In this episode Livia talks with me about her experiences both as an English as an Additional Language (EAL) student and teacher. Livia talks about how to support students with EAL in their English language learning journey and the importance of celebrating our students’ cultural and linguistic diversity.
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Transcript of this episode
language, teachers, support, identity, cultures, inclusion
Mags, Livia Healy
Welcome to talking about all things inclusion, a podcast where I get to meet and learn from people in the field of inclusion in its broadest sense that inspire me. I hope they’ll inspire you to today I’m talking about Livia Healy, originally from Romania, and a former EAL student herself. Livia has been teaching EAL, and MFL. For the past 17 years in Cólaiste Nano Nagle, a vibrant multicultural school located in the heart of Limerick City. She also works as an EAL associate for the Professional Development Service for Teachers here in Ireland. Livia, you have a wealth of experience in the area of inclusion for students joining our school communities from other countries and cultures, often with little English to begin with. And you have this experience from the perspective of an EAL learner and teacher. That is why I’m so delighted to be chatting with you today about your own personal experiences, particularly your journey in Cólaiste Nano Nagle
Livia Healy 01:02
Thank you so much, Margaret, for the introduction, and, of course, for having me on your podcast. Yes, there’s two facets to it. I guess, like my professional experience of 17 years in the area of EAL and also my own personal experience as an EAL learner at the age of 15 when I went to America, for one year. So I have experienced the silent phase, I know what it feels like to be surrounded by, you know, your peers who don’t understand you or don’t want to communicate with you, because of the language barrier. And all the challenges that actually comes with being a migrant and trying to find your feet and make sense of a changing identity elsewhere outside your own country outside your own comfort zone, shall we say. And I think this experience that I’ve had really helps me understand and empathise with my young students, because I do see myself in them at that age. And I always tell them my story, and I remind them, so when I was your age, I actually didn’t even have as much English as you did. And they take it as encouragement, you know that? Yes, their English will develop eventually. And it’s just part of the journey. But this is this would be the area, that is what I would call it the most sensitive, that transitional area, transitional period, when the students, the students join us coming from their countries. And there are so many challenges involved. And they come from so many different backgrounds, some of them would be economic migrants, some of them would be refugees students, some of them, they just relocated with their parents. So we’re we’re dealing with actually a huge diversity of needs, really, with the new entrants. And sadly, it took, I believe it took the war in Ukraine, really to kind of put the spotlight on EAL provision in our schools, which was already in bad need of, of support, as it was, and now it has actually amplified with the arrival of Ukrainian students. And that’s a whole different ballgame, shall we say? Because we’re looking at actually, you know, extending our practice, not only from differentiation strategies, which is a complicated area in itself, but to educating ourselves about trauma informed practice. How can we recognise trauma in refugee students and not necessarily just refugee students because being a migrant, it’s a trauma in itself. And funnily enough, I’ve done some reading on it, and it was only as an adult but I’ve discovered that what I myself have lived at the age of 15 was actually a traumatic experience.
I know,I was just gonna say that is really interesting because often when we think about including our students with little English, if they’re not refugee students, we don’t really take that. We know they’re lonely. We know they’re away from family and friends, but we don’t actually see it as a trauma. But you’re right, as soon as you know, as soon as we know that a country is in crisis, then we apply the trauma informed. And I was really interested when you started off where you talked about the silent phase, and actually being in being in a state where you have no choice but to be silent because you don’t have the way to communicate is a trauma in itself. Would you, could you speak more to that silent phase in Fusion journey?
Livia Healy 06:03
Okay. Okay, allow me this. Now. Margaret The following highlighted section is where Livia speaks in Romanian-the transcript reads as gibberish imaginaires has crashed into squalane. Romania shires ruins labasa Dutchies Plaza chan used to have homemade bukata She used to Pusan classical Geneva, Geneva desert chances each country seems. So you’re a very highly educated woman, Margaret. Okay. So you have your experiences, you have your education, you have your language, you have your cultural background. And I put you in a class in Romania with, let’s say, 12 year olds, how did you feel?
I knew nothing. I couldn’t respond. It’s not even that I knew nothing. It’s that I couldn’t responds.
