Author: Yzanne Mackay
“Parental involvement is invaluable for any new arrival in transition. The learner’s family may be the only group of people who truly understand their transition. The parents may have very little understanding of what happens in an English-speaking school or the approach you have to education. Parental involvement will help you to understand more about the child’s life as well as build a valuable rapport and level of trust between all parties.”
Your EAL learners have moved from one country to another maybe multiple times. They’ve made a huge transition – but many, in fact, make a similar kind of transition every single day, when they move from their home to their school. The language spoken at home, and the expectations and customs, may be entirely different from those at school. How do we bridge the gap?
We all know how important it is to appreciate the great difficulties EAL parents may face. Many feel entirely at sea – uprooted from one culture and unable to understand the new one. They may not speak (or write) English themselves. They may have no understanding of how a typical day looks in their chosen school.
Home-school partnership is important for all pupils in a school. For EAL learners to reach their full potential, it’s especially vital. In this article, we’re going to look at some ways to build an effective home-school partnership with your EAL parents.
Welcome your new EAL learners’ families just as you do the pupils themselves. Hold welcome meetings, or regular ‘coffee mornings’ within the school for EAL parents. Include those who are fluent, as well as those who are new-to-English, so that fluent parents can support others and continue to build their community. New EAL parents will also then build relationships with school staff and become familiar with and comfortable in the school environment. Importantly, they’ll also be able to obtain information more easily.
Tip: consider ‘buddying up’ more experienced EAL parents with newly arrived parents, for extra support.
Where necessary, translate information (both written and spoken). This may be by using a parent buddy who speaks the language.
Translation is becoming ever-easier. Download a translation app and glide the camera of an iPhone or iPad over text to get an instant translation to the language of your choice. Translation pens and Google translate on laptops perform the same job.
Did you know? Translation apps translate voice too.
Newsletters and letters home can be fairly long-winded. Set yourself (or even your students!) the task of simplifying these for EAL parents. Can much of the information be presented visually? (For example, school times shown on a clock; maps used to indicate drop-off and pick-up areas; photos provided by relevant staff; pictorial images given of events such as Sports Day, award ceremonies and cake sales?)
Good organisation at home is made much easier by good organisation at school.
During the initial admissions process, introduce a home-school book to be used for two-way communication. Make sure there is a clear section for writing messages. Too many home-school books contain a lot of ‘fun’ information and entertaining illustrations, which make it hard to find the actual messages.
We have a number of schools now trialling the ‘Community Village’, the sister programme to the Learning Village. The Community Village helps parents, carers and other adults within the school community to learn the survival language needed in their new country.
Whether you’re trialling this programme or not, invite parents in for a weekly session, so that children and parents can learn together.
Provide your EAL child with a special folder in which to take home information and resources on the curriculum topic you’re about to cover in class. Ask the learners to show and discuss these topics with their parents in their home language. This gives the parents the benefit of understanding what is being taught, and the great advantage, for the learner, of being able to discuss and talk about a topic in their mother tongue before being taught it in English.
Celebrate and encourage the use of the learner’s mother tongue at school wherever possible, and at home. As noted by Sears (2015), this “ensures that students’ cognitive development continues alongside the learning of the new language.”
Set homework for your EAL learners that promotes the use of their home language – and let parents know about opportunities for the child to continue studying their mother tongue in classes outside of school.
EAL parents, just like other parents, want to do the best for their children. They may, however, be a little overwhelmed in their new surroundings and unsure of how to act. A helpful ‘Introduction’ card, like the one in the resource accompanying this article, makes it clear that they’re able to do a really good job.
The resource can be translated into the parent’s mother tongue, or provided orally, if necessary.