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Creating Accessible Classrooms

Improving the accessibility of our classrooms for EAL students

The international students who come to study at JCU all have the required minimum English language proficiency requirement for the course they have enrolled in. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t have at least some problems understanding and participating in classes.

Part of our job as educators is to make our teaching as accessible as possible for all students. With the widening participation agenda our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse, and it is essential that our approach as educators responds to diversity in our classrooms to make our teaching accessible to all students.

That’s why we’ve created this short video series to help. While the ideas here are to help with teaching EAL students, many of them coincide with strategies promoted by Universal Design for Learning, and we’re confident they’re actually just good teaching practice that will help all students to better understand and engage with your course content.

The videos include some background context to help you understand why some EAL students have problems with class materials and tasks, as well as some concrete examples of things you can try in your classroom. These strategies are tried-and-tested, and we hope that will enjoy trying some of them in your teaching.

If you need any further support, or if you have any questions, please get in touch – we’ll be more than happy to help!

Read more about the Universal Design for Learning here.

Increasing Student Engagement

  • Aim to say less when teaching, and have the students say and do more.
  • Break up long teacher-centred stages of a lesson or lecture with pair/group work tasks. These can be brief – just changing the focus, even for a minute, will help revive energy and interest levels.
  • EAL students (and many others) will probably be happier to speak in pairs/groups instead of in front of the class, so try to incorporate more pair/group work in your classes.
  • Give students a goal-oriented task to complete when speaking, instead of just ‘talk about’.
  • Include a variety of task types in your classes, for example have students sort vocabulary or statements into groups, or rank ideas, or order events.
  • Try to vary interaction patterns. For example, students could first jot down their own 3 ideas about something, then compare with a partner. Or pairs could do a task, then join with a larger group to compare their findings or ideas.

Understanding

  • Speak slightly more slowly (but still sound natural!).
  • Be aware of the words you are using and whether your audience will understand them.
  • Stress key words and ideas.
  • Pause more often to allow students to keep up.
  • Ask questions to check students’ understanding of instructions or concepts.
  • Record yourself speaking to students and listen back to it. Put yourself in the position of an EAL student when you do!
  • Give your students permission to ask when they haven’t understood. a way to let you know when they haven’t understood what you’ve said. Students from other countries or cultures might not feel comfortable about doing this unless you tell them it’s ok.

Assessment

  • EAL students might struggle with assessments due to language and/or cultural differences.
  • Keep the language in task descriptors as simple and as unambiguous as possible.
  • Provide a sample answer whenever possible.
  • If appropriate, give students a suggested outline for written assessment tasks.
  • For essays especially, discuss the expected ‘shape’ of the finished work – how many paragraphs will there be? What will be the main idea of each?
  • Be explicit about why they are doing this task, how it relates to the subject overall.
  • Scaffold assessment tasks as much as possible.

Vocabulary

  • Make vocabulary a more explicit part of your teaching
  • Look ahead to your subject material and identify any key words that need teaching
  • Clarify the meaning of new words in ways that all students will understand
  • Check students’ understanding of new words
  • Find ways for students to practice recalling the words and their meanings