Creating Welcoming Learning Environments: Using Arts-Based Methods with EAL Learners

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What’s the project about?

Dr Jane Andrews and Dr Maryam Almohammad at the University of the West of England, Bristol have been working on a 12 month research project since September 2017. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council who have “translating cultures” as one of their current research themes. The project is a collaboration between teachers, local authority and school staff who specialise in supporting children developing English as an additional language, creative artists and the researchers. Together we are aiming to develop and trial some teaching techniques which combine arts-based methods and supportive techniques for celebrating children’s languages and developing their English language skills. The project is working with school-based staff in both primary and secondary schools. Colleagues who work at Integra, South Gloucestershire (Lois Francis and Dominique Moore) are collaborators on the project.

Why this topic?

The focus for the research comes out of the arts-based methods used in a larger 3-year AHRC-funded research project entitled Researching Multilingually at Borders . In that project researchers from different academic disciplines (global mental health, anthropology, law, modern languages, intercultural communication, education) worked together with creative artists working using drama, poetry, music and textiles. The project explored the role of language in contexts where people experience pain and pressure at times of migration. The sites for the research included the Islamic University Gaza, the Lira district of Uganda, the border state of Arizona, USA, Scotland, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria and Ghana. The current project was funded by the AHRC to extend the reach of the 3-year project to explore how arts-based methods can be combined with work celebrating children’s linguistic diversity and supporting their developing English.

What has the project done so far?

We have developed our way of working which has collaboration firmly at its heart. We have built on the work of Julian Edge who proposed a model of CPD named “co-operative development” which seeks to ensure that all participants are empowered to share their knowledge and expertise while learning with and from others. Using this approach we have offered a series of one day workshops in which participants have i) shared their current approaches to supporting children’s developing English and celebrating their different languages, ii) taken part in a hands-on workshop experiencing one or more creative arts techniques and iii) planned how the techniques experienced could be adapted and transferred into the specific school contexts in which they are working.

In our first workshop, the creative arts inputs have been provided by Katja Frimberger (freelance) who demonstrated drama techniques for use in class including singing in different languages and setting up a “Bristol’s got talent” friendly competition. Katja also shared a film she had made in which students and staff at Glasgow University spoke to camera in their different languages as a way of extending exposure to the institution’s shared languages.

Maryam Almohammad shared the work of the UNHCR with the use of cartoons to convey refugees’ stories:

Film making projects were planned in two schools. One school has audio recorded children and young people making announcements for the school day (for use on the tannoy system) in their own languages other than English.


In our second workshop, Lyn Ma (a lecturer at Clyde College, Glasgow) provided input into how crafting techniques such as collage and model making can be used to provide young people with opportunities to express themselves in ways that they choose to their peers and teachers. In the workshop we as participants created our own decorated suitcases and explained how and why we had chosen to decorate them as we did. Jane Andrew created a suitcase in which she included a map of Somalia and the connection with the Somali community in Bristol.  Jane has not been to Somalia but feels the connection because the Somali community forms a great part  of the British societies.


In our third workshop, Naa Densua Tordzro and Gameli Tordzro (University of Glasgow and Pan Africa Arts, Scotland) introduced participants to using musical instruments in an exploratory way to generate a sense of community. Naa Denua and Gameli also shared with us traditional Adinkra symbols from Ghana whose meanings we learned about and discussed. We then chose symbols we wanted to print using silk screen printing techniques.


Our fourth workshop was on Poetry and the Spoken Word with professor Allison Phipps and poet Tawon Sithole from the University of Glasgow. Allisson and Tawon  did activities which include the use of material object and spoken word through a process of reflection. After reflection and contemplation on objects, teachers wrote a poem about these objects. The whole team got involved in the co-writing of a multilingual poem.


Teachers transformed and contextualized the art-based activities in their school environments according to their students backgrounds, needs and practicality. Then we ran a conference for teachers and school-based staff on “Creativity and EAL” where ideas tried and tested in schools was shared on Thursday 12th July at UWE, Bristol.

How can I learn more and get involved?

There are a range of ways in which you can get involved, contribute and find out more.

  • We have a twitter  where we share our activities and events.
  • We launched a website and we will be uploading video clips from the workshops so visitors to the site can find out more. The website is new and we are planning to add resources for teachers on the use of art in language leaning and teaching.
  • We are planning a book gathering together teaching ideas about how to connect creativity, multilingualism and EAL to be published by Multilingual Matters. Please get in touch if you’d be interested in contributing to our book.

For more information contact the authors.

Authors: Jane Andrews and Maryam Almohammad

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