Learners and Learning Context: Identifying the Specifics of the EAL Environment
Teaching English as an additional language is a challenging task due to the numerous objectives that the instructor must accomplish and the need to keep the learners engaged consistently (Han & Hyland, 2015). The problem becomes especially complicated once the needs of students learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) are addressed. The target audience can be described as students who speak languages other than English (Australian English in this case) and who need to develop skills related to speaking Australian English (Victoria State Government, 2016).
In addition, because many EAL students may already have had experience acquiring language-related skills, it will be reasonable to assume that they prefer to enjoy autonomy in the education process (O’Reilly, 2015). Moreover, although the target learners may be able to make links to the sociocultural competence that they have built while learning other languages, the process of knowledge and skills acquisition is fraught with challenges related to the necessity of addressing the above competence on numerous levels, including linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse-related, strategic, and pragmatic levels (Georgakopoulou & Spilioti, 2015).
The target group consists of 10 EAL students aged 6-8 years old (six female and four male). Three of them speak Spanish (2 male, one female), four speak French (three male, one female), one (female) speak German and two (one male, one female) speak Italian. It is important to note that all of the students have sufficient support from family members (primarily parents), which means that they are likely to receive additional encouragement from their family apart from that of the teacher.
The environment in which the teacher is going to operate is likely to be rather favorable for the students’ language development. These EAL students have recently entered the English-speaking environment and must consistently utilize their English language skills not only during the educational process, but also in the process of communicating with members of the local community on a daily basis. It should be noted, however, that four of the students have previously been subjected to a compulsory acquisition of a second language.
Particularly the students speaking Spanish, French, and Italian should be mentioned. The effects of the compulsory education process, which may have left unpleasant memories, may hamper these students’ present attempts at English-language learning. Nevertheless, it is assumed that the adoption of a proper teaching framework will help reinforce the students’ language competencies and that the teacher should convince the students that learning English is imperative for a range of essential life activities, such as interaction with their peers.
By incorporating elements that will help these EAL students accept the new language as one of practical importance (e.g., engaging them in role-plays and focusing on visual communication elements rather than verbal ones), the instructor is likely to prompt enthusiasm among learners and reinforce the process of EAL skills acquisition and active use.
Statement of Learners’ Needs: What It Takes to Master an Additional Language
EAL students have several unique characteristics that set them apart from other students. First and most obviously, EAL learners need to develop confidence in their mother tongue. Research points to the fact that unless EAL students are given an opportunity to link their current learning experience with their existing knowledge, the teaching process is likely to be inefficient.
In addition, EAL students require efficient grouping in the classroom to learn effectively (Conthe, 2015). Unless the teacher arranges the students in groups that will allow them to communicate successfully by quickly locating points of contact, no tangible success is expected. Needless to say, the teacher should also pay special attention to each learner’s unique educational, organizational, and cultural needs (Frederickson & Cline, 2015).
To assess the key characteristics defining students’ natures and actions, the instructor might consider utilizing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Moran, 2015), which allows for a detailed identification of the features of the target audience members (Kosslyn & Miller, 2015).
The needs of EAL learners, especially those who have already acquired skills in another second language, are often confused with those of bilingual students (Wallen & Kelly-Holmes, 2015). Although there are certain points of contact between these two groups of learners, the gap between them is still large, especially in regards to the expectations that teachers set for them. Indeed, according to the existing data, teachers usually believe that bilingual students have developed unique language acquisition competencies (Franco-Fuenmayora, Padrón, & Waxman, 2015).
However, bilingual students cannot link the specifics of the new language learned to their native one; indeed, they cannot incorporate their past learning experiences because they cannot possibly remember them. EAL students, on the other hand, often do have the opportunity to incorporate new information into their English language-learning canvas. They can compare and contrast the two languages and create their own mnemonic devices to gain proficiency in the target language (Markham, Rice, & Darban, 2015).
As stressed above, EAL students also require extensive family support. Although research in the past few decades did not focus on the importance of family support, it is currently viewed as one of the primary methods of enhancing learner motivation and engagement (Lopez, 2015). Therefore, direct communication with family members, including advice and even learning strategy instruction, will help the EAL student learn as efficiently as possible.
