The families of English Language Learners are a highly overlooked resource. Many teachers assume that these parents are unable to help their students in any way because there is often a language barrier. However, we need to realize that although they may not speak the language perfectly, they still want to be involved in their child’s education.
For the past two years, I have had my personal children in a school where I can’t speak to their teachers, besides to say Hi, How are you? It is very difficult to be a parent in this situation, but I do it for the benefit of my children. I still check homework, even though I can’t read it. I still attend my children’s performances and teacher conferences. (My husband works as a translator for me, as there are no translators provided by the school.) But, I definitely feel disconnected from my kids’ overall school experience.
There are lots of benefits of having the parents of English Language Learners involved, including:
- When students know parents and teachers are connected, they are better behaved and more focused. My ESL students always try to get away with the “You can’t tell my mom anyways” behavior. All it takes is one call to mom – even with broken up Spanish (or French or Arabic) or through a translator, for them to understand that this will not be a barrier to communication.
- Parents can help explain concepts to a child in their home language so that the kids can focus on learning English when they are with you. Many of my students review math concepts in their home language with their parents, so that when they are with me they can focus on learning that key vocabulary.
- When parents know what’s being studied in class, they can provide their children with extra-curricular learning experiences, including trips and movies in their home language. My students are currently studying Ancient Rome. I have had books and stories about Rome brought in in both French and Spanish. Another student told me about watching a video in Arabic on the topic. At the end of the day, I want them to know the facts and understand the concepts and this home support makes them more connected to what I’m teaching.
- If you have a common second language in your classroom, parents who speak that language can provide read aloud and discussion experiences in that language. During Heritage Week, I had presentations in French and Spanish and I regularly have parents read to my class in French. For my English Language Learners, this is a time to appreciate the literacy skills that overlap into all languages.
Some ways to get involved with the parents (and families – Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles make great role models too!) in your class are:
- Make sure to have an initial contact with each and every family at the beginning of the year. Find out what their level of English is, and be sure to let them know of your level in their language. This open communication from day one will lead parents to continue to be involved.
- Invite parents in: to read to the class in any language, to view student presentations, to view student work, to generally be a part of your class.
- Have regular family projects, where parents and children can work on an activity at home together. My students recently had an activity where they were responsible for building a car. We designed the car at home and then they were to build the car at home with their family’s help. This was a great time for my students to gain knowledge from their parents. Here is a picture of one of our best cars. The student who designed it worked with her father who speaks no English, but has been at every conference, every performance and every presentation this year. The car moved with a small motor they build together.
If you want information about the car project for your class, you can find the details in my Exploring and Designing Machines unit.
How can you get the parents of your English Language Learners involved in your classroom?
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