|The Home School
Connection: Including ESL Parents in the Classroom
Tobey Cho Bassoff
How do teachers ensure that positive communication
between an ESL student's home and his or her school occurs? The
simple answer is access, approachability, and follow-through.
Parents want to be involved in their child's education, so provide
them with opportunities that fit their schedules. Many ESL parents
find day-to-day work schedules and survival in an English-speaking
world overwhelming. Adding another commitment, albeit important,
at a time when they are working (which provides the necessary funds
to pay for food and shelter) is often next to impossible.
By surveying parents about their work, you can plan events that
take their time constraints into consideration. You can develop
the survey and have it translated and sent home, or you can have
your students tell you through an activity. The students are often
very aware, even at a young age, of when their parents are available.
I’ve found asking parents when they are available to visit
the classroom works better than asking them
when they're not available. For various important reasons,
parents often don’t want to disclose times when their time
is otherwise occupied.
Once you've found a time that works for the majority of parents,
plan some programs that highlight your ESL students' work and invite
the parents to attend. Two successful programs that my ESL classes
have hosted are a before-school non-fiction publishing party, and
an interactive math night.
For the non-fiction publishing party, I consulted Nonfiction
Matters (Harvey, 1998) for the structure of the project.
When it was time to share with our community, the students created
invitations, which included pictures of inexpensive breakfast treats
and juice, for their parents and school staff. I believe the
parents were more encouraged to attend because the invitations came
from their children. In addition, the time of the party correlated
with parent feedback about their availablity. They sensed that I
cared enough about what they said in the survey to make sure that
the party coincided with their schedules, not mine.
Food also played a part in the success of the party. Many of the
students in our attendance area are highly mobile and/or homeless.
I’ve noticed that anytime food is provided at school events
attendance increases. Therefore, I provide food at our party.
The success of past events is hard to
describe. Not only did parents attend, but many extended family
members came, as did neighbors and youth organization leaders with
whom the students were involved. At various places around the room,
reports were visible with yellow comment sheets. Visitors could
sit at a desk or table, read, and then comment on what they read.
Language was not a barrier. Many parents encouraged their children
to read to them in English, then had them translate the stories
into the native language. They were proud of the English their child
had learned, and glad the native language was not forgotten, as
evidenced by their child's ability to orally translate.
The reports were accompanied by pictures, and many students encouraged
their parents to try saying the name of the objects
in English. Everywhere I looked I could see proud children
beaming as they showed their work off to the people they cared about,
and to the people who cared about them.
Interactive math night provides an opportunity for children and
their families to come to our classroom to learn how to play math
games that focus on concepts we are learning. I consulted Family
Math (Stenmark 1986) and Matemática
para la familia (Thompson 1997) for ideas on games
and for copies of instructions to the games in Spanish and English.
Prior to the math night,
I reviewed the games with the children, then set them up at stations
around the room. They were encouraged to talk about the format of
the event with their parents. Many students said that their parents
were excited to learn about math through activities rather than
lengthy explanations that they might not understand.
In other words, the format of the event was accessible to them.
They didn't need to know how to read or understand theory, they
just had to play games with their kids. The math
night was an "open
house" where students brought their
families into the classroom to explore and learn together by doing,
not listening. While I was available for help, many families went
to the stations and interacted without speaking to me directly.
They did greet me and thank me upon arriving and leaving.
To make the event as welcoming as possible,
I placed a sign on my door with greetings in all of my students'
native languages. I also provided store
bought snacks and drinks.
The last component to successful ESL parental involvement is a gesture
that communicates your appreciation for
their involvement. This can be done with
a simple note that has positive clip art images accompanied with
the word "Thanks" in English and/or their native language.
This gesture shows the parents that you recognize their attendance
and that it means a lot to you. By using a word in their native
language, you are showing that you appreciate the diversity of cultures
in your classroom and your school. Simple, but
Whatever program you choose, remember to consider the parents
of your students. You will be amazed by the participation you see
at your programs if you take access, approachability, and follow-through
into consideration. Good Luck!
Questions or comments?