Last but definitely not least, it is important to note that the EAL student’s progress often differs greatly from that of other students in the class. Although EAL students are expected to progress academically in the same fashion and at the same rate as their peers, they tend to succeed in the language-learning process at a faster pace than other students. Herein lies the necessity to coordinate the progress of both types of students so that none should feel unappreciated or left out of the learning process.
Although the requirements listed above may seem rather basic, in practice they demand a very elaborate teaching framework to effectively reach all types of students.
Organizational Framework: Defining the Teaching Strategy
When it comes to choosing a syllabus, the teacher should give preference to the semantic, or analytic, type. Although the synthetic approach allows students to memorize the essential grammatical rules accurately and quickly, it does not provide a fundamental understanding of how the English language works, which is essential to EAL students. As mentioned above, unlike the mother tongue, which is acquired entirely intuitively, the acquisition and command of an EAL learner’s second language is grounded in logic (Ellis, 2015).
Thus, by skipping the synthetic approach and instead applying the analytical one, the teacher sets the stage for EAL students to understand the nature and mechanics of the English language. Therefore, students develop the communicative competencies that address their primary need of having the actual experience of applying linguistic skills to particular situations and observing them in real-life scenarios. In this way, EAL learners will be able to see the difference between their current language and Australian English (Jolliffe, Waugh, & Carss, 2015).
The choice of content depends heavily on the specific needs of the target learners as described above. As stressed previously, EAL students are in desperate need of graphic representations of the material to be learned. Therefore, the instructor should incorporate a lot of visuals into the process, including a wide range of exercises modeled after the show-and-tell framework.
Moreover, the need for learners to retrieve data as a sequence of symbols further points to the application of the symbolic method as a crucial aspect of the EAL teaching strategy. According to the existing definition, symbols are typically rendered as a tool for helping students view the target language as one that they can possibly claim as their native one:
Symbols can be multi-dimensional from simple one dimensional figure or sign to three dimensional matters, depending on the choices and needs of the learners and teachers. In fact changing the dimensions of signs to three dimensions facilitates the learners to transform learning from textbook to activities of motions. (Talukder, 2013, p. 552)
Therefore, it is imperative for the curriculum to include signs as the ultimate tools for rendering a particular linguistic idea of the target learners. Because signs display images and notions instead of words, the number of linguistic misunderstandings that may occur while addressing a particular grammatical concept in the English language can be reduced to a minimum, if not zero.
In designing the curriculum for the learners in question, the teacher should give preference to the one suggested by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), as it has been designed specifically to address the needs of EAL students in the context of the Australian environment. Known as the English as an Additional Language or Dialect: Teacher Resource (Coursy, Dooley, Jackson, Miller, & Ruthson, 2012, p. 2), the given framework is designed to manage the progress of the target learners in the most efficient way, while at the same time keeping the original curriculum intact and therefore leaving an opportunity for the rest of the students to adjust to the changes in the educational environment.
The above framework calls for the language-learning curriculum to be split into three distinct units: phonological, orthographical, and morphological units (Oakley & Fellowes, 2016). As a result, EAL students can develop an understanding of the specifics of the Australian English language at every level, starting with the most basic one. Moreover, this approach implies the use of collaborative classrooms as the foundation for prompting EAL learners’ understanding of the ways in which the English language works (Spooner, 2015).
The number of strategies that focus on effectively teaching adult learners a second language, as well as an additional one, is rather large (The EAL handbook, 2015). The reason for the existence of so many varied strategies is quite simple; adult learners are predisposed to a variety of factors that shape their learning behaviors and determine their specific learners’ needs. Consequently, each and every situation requires a unique approach for teachers to best manage their curriculum and their learners. When it comes to addressing the needs of adult EAL learners, one should bring up the ACARA EAL/D Learning Progression in Australia (Coursy et al., 2012).
This approach provides a clear schedule for an intensive process of language skills acquisition, as it sets specific expectations for learners and suggests a set of rather detailed units that the students should complete in order to acquire the corresponding skills. Although the framework starts with the same unit as most other approaches (i.e., “Beginning English”), it further details the process of EAL learners’ development by identifying subsequent stages.
