Juliette Grassby-Lewis is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) and GCSE English teacher at Lewisham Southwark College. Here she explains the effect of Reading Ahead on her ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) students.
What were your initial impressions of Reading Ahead and how students responded to it?
The college's wonderful Learning Centre offered Reading Ahead to tutors and I readily signed my students up for it. My group consisted of 24 students, so 12 would go to the Learning Centre for their Reading Ahead session whilst I worked in class with the other 12. Initially I just welcomed the opportunity to work with a smaller group, but gradually the benefits of their reading sessions and individual reading filtered into their class work and I noticed a strong positive improvement in both their speaking and reading skills.
Can you tell us about how you became an ESOL teacher? What are the unique challenges that come with teaching English as a second language?
Having received my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) qualification, I started teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in another country. Native English speakers just naturally know correct grammar (usually) without consciously knowing the terms, but as an ESOL tutor we must learn all the grammar intricacies and rules. We need to grade our language so we use level-appropriate vocabulary. Of course our political, historical and cultural references will not be shared. This is one of the best things about being an ESOL tutor. The sharing of cultures and experiences enriches all of us - students and teacher alike.
Why do you think Reading Ahead works so well with ESOL learners?
It is excellent for ESOL students: it develops not only their confidence in reading English language books (both reading silently and to each other), but their enjoyment of stories and books too. Reading aloud or listening to a story being read whilst following the written words on the page is very helpful for developing speaking and pronunciation skills, and strongly broadens their vocabulary and spelling of new words. Reading together adds a sense of fun and community to the learning. It has definitely dispelled the idea that reading English books is too hard and therefore a chore.
How have you been so successful at Lewisham and Southwark at getting students to sign up for and complete Reading Ahead? (603 participants and 332 completers in 2018-19). Do you tailor your lesson plans for ESOL students who are at different levels?
Some of my students were reluctant at first, but I persuaded them that their English skills would benefit in an enjoyable and relatively easy way. My groups are on a similar level - of course there is a range of learners, and I differentiate accordingly, but Reading Ahead it is very inclusive and all students can participate. Even when we select a group book there is always something in it that everyone (irrespective of their English ability) can gain from the experience.
Are there books or other reading materials that are particularly popular among your ESOL students?
Books about real people, histories and countries. Books that come with a CD are especially popular, so students can listen whilst reading.
Can you explain how health and social care students, especially, benefit from Reading Ahead?
Apart from developing vocabulary, it gives them a range of topics to discuss with their clients. They have reported talking about a book with a client and one student has read it aloud to an elderly lady during the mealtime.
What would you say to any college or adult learning organisation that is considering running Reading Ahead but hasn't yet made a decision?
Do it! The students are motivated to increase their reading because it provides a clear plan with a beginning, middle and end. It makes reading a social participatory activity, even though it is something that is usually done individually.
Find out more about Reading Ahead including how to sign up
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