MIC Language Learning Project Wins European Commission Award

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A language learning initiative at Mary Immaculate College (MIC), which supports children of migrant families in Limerick, has been recognised by the European Commission. In an online ceremony that took place last week, the TEAL Project received a European Language Label (ELL) Award, which highlights and rewards innovative and inspiring initiatives in language teaching, learning and promotion.

The TEAL project is one of just eight initiatives from across Ireland to receive such an award, with the jury commending the project for its community of practice approach and its “very impressive and rich content”.

Launched in September 2019, the TEAL Project (TED EAL) is an initiative of the TED (Transforming Education through Dialogue) Project located within the Curriculum Development Unit at MIC. As the first of its kind in Ireland, the project was developed in response to an urgent need to accommodate the diverse language and literacy needs of students in primary and post-primary schools. It aims to assist the children of migrant families in their language learning journey by fostering culturally and linguistically responsive teaching approaches. It celebrates linguistic diversity in the classroom and is designed to increase teacher knowledge and confidence in the teaching of children whose first language is not English.

Commenting on the award, Dr Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland, TEAL Project Leader and lecturer in the Department Language and Literacy Education at MIC, said “The European Language Label Award is a tremendous validation of the language-based work being done by MIC with migrant students in primary and post-primary schools throughout Limerick city. In developing a community of practice, with a customised professional development programme for teachers, we are focused on how to teach, celebrate and respond to learners with English as an additional language in our increasingly diverse schools. We hope the award will provide a platform to encourage other similar language-based communities of practice for teachers of migrant students in our schools across Ireland.”

Eight schools in Limerick city, both primary and post-primary, took part in the TEAL Project over the past year with teachers engaging in a series of customised professional development workshops. These workshops encouraged teachers to embrace the whole child by focusing on learner autonomy and celebrating EAL (English as an Additional Learner) pupils’ own heritage languages, thereby maximising their potential to learn English.

According to Dr Fíodhna Gardiner-Hyland, “Schools are key agents in supporting language development and acquisition. It is more important than ever before to cultivate plurilingual school environments that tap into the benefits of linguistic diversity for all pupils. The TEAL Project is a very practical example of how MIC and schools work together for better outcomes for children, building on a long history of partnership between schools in Limerick city and the College.”

She added, “Key to the success of this project are the people directly involved with migrant learners- namely principals, lead EAL (English as an Additional Language) teachers and class and subject teachers – I would like to thank them for their shared leadership, creativity, enthusiasm and dedication. As we move into the second year of the project, we are excited to develop the TEAL professional development programme and community of practice further.”

Congratulating Dr Gardiner-Hyland on the award, Eucharia McCarthy, Director of the Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) at MIC, said, “Through her leadership of the TEAL project, Fíodhna has addressed a critical area of need in our schools through the provision of an innovative teacher development programme, which is designed to support teachers in addressing the language needs of children, comprising a wealth of innovative and practical solutions for children and their parents.”

For Marie Keogh, EAL teacher at St. John’s Girls and Infant Boys School in Limerick city, the TEAL project has been an “invaluable support” to her. She said, “The opportunity to network with other EAL teachers has been very worthwhile and, at the end of the day, it is the EAL students who benefit from the additional knowledge, skills and funding gained through our school’s participation in the TEAL Project.” 

Throughout the academic year 2020-21, Dr Gardiner-Hyland will continue to deliver and co-ordinate online continuing professional development sessions to teachers in the eight schools in order to meet the ongoing identified needs of students and teachers. She is also currently writing a professional development programme for schools on EAL entitled, ‘TEAL WORKS (Teaching English as an Additional Language): Introductory Professional Development Programme for Teachers’, based on the CPD workshops delivered within the TEAL project over the past year. This will be published by the Curriculum Development Unit at MIC in the coming years.

The primary schools involved in the TEAL Project include CBS Primary School, Sexton StreetPresentation Primary School, Sexton Street; St. John the Baptist Boy’s School, Downey StreetSt. John’s Girls and Infant Boys School, Cathedral Place; St. Mary’s National School, Bishop Street; and St. Michael’s Infant School, Sexton Street. Post-primary schools include Coláiste Mhichil, Sexton Street and Coláiste Nano Nagle, Sexton Street.

Over 182 languages are now spoken in Ireland. 76,000 primary school children speak a language other than English at home with 6% of these children having limited English, representing 2 in every class of 30 children (Census, 2016).

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