These later stages include the “Emerging Literacy” stage, which refers to the students’ ability to read printed sources and acquire basic oral skills; the “Developing English” stage, which focuses on improving reading and oral skills competencies; and, finally, the “Consolidated English” stage, in which students strive to gain proficiency in writing and speaking. The final stage also focuses on the acquisition of English language skills for an academic context (Coursy et al., 2012).
It should be noted that the current definition of EAL students implies that the learners might have gained certain second language language skills (Australian Curriculum, 2016). In other words, the ACARA EAL/D framework addresses the specific needs of students who have a basic understanding of how the English language works, yet need guidance in recognizing the differences between their mother tongues and the Australian English language, especially for the improvement of speaking and writing skills.
One of the primary problems that EAL students face in the context of their learning environment is the fact that these students are often erroneously considered to to acquire language skills easily. On the one hand, the reasons for the assumption above are quite understandable, as there are certain similarities between the English language and the languages such as French, German, and Spanish due to a common origin.
On the other hand, however, this mistaken interpretation of EAL students’ abilities often leads to an improperly and ineffectively designed teaching strategy and the subsequent failure of the teacher to deliver the required knowledge to the target audience. Consequently, EAL students are unable to develop the necessary skills and thus fail to gain competency in the English language (Dobinson, 2016).
Therefore, identifying the methodology that will allow the teacher to effectively approach EAL students is crucial. In this particular case, the natural approach seems to be the most appropriate methodology to use due to its relevant properties: the universal concept that lies at its foundation and its focus on the specific needs of each and every learner. By definition, the natural approach is designed to acquire speaking, writing, and reading English skills in the classroom setting during the casual communication process.
As a result, the framework sets the premises for proving the necessity for learners to develop the corresponding techniques and abilities that will allow them to memorize basic rules of English grammar as well as the essential English vocabulary, being able to use it in a particular context.
The Natural approach was designed by Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell in 1970s and has been gaining support since then: “Krashen and Terrell identified the Natural Approach with what they call ‘traditional’ approaches to language teaching. Traditional approaches are defined as ‘based on the use of language in communicative situations without recourse to the native language’” (Richards & Rogers, 2015). It should be noted that the learners are allowed to make connections to their native language, yet are suggested to use the target one more actively.
In other words, the identified framework serves as the primary tool for helping learners develop understanding of language and the way in which it is built. Therefore, it is crucial to apply in the context of EAL learners, who are in desperate need for a better understanding of the nuanced differences between their native language and the Australian one.
Goals and Objectives of the Program
The goals of the program are:
- To help learners understand the essential differences between their native languages and the English language on all levels (from phonetic to lexical);
- To help learners acquire oral and written literacy in Australian English, including proficiency in academic language.
As outlined above, the program aims to achieve two primary objectives: first, to draw a very distinct line between the Australian English dialect and the languages that the learners acquired as their mother tongues and second, to enhance the process of the Australian language literacy acquisition. In other words, the learners are expected to have the necessary analytical skills to draw a very distinct line between the two languages, focusing on learning Australian English.
The objectives of the program are described below.
- The students will be aware of the essential phonological specifics of Australian English;
- The students will be aware of the basic morphological specifics of Australian English; and
- The students will be aware of the basic lexical specifics of Australian English.
The objectives listed above align with the proposed curriculum, as they allow for a gradual acquisition of the corresponding Australian English skills within the designated amount of time.
Identifying the Learning Content: The Primary Elements of the Curriculum
Language, Vocabulary, and Theory
As stressed above, it is imperative to focus on the differences between the native language of the learners and the specifics of English phonology, orthography, and morphology. Moreover, the curriculum must focus on helping students develop language skills related to oral and written communication. As far as specific language is concerned, it is important for the learners to have a strong command of several verb tenses, including the indefinite and progressive tenses as well as the present perfect.
With a firm knowledge of these verb tenses, they will be able to talk about their current and future needs. Particularly, the identified grammatical tools will help learners improve their academic competencies.
Essential pronouns, including personal ones, will also have to be incorporated into the curriculum. In addition, the students will have to learn the varying levels of the conditional mood—including the zero, first, second, and third conditional—and how to use them in a sentence. However, the mixed conditional should not be viewed as a priority at present since the subject matter may be too complicated for the learners at the given stage of their academic development.
