Sanctuary Seekers’ Unit

Trauma-informed pedagogy

The University of Leicester’s Sanctuary Seekers’ Unit has been spearheading research and practice in the area of trauma-informed ESOL pedagogy for refugee-background learners. The need for this research first became apparent when we started offering English language classes to refugee-background learners in 2015. Our teachers were not sure as to how they might best adapt their teaching to meet the needs of learners with refugee-backgrounds, especially for those who might be deeply traumatised by their experiences. These uncertainties were echoed by colleagues working with refugees across the UK and in refugee camps in Greece.

We therefore started exploring what information was already available with regard to trauma-informed pedagogical approaches for working with refugee-background learners in ESOL classes. At that time, there was very little research available on this topic, and what little there was, was dissipated between different disciplines, including English Language teaching, refugee studies, trauma psychology and positive psychology. The first task which we undertook was to map these insights from various disciplines onto each other, and the result was an article entitled Towards a trauma-informed ELT pedagogy for refugees, which formed the basis for practical workshops for teachers in a variety of local, national and international contexts.

We then further developed this work into an inter-disciplinary British Council ELTRA funded research project. This project, entitled Beyond Resilience: Facilitating learning and wellbeing in the refugee language classroom, explored the extent to which the English language provision offered to refugee background students at the University of Leicester facilitated the students’ learning and well-being needs, and which strategies were associated with any reported increases. An outline of the project and the research findings was shared in the Researching Refugeedom session at our Breaking Barriers Refugee Week 2022 (start recording at 31:39).

Learn more about our Trauma Informed ESOL for Refugees Workshop


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