Yes, Absolutely. You weren’t engaged. You were just in a medium where you didn’t recognise the language of communication, basically. So that can have a pretty paralysing effect on student. And I think a lot of investment and a lot of support are needed for those students, you know, those who need it most at the top of the continuum of support. And thank God, we have that continuum of support, it took a while to understand how we can apply it to EAL. But now that we got our heads around it, we’re going to use it to our students advantage. These students need as much attention and support as somebody in a, a student with autism in an ASD unit. If we have for example, as a student who uses a wheelchair, we build the ramp for them, we facilitate them. And so when we look at the students in the silent phase, we also have to look at strategies that actually best support their not only their language development. My initially, my approach is, An EAL teacher is not really about the language development as much because I think there is an overemphasis on bringing them up to a certain level where they can access the curriculum, I think it’s more worthwhile to look after their social needs like to look after their emotional needs to feel, to include them, to give them language bodies to give them therapeutic activities, to basically make them feel seen and help their teachers with tips on how to actually cater to their need, which is not necessarily just language need. So for example, like you’d, you’d see the how to spot the silent phase, teacher ah students, they’re seated at the back, Margaret, they’re always at the back. They’re hiding there, in that, you know, if I’m gonna just lower myself, in the seat , make myself small, the teacher will leave me alone, because I really don’t know what’s going on and I cannot contribute. So the teachers will be encouraged now, to bring them forward. Always address them and explain to the teachers that exposing a student who’s in the silent phase, exposing them to a lot of language input and output is absolutely brilliant for them, even though their responses might only be nonverbal, and anybody can say give them the Duster – ‘here’s the Duster, Khadija go wipe the board.’ We can use a lot of gesturing we can we can use a lot of other strategies. And we just have to stop seeing, looking at them from the deficit, language deficit perspective. And that’s key, we have to just like you were in that Romanian imaginary class- yes- educated, you have your cultural experience, you have language, we have a lot to work with, with those kids. We have technological tools, thank God, we’re in an era where we actually can communicate, there’s no excuse for not bridging that gap between instruction and the language needs of the student. But we ignored them.
Yeah, and it’s interesting there, I know, Manny take a deficit perspective when looking at or EAL students. But when I go abroad next summer, to a country where I don’t know the language, I don’t feel I have a deficit, but yet in the classroom, that’s what we put on our students. So it’s different as an English native English speaker, when I go abroad, I still expect other people to speak my language. And when they come here, I see it as a deficit. When they don’t speak my language. There’s a there’s a disconnect, isn’t there?
Livia Healy 11:18
Yeah, there, there is a different, it’s a different context really. And it’s kind of the same with you know, TEFL, pedagogy, MFL pedagogy or ESL pedagogy, they are actually completely different then EAL. EAL is not, it’s about actually accessing the language of the curriculum, you are in a country now, where English is not a second language is your additional language. And that puts it really on a par with your native language. So if you go as a tourist to Spain, you know, it’s, well, you nobody really cares about your needs, you know, the language needs, I’m afraid. And because, you know, you you’re using that language, the communication unit, you use it for just basic social interaction, while these students are expected to access the curriculum, as soon as they’re entering mainstream, so yeah, that’s why EAL does not teach colours does not teach. Now, this is in post primary, because the primary I know they still have the there are differences. We do know, we don’t teach lexical sets, but we what we do teach them, we teach them in relation to their curriculum. So let’s say I have a student who, oh, my god, like she cannot get the grasp of the articles because she speaks Ukrainian or another Slavic language. God loved them. Do you know, the articles are a big problem. So I’m practising Maria now. Come on, what class did you come from? I came from Geography. Perfect, open the geography book, show me where you are. And I select a paragraph, where Maria underlines the articles. So this is about Maria accessing the same curriculum as her peers. When she goes back into the geography class, she works on the same book as everybody else. She experiences that success, but at her language level. So all that is possible. But I think for years, and I’m guilty of it myself, because of the lack of training we had in the area. For years, we all thought that, you know, look, I have to teach you ‘I am You are he is she is’ I have to teach you all these things. And then you figure out pretty soon that look, this is not working, because they’re with me, and they’re learning the basics, the colours, and then they’re going into science, and they’re learning about photosynthesis, you know, they’re spending most of their time in the mainstream classroom. And this is the place where they should be anyway, because God knows we have over drawn for resource in the past. And now there has been a shift and a significant shift that will, you know, improve var provision and actually being in the classroom with the peers and supporting the students there. And it doesn’t have to be difficult, and we just make use of that approach basically. So forget about teaching them the basics. They acquired that basics from their peers from the classroom from the teachers, we are concerned with teaching them the CALP, the cognitive adverse language proficiency, as you know, that’s our job. so they can experience success. And once the teachers get a hold of that concept, then everybody realises that, you know, something is not as hard. Because at the moment, there’s a lot of teachers, Margaret in the country, killing themselves, translating the bejesus out of Shakespeare, translating every poem and every exercise. And just for them to access, okay, they access it, but their language may not necessarily be developing it. So I seen colleagues of mine, one had two photocopies for the Brazilian Portuguese, another pile for Pashto, another pile for Arabic, another part, oh my god, we can go on like that. You know, what’s
And wahts really interesting Livia is I, as you know, I’m in teacher education here. And I have been commending my students for translating to Spanish or Ukrainian or whatever. And last,
Livia Healy 16:05
but not all the time.
