One of the most important things we can do as teachers, whether of ELL, mainstream, or dual language students, is to communicate with our students’ families. I found this out several years ago, when I began working with ELLs, particularly those of refugee communities living and working near my then school site.
I began by going to any possible professional development opportunity or seminar on multi-cultural understanding, and investigating my district’s policies on communicating with students’ families, especially in regards to official communications, such as forms.
I found out about Meaningful Access through the Language Acquisition Department, which included making sure to provide a trained, certified interpreter for meetings and conferences. This could sometimes prove challenging, however. Often the interpreters were difficult to schedule, especially if there was only one available in the district that spoke a specific dialect. Then there was the logistics of getting several parents and the interpreter together in the same room, to proceed with school orientation or individual conferences. But the effort was usually rewarded with better understanding of the school community, as well as increased trust between school, teacher, and families.
Another way I found to connect with students and their families was to go out into the neighborhood, buy things from the markets there, eat lunch in the restaurants, or take them up on invitations to visit their homes. This isn’t always possible for busy teachers, but an occasional weekend visit or afterschool excursion can be very productive, enlightening, and enjoyable. I found that connecting this way went a long way toward building student interest in school. My favorite reactions from my refugee students, after seeing them outside of school: “I saw you at the store!” or “It was fun when you came to visit! When are you coming again?”
This year, I began teaching ELD as a resource teacher. I took the position because I enjoy working with a diverse group of students, getting to know various cultures, and teaching English Language skills in smaller groups, so I can more effectively differentiate instruction. I was not quite prepared for the amount of paperwork and assessing involved, but I have taken to it to the best of my ability. The upshot, I hope, will be engaging students in better understanding of English Language arts, and learning more about their
cultures, home languages, and traditions in the process.
So far, I have met students and families from four different cultural backgrounds, and have required the services of two interpreters. We had a wonderful Curriculum Night…I had the opportunity to present the ELD classroom environment, our curriculum, and got to know some parents better. The students seemed more interested in what the classroom and their new ELD teacher had to offer. I also made it a point to emphasize the importance of honoring their home language as they learn a new one. Some of the students’ first exposure is to their home language, but they speak more English, because their peers and teachers do. It is proven by research that students who continue to engage in learning and speaking their home language while learning English, learn more quickly. Staying connected to their traditions and language, being “bilingually literate”, is more likely to help students to be more successful as they enter adulthood in our 21st Century world.