Vocabulary may seem not as immediately important as other aspects of language acquisition since the word stock might be viewed as relatively similar between the English language and other languages like French, Spanish, German, and Italian. However, one must bear in mind that words that sound similar in two languages may actually carry very different semantic meanings. The teacher must be aware of the fact that the learners may encounter the problem of faux amis, or false cognates. Therefore, a set of exercises aimed at helping learners remember the differences between the vocabulary of their language and the Australian English dialect needs to be created.
At the specified stage of development, learners will have to memorize and actively use the words and phrases that are typically included in common beginner’s vocabulary sets. Such basic vocabulary will help the learners indicate their basic needs and ideas (e.g., “I want to eat,” or “Give me the book.”).
Apart from the word stock mentioned above, the students will also have to learn the vocabulary necessary to acquire other academic skills successfully. For example, language related to mathematic operations (e.g., “plus,” “minus,” and “add”) will have to be incorporated into the learning program.
A strategy for learning the basic verbs required to indicate their own actions as well as other people’s actions, including the irregular forms of verbs (e.g., “bought,” “taught” or “saw”), will also need to be incorporated into the learning process.
Last but definitely not least, the curriculum must include general words and phrases related to day-to-day life. Examples of such words include those that are related to emotions, appearances, places, numbers, and time2.
It is expected that students will acquire and actively use all of these types of words when participating in class, whether reading short stories and retelling them or discussing specific issues with each other.
In order to address EAL learners’ needs successfully, the teacher will have to adopt an appropriate learning theory to serve as the foundation for managing the learning process. However, because the needs of both EALs and native speakers will have to be addressed and met, a combination of several theoretical frameworks is most appropriate in the identified scenario (Tour, 2015).
Behaviorist learning theory
According to the behaviorist learning theory, students tend to develop habits that either help them acquire the corresponding knowledge and skills in an efficient fashion or, on the contrary, hamper the learning process to a significant extent (Kolodziej, 2015). By definition, this theory “is based on the view that learning can be equated with chances in the actions of individuals” (Settlage & Southerland, 2014, p. 139).
To put it differently, the behaviorist learning approach implies that by suggesting certain behavioral patterns to learners, a teacher may compel them to develop the learning habits that contribute to a faster acquisition of the corresponding skills (Taskeen, Habib, & Tarar, 2015). In this case, the teacher can help students develop the ability to speak and write in English at the required level.
In the long run, the application of the behaviorist learning theory may also help students develop the learning patterns that will serve as the basis for effective lifelong learning (Taber, 2015). Indeed, by suggesting a more autonomous learning style to the EAL students above, the teacher will encourage them to be independent and responsible in their studies, to set goals, and to strive to achieve them (Song & Samimy, 2015). As a result, the teacher can encourage proper behavior for learning not only English but also other disciplines (Leow, 2015).
Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition
Another learning theory that will have to be incorporated into the process, Krashen’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition is a possible tool for understanding how EAL students acquire English language skills (Gross, 2015). This approach is based on six key hypotheses concerning the process of language skills acquisition, and it promotes both conscious and unconscious acquisition of the required skills. In other words, Krashen’s theory promotes both the development of learning habits and the application of metacognition (Benthin, 2015), which is defined as “not only knowledge itself but also the ability to apply it in skills or strategies” (Piechurska-Kuciel & Piasecka, 2013, p. 35).
Teaching and Learning Activities and Tasks
Table 1. Class Activities, Goals, Outcomes, and Materials.
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Importantly, the curriculum as designed will incorporate not only the materials that have been designated by the Board of Education and can be purchased as a part of the learning program, but it will also call for additional materials designed specifically for the needs of EAL learners as mentioned above. In other words, the teacher will have to create printable materials and visuals that will be customized to the needs of the students in the group.
The customized materials are not numerous; instead, they will be represented by either concise sets of information or specific exercises aimed at developing particular elements of vocabulary successfully, with a strong emphasis on the words and phrases with which the EAL learners identified above will have problems.
When determining the essential activities and tools to engage learners into the language learning process, the teacher must bear in mind that the entire process will take place in a setting with native speakers as well. Therefore, the teacher will have to develop and instruct the students on basic rules that will allow the EAL students to participate actively and at the same time will not make them feel inferior to the rest of the class. Particularly, it will be the teacher’s role to make sure that the native speakers do not talk too fast and speak in an intelligible manner (Barahona, 2015).