Yeah. So so in a way does it become it enabling kind of the students to stay within their own silent phase within their own language? If we keep just giving them the translations, we need to do what you said, we need to say, Okay, you’re you’re doing volcanoes today. Here’s the language, you need
Livia Healy 16:30
You reduce it, you reduce it. Now, ideally, ideally, Margaret, and I’m saying this because it’s only last month that the training has started in EALfor post- primary language support teachers, ideally, the targets that we set in EAL, so let’s say you’re my Romanian student, and you I assessed you with your with a Common European Framework of Reference, and I discovered Oh, God, poor Margaret. Poor, Margaret puts the adjectives after the noun. So we have to teach her now, how to rectify that. So I’m gonna write my target adjectives. So I’m gonna practice this that, you know, it comes in front of the noun in English, she can observe that herself, but I’m also gonna inform the teachers so they can practice the same thing. So this is, it’s important to see the connection between the teachers and the language support teacher. Because the targets in the language support teacher not just for the, in that class, these targets are to inform the practice the mainstream teaching. So if the mainstream teacher knows that all, Margaret Yeah, she has problems with her adjectives and maybe with the certain articles. Yeah, well, that’s what I’m gonna say, look, take Shakespeare, right, you’re in, let’s say, you’re in fifth class. It doesn’t matter what you’re working on. You’re gonna find adjectives, and gonna underline them. And you might actually model one or two for her. And then Margaret is happy because what is Margaret doing? She’s accessing the curriculum like everybody else. She’s the same thing.
Yeah. Livia, I actually really liked when you talked about the language support teacher, because I know from my own experience, that it’s often the special educational teacher who is assigned to students with EAL. And the fact that you said lunch, the port, again, is identifying that these students do not have special educational needs. They are speaking and trying to communicate without English. Am I freezing that properly? Could you phrase that better for me, please?
Livia Healy 18:56
Yeah, I think terminology is actually important because it really influences our views. It really does. You know yourself for so many years. We had the SEN. SEN. Special needs special needs special needs. Well now, you know, even in the staff room, like we have scones, gluten free, and that’s for special needs, you know, so the language really has a way of catching up with us. Language support. Yes, it’s, it’s specifically for language. Now, my own personal dream, if I can call it that would be that we adopt the terminology used in other countries. I think in, n Australia and New Zealand, I think they use the term cald culturally and linguistically diverse as opposed to just EAL. And that’s more correct, isn’t it? It’s more it really because you don’t just have linguists Diversity, you have cultural diversity. And that really can change actually the perception. Now, there’s a lot of teachers doing fantastic work, and they do take into consideration the cultural diversity. But you know, sometimes it’s limited to that just one international day in the year, and they have it, they come with it every single day, we cannot just ask them, look, you’re Muslim, you know, why don’t you leave your Muslim identity at the gates like might as well like, because when in Rome to like the Romans, we cannot adopt that view. We either welcome them as they are, like Narelle Burns, our national advisor, she just says, they’re perfect as they are. And they, we have to adapt to them as well. Not only them adapting to us, it’s a there’s a mutual mutually adaptive attitude that has to be embraced
Absolutely And I think this is, this is a lovely opportunity to actually get some concrete examples from you. Because Cólaiste Nano Nagel is a very culturally diverse school. And you and your colleagues have been working towards achieving cultural inclusion. And that’s the language you use is cultural inclusion. So could you just talk us through the process what what you and your colleagues and your students and parents are doing to achieve this cultural inclusion in such a diverse school,
now, there’s a different there’s, I can think of two particular ways now that. So to in order to access you know, that cultural richness like and that even with students or with parents who don’t speak English, and, by the way, it doesn’t take a lot to know that, you know, your parents would be very apprehensive to even engage with the school or attend parent teacher meetings because of the language impediment. So I think those technological tools at our disposal are wonderful in bridging the gap. And, you know, finding a solution for this community communicative problem, the students need to know how to use it. And once I explained my students, look, this is how you use your Google lens. And sometimes they know more than you, you know, they’re, they’re amazing. This is how you can use your text, you know, in Google Forms and translate it automatically. And it’s, you know, we can work with that. And then when we the parents, like, we can use the PowerPoint live, that everybody can actually just scan a QR code in a PowerPoint presentation, when you present live, and they follow it in their home language. So when if the communication problem is there, let’s say well, it’s not really a problem when we have something to do about it or address it. And we need that