Investigating Pedagogical Methods in Raising Levels of Attainment & Engagement in EAL Sixth Form Students

Laura Howard is a Social Science teacher in a secondary school in outer London, and carried out this research in 2013. This research focuses upon assessing and examining how different teaching methods can raise levels of engagement and motivation among year 12 students studying psychology, who have English as an additional language (EAL). A wide range of teaching methods were tried and tested, and evaluated for levels of both engagement and attainment, with reference to students’ responses using a range of research methods. The research also focuses upon the impact of using independent learning projects to allow students to become more critical and independent thinkers. Careful consideration and discussion upon constraints within the curriculum and exam focus within key stage 5 is also mentioned, as there are often many complexities when helping to students to develop a wider range of skills after taking compulsory examinations.


There are many reasons to research how different teaching and learning styles can greatly benefit EAL sixth form students studying psychology: both teachers and students often question what method is best in enhancing engagement and motivation to learn. Is there a place for all methods within the classroom? Why do some areas of pedagogy suit some types of learners and not others? Are more interactive methods of teaching necessarily more effective than teacher talk?

Another interesting factor is the way in which teaching can often shift from becoming more interactive and student led in the presence of OFSTED and other observers, when other styles (such as heavier ‘teacher talk’) become more dominant in their absence. Teachers may often feel restricted in their capacity to experiment with different methods for fear of not meeting examination deadlines and ensuring that students are learning everything ‘by the book’. This can limit students’ opportunities to be more adventurous and take risks with their work.  On the one hand some teachers may welcome the idea of resisting the need to constantly hold students’ hands right up until the day of their exams, whilst others may feel immense pressure to cover every part of the subject with enough time for revision.

My research questioned this double bind that teachers may face.

Post 16 learners can greatly benefit from different methods in teaching:  taking risks can aid both resilience and lifelong skills of learning independently, which can be transferred within their future studies and careers.  The project also revealed that there were mixed responses on what methods they felt were both engaging and motivating in helping them to achieve, and highlighted some pedagogical issues when teaching EAL students.

Some teaching methods for advanced level teaching for students with EAL may require preliminary teaching of ‘learning how to learn’. The research showed that there was some assumption of prior knowledge by the belief that all students would feel competent enough to use a range sources to support key parts of their course. Some of the teaching methods were also too advanced for students, particularly when their skills in literacy were below average. Therefore, an exploration of how different teaching methods could help students to become more engaged and understand certain concepts was discussed with critical evaluation.

There was also the issue of the impact in sixth form studies of ‘spoon-feeding’ students in previous years, which had left them ill equipped to carry out more independent learning at key stage 5. Strategies to improve these skills showed that this was certainly not an ‘overnight’ project, but instead the progressive journey.  This journey was one in which students came to see the importance of tasks that require them to ‘think outside of the box’, particularly when going on to further or higher education. However, it was noted that giving students a research task without the learning tools, or the confidence to carry out such learning strategies, may in fact lead to demotivation and a feeling of being ‘lost’ in tasks that are too far outside their comfort zone.

The project taught me that sometimes risks need to be taken;  sometimes teaching styles need to be modified to suit the needs of individual learners. It showed that some students need a lot more structure than others, particularly when the social context of the school is taken into account. The study enabled me to challenge my preconceptions about teaching sixth form learners. Whilst it reflected issues with EAL learners, who needed a specific level of support in carrying out certain learning tasks, it also revealed the importance of structuring these activities to allow for better monitoring of students’ progress. Focusing on the students’ perspectives helped to reduce some bias that may have occurred if findings were simply based upon classroom observation and the researcher’s interpretation. Levels of engagement and attainment can alter with each cohort, and how teaching methods are adopted and modified need to be constantly assessed to ensure that the needs of all students are being met.

Laura’s full dissertation can be read here: Laura Howard Dissertation


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