Moreover, it will be crucial for the teacher to monitor the discussion process by applying the scaffolding principle and the concept of peer assessment. The latter is typically defined as providing support while maintaining the learner’s autonomy (Davis, Ferholt, & Clemson, 2015), whereas scaffolding implies that the teacher should play the part of instructor and coordinator without interfering with the students’ conversation unless absolutely necessary.
Another essential tool that can be adopted in the identified educational setting is the concept of peer assessment (Fairbairn & Jones-Vo, 2015). Often underrated, the peer assessment approach can be extremely positive and efficient, as it helps other students approach the EAL students on the level at which they will be able to retrieve information most accurately. Specifically, the approach invites native English-speaking students to engage in the process of teaching and assessing.
For instance, the teacher may split the class into non-homogenous groups (e.g., groups consisting of one EAL student and six native speakers) and suggest that the students explain a specific grammatical rule or the meaning of a set of words to each other.
Other activities involving peer assessment include those in which learners swap their written responses to exercises, evaluate them, and provide short but specific feedback (e.g., “wrong use of past indefinite, good use of vocabulary, average mark: B-”). It is essential that the EAL learners both complete exercises and assess each other’s work interchangeably. Through the peer assessment strategy, the teacher will be able to spot the areas in which students need further training, and the students will acquire new knowledge and skills together (Kukulska-Hulme, Norris, & Donohue, 2015).
Selection of Teaching and Learning Activities: Evaluation
To assess the learners’ progress, the teacher will have to adopt an evaluation tool that includes the elements of both a summative and a formative assessment. The emphasis will primarily be placed on the formative assessment because, by definition, it will help provide immediate feedback to learners (Kennett, Rathke, & Brunt, 2015).
However, the significance of the summative assessment should not to be underrated, since it will serve as the primary guidance for a teacher in regards to the future course of the teaching process. Particularly, by providing detailed evaluation of the EALs’ progress, the summative assessment will serve as the premise for reassessing their needs and will allow the teacher to construct the most appropriate strategy to meet these identified needs going forward.
Tools and Strategies
As stressed above, peer assessment is going to play a vital role in addressing the needs of learners. However, apart from being the tool that will prompt a better understanding of the course material and thus enhance the learning process, peer assessment will also serve as the means of identifying the language areas that need to be addressed in the future. In this way, peer assessment will inform the teacher about the methods that can be utilized for this purpose (Hsia, Huang, & Hwang, 2015).
Typically defined as quizzes that are provided to learners at the end of a specific unit (Colorado State University, 2015), constructive quizzes serve to identify the learners’ progress at a specific point.
One interesting characteristic of constructive quizzes concerns their effect on learners. As students answer the questions, they realize which aspects of the English language they will have to focus on and gain a clearer understanding of what their current problems are. In other words, constructive quizzes both inform and instruct students about the areas that they will have to focus harder on in order to become proficient in English.
The adoption of digital tools should be viewed as a necessity as they provide ample opportunity for students to interact and for the teacher to coordinate the learning process more efficiently. For instance, online platforms for designing quizzes are a good option for the teacher to create customized curriculum, whereas various communication platforms and online exercises will be useful for students to learn more effectively. The application of forum boards, in which participants post their responses and exchange their opinions, is also a priority for the instructor.
As explained above, it will be necessary to incorporate visuals that will serve as prompts for learners. For instance, the teacher can incorporate simple but effective visuals such as posters with basic word stocks, essential grammatical rules, and tips on story retelling.
In addition, the students will have to be provided with textbooks mentioned above so that they can all follow the teacher’s instructions.
Finally, customized and printable material will have to be included into the process. For example, printed sheets with exercises, short stories, and other textual information to be used in class will have to be incorporated into the curriculum.
A whiteboard with markers and a clipboard will also be included so that crucial ideas can be spelled out and so that all students can participate in in-class and group exercises.
- Tracking learner progress;
- Specifying the current stage that the students are at;
- Identifying problem areas that need revisiting;
- Pointing to further areas that need to be covered; and
- Suggesting teaching strategies to be used in the process.
- Learners will be aware of their progress and be able to track their success in acquiring the corresponding language skills.
- Learners will feel more confident about using the English language.
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