in order to access to cultural aspect. And dialogue, of course, is actually the number one way of actually engaging with anybody. And I think it translates into enhance participation, parental participation, and the kids become the experts, they go home, they teach their parents and acknowledging their cultures, we cannot extricate that from acknowledging their languages, we know that there is an awful lot of talk about the importance of home languages nowadays, you know, and rightly so. But the home languages, it would be really cool to separate the two. So I think the EAL teacher, or the language support teacher, is really fortunate in the air in the sense that in my class, I have the luxury of interacting probably more with my students of getting to know them better. So they come to me, once you have developed that rapport, they come to you willingly, and they tell you about their eat, they tell you about all the celebrations at home, they tell you so many different stories that show you pictures and and that’s how the idea of the multicultural calendar came about actually, because they were sharing different things. And I said, Why am I the only person who knows about this now? That’s not right,
I’m gonna pause you there for a minute because you’ve talked about a multicultural calendar, but our listeners won’t know that what that is. So just to give a little bit of context again in your region, learning journey to achieving cultural inclusion. Your school doesn’t have the tokenistic intercultural day, you’re not asking your students to like to pull out their their wares one day a year, your celebration is all year round. And this is where your cultural calendar comes in.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Because once you validate their cultures, their languages, you validate them, you validate their identity. And it’s something that it’s easy for us, like, you know, to have our identity, valid, validated, like, so you’re Catholic. For the Catholic students, we have prayer every day, on the intercom, we have the prayer space, we have all sorts of school event, right? Now, Muslim students may do not have the exact same opportunities. And that’s a big part of their culture. And if we celebrate, let’s say, St. Patrick’s Day, or St. Bridgets, they you know, they learn about it. But it’s only it’s becomes only one sided, when we don’t actually allow them to share with us. And this is the privilege that I’ve had. They’ve shared with me openly their cultures. And they told me about the Diwali festival, the festival of lights, the Hindu festival of lights about no ruse, the New Year. Yes, I think it’s the Persian New Year celebration. And they’re just like, amazing. And I asked him to make PowerPoints and the posters, and then you think likedo you know something, I’m actually in possession of such knowledge here that my colleagues don’t have access to. And that’s how the idea started, like, you know, everybody should know about this. and whatnot, events should be acknowledged on the intercom. So for our students, you know, who are from India and Bangladesh and Nepal. We have the Holi festival, you know, Happy Holi festival, or it takes something so simple.
Okay. So your, your, again, for listeners, because they haven’t seen the wonderful visual that I’ve seen, it’s you’ve literally mapped out or 365 days or calendar, and you’ve highlighted all of the cultural events that are happening around the world. So am I correct then that your school puts it into practice in such a simple but like, inclusive way over the intercom and says or celebrates that way?
Livia Healy 27:53
Oh, absolutely. Now, there’s days when we forget to do it. Now Margaret. That’s life. You know, that’s life. Yeah. And then I go around to the students, and I say, oh, yeah, Happy Diwali. You know, but it’s, yeah, we’re still embedding it. We’re kind of, let’s say, early days. But they, they get excited about it. And it wouldn’t be wonderful. Now, if we had the time really, primarily, time is our biggest and I’m using it in everything. If we had the time to actually send the cards at home to the because we have lovely postcards made in school, to you know, celebrate the little accomplishments, big or small, and send them to the parents, you know, in the home language, you know, but with such linguistic diversity now, about 46 different languages now, you know, I wouldn’t want to be the coordinator. No,
I’m gonna stop there and say, Wow, you have 46 different languages?
Livia Healy 29:02
Yes, and 43 nationlaities.
43 different nationalities. And you are working to ensure that all of those students don’t live in that silent phase.
Yes, percentage, only a percentage of them are in the silent phase. The the majority would be on a two level or be one level. We’re looking at different levels of support. So we have the classroom level, the language support level, whether that be with me, and then they have the classroom level in mainstream. So they’re supported. Some of them are supported with me. Some of them depending on the level they’re at are supported in mainstream but they’re teachers and then we have the whole school level of support. It cannot be isolated and this is why that cause minimum support is really amazing because we can use it to meet the needs of our school. If we have Ukranian students arriving tomorrow, we need to know how to be flexible, we need to prioritise. And that allows us
So you, you have mapped your language supports to that continuum of support. So you can tier your students according to what they need. Not according to them being an EAL student, and we’re going to teach them colours.
