Questions & Authors: Getting parents of ELL students involved in the classroom

January 29th, 2009

Parental involvement and support plays an important role in the success of every student — and teacher. But what is the best way to get parents involved in their children’s lives at school — especially parents who might not speak English? What challenges does this mean to teachers? Robin Turner, author of Greater Expectations and Academic Literacy addresses this important question and suggests ways for teachers to break through the language and cultural barriers when reaching out to parents.

This struggle is a familiar one to anyone who works with underrepresented students — and to be honest, there’s no easy answer.

Bringing parents in to the educational experience despite language barriers requires a reexamining of what it is we want them to do and what their role is in the overall academic process.

Often, what we want is for parents to be enforcers of our assignments, to ensure that their children have materials, attend school with punctuality, do homework, and treat their instructors with respect.

It’s a fairly limited and somewhat menial set of expectations to which we too often limit parents of underrepresented students. It seems to me that, while these facets of parenting schoolchildren do matter, they certainly can’t be the sole functions of the mothers and fathers and guardians of our students. Their relationships with our students are so much deeper, and the benefits of working with those relationships are enormous for all involved.

For instance, much research reveals that underrepresented students rarely see their worlds, their neighborhoods, or their heritages represented in academic classes. The more we teachers get them thinking and writing about those topics, though, the more they develop their composition skills through an intrinsic motivation AND the greater their ability to think reflectively becomes. Through these writing experiences, the parents and families of our students can be great resources, regardless of language.

In my sophomore English classes, students interview parents and/or grandparents in order to research how their own family made the trek to the United States. These conversations often become precious memories for my students and create a sense of academic purpose for the parents.

Often, their role becomes magnified, as they move from simply monitoring their kids’ completion of homework to ensuring that the family history is told accurately. They know that their children’s papers will be read by other members of the family, and thus they frequently become enmeshed in the academic process.

Likewise, when I have students interview their parents about leaving home for a distant university, the resulting conversations can be powerful, and in many cases, it frees up parents usually divorced from the university experience to share their fears and hopes, their pride and their anxieties, and have an authentic conversation — beyond “did you do all your homework tonight?” — about the importance of school. As a first-generation college student, I can attest to the power of these talks.

Parents don’t need to be experts on the academic world in order to contribute to academic success. But we educators need to strategic in making the overall academic experience as rich and powerful for our underrepresented students as for our students that come from a background of collegiate achievement, which means expecting more than just ensuring good behavior and consistent attendance.

How do you reach out to your students’ parents? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section!

Entry Filed under: Differentiation & ELLs,Questions & Authors

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. stella Villalba  |  February 15th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I work with English language learners and their families. I do different things to reach out my students’ parents. Every beginning of the school year, I let them know that my classroom is an open house for questions, concerns or comments every day the first and last 15 minutes of the day. These precious minutes I am in the classroom, by my door, greetings families passing by and making sure they know I am there. It is a successful small way for me to see them and talk to them everyday. I also organize a Cultural Festival every year where these students and their families have a chance to shine and share their world with the rest of our school community. We also have interpreters available during Parent Teacher conferences night so that families can communicate with their teachers.

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