10 Possible Alternatives to “International Night”

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Today’s blog is written by Laura Gardner.  Laura has 16 years of experience working in public education, refugee resettlement, and social work.  While in public education, she worked as a district level manager for immigrant family and community engagement as well as a school social worker.  Learn more about Laura on our English Learner Portal website.

Many schools across the U.S. host international or multicultural nights each year.  At intnightthese events, students and/or their families typically set up tables to highlight their countries and cultures and the rest of the students and families walk from table to table sampling food and looking at artifacts and maps.  While organizers of these events have good intentions and aim to honor their students’ cultural backgrounds, sometimes these events can seem internationalnighttokenistic.  How can we build family comfort in schools throughout the school year?  With 79% of teachers in the U.S. being white* and 25% of students being children of immigrants, getting to know the cultural backgrounds of students requires a deeper dive.

intparadeThere are often two goals of international nights. The first is for students to learn more about other cultures and the second is for teachers to learn more about the backgrounds of their students and their families. With those goals in mind, what are 10 possible alternatives to international night?

  1. Invite immigrant parents or community members to speak in your class about their background and culture or a particular topic (i.e. a Vietnamese refugee could speak to students who are learning about the Vietnam war, etc.).
  2. Invite immigrant parents or community members to come to the classroom and share a story from their home country.
  3. Visit the main places your students and their families spend their time (places of worship, stores, community centers, neighborhoods, etc.).
  4. Travel as much as possible outside of the United States, particularly to the home countries of your students. Talk with students and their families about your experiences.
  5. Conduct an immigrant parent panel. For this professional learning opportunity, invite 3-6 immigrant parents to form a panel. Have one educator ask questions to each parent such as “Can you tell us about schools in your home country?” and so on. Be sure to provide teachers in the audience with an opportunity to ask their own questions.
  6. Invite immigrant parents to provide input on the rules and values that are practiced at school. Discuss any “cultural mismatches” between home and school.
  7. Take an interest in immigrant parents’ approach to raising their children. Ask questions about their family life.
  8. Ask immigrant parents or community members for information needed. Every time you seek background information on something from another country or culture, ask a parent from that culture (or student, if appropriate) to tell you what they know about that topic.  For example, if you have a lesson on Chinese New Year, find a Chinese parent in your school or community leader to talk to for more information and/or invite the person to speak directly with your students. Resist the urge to Google for lesson plans when you have direct sources of information nearby.
  9. Invite immigrant parents or community members to provide input on the curriculum.
  10. Help students make connections between what they’re studying and the immigrant communities in their own town.  For example, an IB (International Baccalaureate) class studying India could visit a local Indian organization rather than visiting the Indian embassy.
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When you are ready to plan your schedule of parent/community events, please visit the English Learner Portal Resource Center for a free “Planning Checklist for ELL Family Nights”.  You will find this document in the Family Engagement folder.

*https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/highered/racial-diversity/state-racial-diversity-workforce.pdf

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Social Skills with Newcomer Students

The Importance of Social Skills with Newcomer Students
by Graciela Williams, Guest Blogger

turkeyThanksgiving is almost here, and, undoubtedly, your classroom is buzzing with excitement for the soon-approaching break. You might find that you and your students have finally found a steady routine. You may even feel that your students have some sense of your classroom rules and requirements, even if many of those aren’t exactly followed to a “T.” Your sense of classroom “normalcy” is at its peak when, suddenly, you get word that you will have a new student. Not only will you have a new student, but it will be a new student that speaks limited English. You have been here before and know the difficulty of adding a new student into the mix, but a student that speaks limited English is a step further. The classroom dynamic changes, and the educational “catch up” game quickly follows. This scenario is all too common in many schools across the U.S. Teachers and school administration begin to identify the challenges of students who start school mid-year, but they soon find themselves focusing on classroom dynamics and making sure that the student meets certain targets for educational purposes. An area that can be easily overlooked is the newcomer’s social and emotional well-being. Adjustment in the classroom involves much more than the student’s physical and mental understanding of school and classroom norms.

Research is finding that new incoming students require social and emotional support studentsduring school adjustment periods. Although the needs of the students increase, the school’s ability to provide adequate resources and staff to meet the needs of the students remains limited. Even with limitations, schools can still make sure that all of the newcomer’s needs are met in order for the student to be successful in the classroom. Incorporating social skills lessons within the classroom can promote an environment where newcomer students share experiences, establish connections, and practice their English abilities.

Sharing experiences, for newcomer students, in a non-threatening environment is a great way for students to start building connections and relationships with their peers. girlsBeginning conversations at the lunch table or at recess can be intimidating, but providing an in-class activity, where students share in small groups, can help promote effective communication and relationship building. It allows the newcomer to participate in the lesson all while learning essential vocabulary skills. Social skills lessons can help promote English by having newcomers practice their English skills within the four domains: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Social skill lessons can also help the teacher understand their student’s background in a non-intrusive manner. Understanding the student’s past experiences can shed some light on educational learning experiences and current levels of social, emotional, and physical adaptation to a new learning environment.

For a FREE sample social/emotional lesson, visit the “Newcomers/SIFE” folder in the English Learner Portal Resource Center.  This activity promotes the four domains, while engaging students in a fun, interactive activity where they feel comfortable sharing about their experiences.  The full lesson plan and Feelings Cards included!

