cropped for blogs

Founder of ESL Reads
EAL Teacher and Curriculum Writer (Secondary)   

Teach Curiousity to Empower Your EAL/D Students

May 3, 2023 by Lauren Piovesan and Analia Solis

“Learning is about being curious, it’s not about fixing a deficit,” said Analia Solis resolutely. Analia Solis is an educator who has taught English as an Additional Language (EAL), Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL, now known as VPC and VM), English, Humanities and VCE Sociology for 25 years. Anlia went on to describe how often, teachers working with migrants, refugees or asylum seekers can unconsciously convey the message, “Oh you don’t know this, we better catch you up quickly.” Our EAL/D students do not need this highlighted, whether conscious or unconscious, especially at a time where they are learning to adjust to so many new situations in their lives. In fact, by not drawing attention to a student’s learning differences, “It is not about being sensitive, it is about being considerate and acknowledging that the students you have in front of you are humans with an experience.”

So often, it can be overwhelming when you have an EAL/D student in front of you who has had limited or interrupted schooling, who has started work from an early age or who has had a completely different schooling experience to Australians. As teachers, we put our problem-solving hats on and get to work. We assess students, find gaps in their knowledge, and set about trying to fix these immediately. In this blog, Analia provides examples of how she gave her students many opportunities to be curious and investigate rather than explicitly teaching what they ought to know. 

Analia taught an Intermediate VCAL class of refugee-background young women at the River Nile School. Early on, Analia realised that her students didn’t know basic geography, continents and countries of the world. Throughout the year, Analia used the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls book with her class to teach a variety of concepts, including geography, history and maths. 

Analia chose a story from the book and weaved in geography-based questions as part of the overall comprehension of the story. She would ask her students, “What is this person’s name? Where is she from? Where is this country? What is the official language spoken in this country?” In response to the questioning, the students would eagerly get out their phones to try and find out this information. The students who had prior knowledge or who shared a cultural background with the woman in the story became the expert and shared this knowledge confidently with their classmates. Analia put a world map in the classroom which initially, no one wanted to touch! They didn’t know where these places were and didn’t want to make a mistake. Throughout the term, Analia purposely chose stories from particular continents that the students were unsure about to strengthen their geographical understanding. And that map that students were initially scared of quickly became very popular as students raced to find a country first! In completing these exercises implicitly, rather than explicitly, the students were never under the impression that they didn’t know things and were always investigating.

Analia did the same with time periods and maths. She discovered that the students weren’t familiar with Western timelines and began choosing stories from different periods in history. The students would look at the dates that the person in the story was alive and determine how old they were. They would place the women in the story on timelines to learn about different periods in history. 

“The stories opened us up,” explained Analia. Not only did she use them to develop English language skills and to increase students’ understanding of various general knowledge concepts, she also used them as a springboard for units of work. For example, she chose a story where the women formed a union as an introduction to the concept of unions in work skills subjects. She looked at
poems following a story about a woman who was a poet. She even looked at tattooing and its cultural significance throughout history after reading about a famous tattoo artist. Analia described how students would come to class with stories from their own cultures. “They will want to tell you if they know something, and the fear of speaking goes away. They will take a risk if it is something they know,” she explained. Students would learn about each other’s cultures too. Analia cleverly and strategically used these stories to complement the curriculum and introduce difficult concepts across a range of subjects. 

These stories not only allowed Analia’s students to explore new places and historical periods but also showcased women from diverse backgrounds and time periods who sought independence and a voice. This representation of powerful women empowered Analia’s students to aspire to the same level of independence and agency.

Through the use of storytelling and by providing opportunities for investigation and discovery, Analia’s class was engaged and did not experience any embarrassment or shame about what they didn’t yet know. As a result, students were able to build their confidence and even became experts in sharing knowledge from their own cultural backgrounds. In a final message to fellow educators, Analia declared, “Teach them to be curious…and make them feel excited about the life around them.”

Analia Solis has been teaching in secondary schools for 25 years in both government and independent educational settings; primarily focusing on Sociology, EAL and English. In addition to her teaching, she has worked with the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority for various years in a variety of roles. She is a contributing author of the current Year 11 and 12 VCE Sociology textbooks for the 2018-2023 Sociology study design. These experiences and a variety of roles have contributed greatly to her understanding of curriculum, its delivery, lesson planning, and assessment design.

Screenshot 2023-04-26 152544

Please note: The resources mentioned in this blog are based on Analia’s own classroom experience, and are not endorsed by the authors, illustrators or companies that feature here. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *