providing ‘Cohesive’ and ‘Coherent’ Feedback on Writing Writing and Pedagogy. VOL 7.2 pp. 401–422

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