Founder of ESL Reads   EAL Teacher (Secondary)

EAL/D Students' Choice and Voice - A Case Study

September 4, 2022 by Lauren Piovesan

Giving EAL/D students control over their learning can be a challenging task. Let’s face it, many of our students have limited English capacity to express their opinions, and come from schooling or cultural backgrounds where passive and traditional learning styles are the normI don’t know about you but I constantly found myself trying to inventing ways to build up my students’ confidence and independence, which at times, definitely felt like pulling teeth!

In my previous blog about ongoing trauma, I wrote about the importance of providing students with choices and control over their learning. In this blog, I would like to share an experience with you where I gave my students free reign over a unit of work. This method may not suit your context or style, or you may already be doing it! However, in sharing this experience, I hope it may help you reflect on or experiment with your teaching practice. So let’s not waste any more time! 

1. Context

Last year during one of the longest stints of lockdown and online teaching in Victoria, my talented and experienced colleague suggested that I let my students drive one of my units – not an easy feat for a teacher who liked to have everything planned to a tee! 

2. Unit Guidelines

Here were the parameters for the unit:

  • General theme: Australia (Geography and history)
  • Assessment: Speaking, reading and writing informationtexts.
  • Curriculum: Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning – Foundation Literacy Strand
  • Level: Post beginner (C1/C2)
  • Cohort: 16-25 year old young women from refugee backgrounds.
  • Delivery: Online only

3. Starting the Unit

I started by giving my students the general theme we had to cover and asked them what they wanted to know as a class. I collected their responses in a Know, Want to know and Learnt chart (KWL). From here, the questions were grouped into similar categories which I sequenced to make the unit.

As the students’ questions drove the direction of the unit, I researched and scrambled weekly to find, modify and create material to cover their enquiries. As I was working out much of this alongside them, it became a genuinely shared learning experience. It also allowed for authentic experiences such as interviewing others and engaging people, documentaries and stories in the community as I simply didn’t have all the answers.

4. Assessment

After a few weeks, I had a better grasp on the content and decided on the assessment task. The unit culminated in each student taking responsibility for a sub-topic within the learning that term. They each wrote an information paragraph on a chosen aspect of the learning and this was collated into a shared Google Slides presentation. This way, students could see what one another were doing in case they got stuck.

The students then invited the principal, teachers, volunteers and others in the school community to come and watch us deliver our presentation. Each student spoke on their section of the presentation with extension/leadership students taking on acknowledgement to country, introductions and conclusions.

5. Result

In all honesty, I had never seen my students so curious, so excited or retain so much information (even for students whose memory was significantly impacted by trauma). Admittedly, this style of teaching can be exhausting as you are preparing content as questions arise and sometimes need to change direction. However, I do believe it empowered students and made them more confident learners.

This is just my experience with one class, but I am wondering whether you have found new ways to include student choice and voice into your classrooms. If so, please leave a comment below as I would love to know how you have tackled this challenge and empowered your students!

Stay tuned for the next post where I unpack Survivor Guilt and how it impacts our students and classrooms.

7 thoughts on “EAL/D Students Choice and Voice – A Case Study”

  1. Wow Lauren your lesson is inspiring. I reckon co-designing learning with students is the business. I’m planning to co-design a program with students around establishing accountability sessions for tafe students to set and complete study goals. Will check back in with you about how it goes.

  2. This is fantastic. I love how your students were able to articulate what they wanted and how you incorporated it into the co-design. Have you had much experience doing something similar with beginnners?

    1. Hi Kara,
      Thank you! No I haven’t tried this with beginners but I think it would be a similar concept. I have read a similar thing with beginners in a document called Trauma Informed EAL where they do a “needs assessment.” You can access this document here. Perhaps some interpreters or mixing students with higher English language abilities who share a common first/second language to help articulate what the students want to know may be helpful.

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