Parents are integral to schooling for any learner, and one of the key opportunities to discuss how a learner is developing is during Parents’ Evening (Macbeth, p.362). But how do you support parents of an EAL learner during Parents’ Evening?
Many questions come to mind: “Will the parents understand me?”, “Do I need to find a translator?”, “What questions will they ask me?”, and so on. No doubt for the parents, the experience of Parents’ Evening is even more daunting. They may be feeling concerned about their own English and, of course, about how their child is progressing in English. For some parents, one of the questions they may want to ask is why their child’s grades might look lower than those of other students, or maybe why they have not been given a grade at all for a certain subject.
Consider how your school curriculum informs parents about your language support, methodology and curriculum (Brewster et al, 2002). Prior to the Parents’ Evening, find out if the parent will need a translator. Often parents will either rely on their child or ask a friend to join them. The problem with relying on their child is that you may feel that their English is not quite at the level needed to translate for their parents (while in the parents’ eyes, their child’s English will appear very good, as they are comparing it with their own). Ask the child, prior to the Evening, if their parents will be bringing a translator, or if you need to get one. Pim (2011) explains that having a translator available is a vital strategy for building home and school communication. If your school has a teaching assistant who speaks the mother tongue, then you could ask them to be available during the meeting. As Pim explains: “Parents may worry that their level of English will be a barrier to effective communication with the school”.
Secondly, read the learner’s reports in advance of the meeting. Highlight any areas that seem a problem or any grades that seem low. If a learner is getting a lower grade in a Humanities or Science subject, explain that this is probably because of the level of language required for these subjects. The parents may have unrealistic expectations in terms of results, and it is your role to help them formulate realistic expectations (Brewster et al, 2002).
Have examples of the learner’s work to hand, to show the parents the progress they are making: nothing demonstrates progress to a parent more effectively than examples of the work their child is able to produce. Brewster et al explain that by sharing and explaining to the parents what you are doing, you will develop mutual respect.
Finally, suggest ways in which parents can help at home. Scott (2012) gives an example of a ‘Remember book’ being used as a means to support language learning at home, explaining that this type of homework will motivate the pupil, and will help parents and students identify what they need to learn and support progression. You may wish to give examples of useful ‘home’ activities, such as the parents looking at their child’s English books, asking their child to teach them some English, praising their child, showing interest in their child’s work, and so on.
To prepare for the Parents’ Evening, download the resource accompanying this article, to make sure you have everything you need ready for meeting with the parents.
Author: Gemma Fanning, EAL Co-ordinator
Brewster. J, Ellis G, and Girard, D. “Working with Parents.” The Primary English Teacher’s Guide. Harlow: Penguin English, 2002. Print.
Macbeth, Alastair. “Involving Parents.” Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School. By Bob Moon and Ann Shelton Mayes. London: Routledge, 1994 Print.
Pim, Chris. How to Support Children Learning English as an Additional Language. Cambridge: LDA, 2010. Print.
Scott, Caroline. Teaching English as an Additional Language, 5-11: A Whole School Resource File. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.