Livia Healy 30:37
Yeah, so it’s all depends on, you know, how we structure the provision. So if you give, let’s say, five classes of language support a week, to a complete beginner, you’re not going to give five classes to earn a two level student who’s at a higher level. So you might give them only three. And then the other ones will probably be one level can go in the just, it’s whole school support. They’re still working on their English, but hopefully, by then they will know how to be autonomous. They’re engaged in lots of reading activities, you know, Surah, AP literacy, and all that. So we have to see, you know, where are they supported? Okay, what do we have? So our intent is to move them through that continuum of support, not to keep them in, let’s say, level one provision for forever, because they benefit from being with their peers, and inclusively.
And and well, one big thing that I’ve taken from this conversation with you, is that in our endeavours to improve their English, that we can’t let them lose their cultural identities that we have to support, and celebrate, and value their cultural identity
Livia Healy 31:58
and make them proud of it, as well. Remind them that, you know, something, it’s, it’s, it’s beautiful, like, you know, that you come from India, you have all this fabulous heritage, or maybe it’s only they’re probably born in Ireland, and their parents come from India, and they have to, you know, take pride in that. And it’s, and then, for some reason, there is that perception, there’s some, some cultures like which would actually perceive themselves, I think, because of the socio economic or economic status change, like when they arrive here, they would perceive themselves as inferior or made feel like they’re inferior. And I think that translates in even, you know, the language. Sometimes, the parents need to be told as well, we need to tell the parents value, the home languages, their the benefits, the cognitive benefits from maintaining it, and developing it at home, are fantastic, because that impacts on their acquisition and development of the English language, and they’ll be able to pass it on through the generations. And now, I sound hypocritical, but my own daughter speaks very little Romanian. Now, this was before I acquired all that knowledge about, but I feel I know how painful it is now for my parents, not to be able to communicate freely with her.
Like I’m thinking back, and I have very little education in EAL, but I was a special education teacher. So I worked with our EAL students. But I remember at the time, and this is many, many years ago, but originally you were you were promoting that they spoke English at home as well as in school. So of course they lose their home language.
Livia Healy 34:04
Yeah, different times. And I’m guilty of it myself, Margaret. I remember the time when I started. There was a lovely Polish girl in our school, and I remember me, thinking that I’m doing her a favour around and saying no Polsky. angielski thinking that I’m actually helping her and telling the parents that when in fact, like, you know, Janelle should have been like, she knows like, yes, teach me more, teach me more.
It’s going back to what you said about pride. So having pride in your home language as well as pride in your culture, it really is that big identity peace,
Livia Healy 34:49
exactly, we cannot suppress that, because our identity formation is definitely hinges on that like and how we perceive our own cultural heritage, and you have that feeling of, you know, even as a migrant, you know, it’s like, I’m not from here, but I’m not from there either. Yes. And it’s, it reminds me actually of a poem that a student of mine actually wrote. And now it’s really amazing like, and it was all about that. You know, the jewel identity development. Yes. recalling how actually she slowly notices herself for getting Slovenian language Slovenian words and questioning, you know, who am I now? And yeah, the Hebrew identities. Yeah, the lighting the run area to the really deserves to know a lot of
attention. Absolutely. we’re coming close to the end. I have a curiosity question. I’m wondering, what is the interest of English speaking students in other languages? So are your English speaking, students curious to learn from their from their peers? Whether it be Romanian, Ukrainian, Indian, whatever it is?
Livia Healy 36:23
They’re they, some of them are very curious. Some of them are passive about it. But what’s I think what’s great about it is that they’re exposed to it.
Yeah, actually, do you know, I haven’t thought about it that way. You’re absolutely right. Livia, I’m wondering, do you have any resources or further independent learning that you would like to share with us today, and anything you talk about, I’ll put the links up at the end of the podcast as well for listeners.
I think that you know, communication tools, technological supports for parents, teach the students how to use them. And the students will teach the parents and even the teachers, we can benefit of learning a trick or two, that can actually enhance communication with EAL students. All of them have the calendar that’s updated.
That was my that you’ve answered my question. I was gonna say, is there a possibility that we could see the calendar, that is fantastic, and I will when we post this under the podcast, I’ll put all of those links in before we finish Livia? Have you any final words you would like to share with everyone?
Livia Healy 37:39
God, Jesus, I think is the most important thing is really to actually treat students with empathy and accept them as they are with their cultural background with languages they speak and their identity and encourage them be their champion.
I love that – be their champion. What, what better way to end the conversation. So on that be their champion note. I’ll say goodbye to everyone. Thank you so much for joining myself and Livia for talking about all things inclusion, and I hope you will join me again soon. Thank you, again Livia for sharing with us and I’ve actually learned so much from you here today.
Livia Healy 38:25
My pleasure, Margaret. My pleasure.