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gracieGraciela Williams “Gracie” is a licensed bilingual school social worker in Annapolis, Maryland. Gracie currently works with newcomer students and runs several social skills groups around the county. She specializes in working with international students who have experienced trauma. She has done extensive work incorporating and facilitating student and parent reunification groups within the school system. Gracie has worked as an Adult ESL teacher and program manager for literacy centers in South Carolina and Colorado. She has a bachelor’s degree in counseling from Bob Jones University and a master’s degree in social work from the University of New England. Gracie is also an Adjunct Professor for Goucher College, where she teaches a graduate level seminar course regarding At Risk Students, and she is an Adjunct Community Faculty for The University of New England providing field instruction to current MSW students.

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English Learner Portal    November 2017

Newcomer Programs and Puppies…

IMG_7275[1]So you are already wondering why newcomer programs and puppies would be in the same blog…Our family dog passed away recently and we were all pretty devastated.  After a week we did what everyone tells you NOT to do. We adopted a puppy.  I am so glad we did.  Little Ginny (pictured here) has brought new energy and a lot of smiles into our world. She runs through the yard as fast as possible, so excited to explore.  Think of that crazy puppy run, and that is how I felt this morning finally getting the opportunity to speak with Carol Salva in a voice chat!!  Carol and I have communicated via social media over the past few months, as she so graciously gave permission for us to use her book, Boosting Achievement, for one of our online book studies.  Carol invited me to be a guest on her Boosting Achievement pod cast this morning and I am still that puppy excited!  We had a IMG_6123great conversation about newcomer programs.  When Carol’s team finishes working their production magic and post the pod cast online, I will send you the link!

To go along with the pod cast, I wanted to share my experiences with planning and developing a newcomer center in our district. While I am no longer working in that office, I can share how it started.  In no way do I see this as the perfect plan.  What I hope, is that the big ideas are clear, and that the heart of what we were trying to accomplish comes through. Every district has different resources, guidelines, etc. that make each plan unique.

I’m sure many school systems experienced the same struggles we did a few years back when the number of incoming high school age English learners really took off.  As a young people from various refugee programs and immigrants from Central America, particularly unaccompanied youth, poured into our schools, we worried that we were unprepared to support these students both academically and emotionally.

In 2014, our school district assembled what we called a “Think Tank,” a group of people who came together voluntarily to discuss this particular student group and to brainstorm a solid plan for addressing their needs.  This group included members from the English Language Acquisition Office, teachers, school counselors, high school administrators, pupil personnel workers, career education, and alternative education workers. We looked at student data and used our combined expertise to come up with the most effective plan for both our school system and these students. I consider working with this group – student centered and creative -to be one of my most rewarding career experiences.  Never had I experienced this many people, from a number of schools and offices, coming together with such a level of collaboration to address a common concern and mission to support students.

The “Think Tank” met for 2 years, developing various proposals and presenting options20161208_145133 to the school district’s leadership.  In the spring of 2016, we finally had an approved plan with a budget attached! I loved the plan, as it truly demonstrated the heart of the “Think Tank” and my values as a leader – student centered and collaborative.

The Newcomer Program started with a proposal for up to 40 students at one high school.  Those students were all officially 9th graders (by credit count), though they ranged in age from 17-20.  (Our 14-16 year old 9th graders entered the traditional high school program with ESL support.) We also targeted students who had significantly interrupted or minimal education and literacy before arriving to our school.  Our goal was to build this program over the school year so it could be replicated at other locations in the future.

So here are the basic structures of the Newcomer Program plan…..

10:20 a.m. – Student Arrival – We had found that many students were working late hours and struggled to make it to (or be awake in) the 7:20 a.m. traditional 1st period class.  This led us to create a different schedule for our target group.

10:30 – Lunch – We began our students’ day by making sure they were fed and ready to learn.  This time also allowed for community building and for them to interact with students outside of the Newcomer Program.

science811:00 – First Class (traditional school 3rd period) – ESOL 1 – Students began their day in ESOL class with a hands-on, project based learning curriculum that allowed for language and content development to happen simultaneously.  ESOL 1 also counted as 1 English credit towards graduation requirements, as it was our goal to get as many students as possible to graduation, as quickly as possible.

Monthly social/emotional support lessons were also built into this class period.  A bilingual school counselor and bilingual social worker from the International Student Services Office (ISSO) led the monthly social/emotional support lessons.  We also had the support of the Hispanic liaison officer from the Annapolis Police Department, who often led the lesson for our young men or joined the full group.  These visiting professionals were trained in the “Joven Noble” (males) and “Xinachtli” (females) cultural healing curricula from the National Compadres Network and utilized those teachings within their monthly sessions.

Catherine's african mask12:30 p.m. – Second Class – Elective Credit – Foundations of Art, 3D Art, Team Sports – This class satisfied a graduation requirement and allowed students time to build their social language in a more relaxed atmosphere.  During this class period, students were integrated with other students who were not part of the Newcomer Program.  (NOTE:  Teachers for the first and second classes were paid through regular high school teaching positions as part of their duty day.)

2:00 p.m.   Break

(NOTE:  Because our Newcomer Program 3rd and 4th class period had not previously existed at the high school, as traditional students were dismissed at 2:00 p.m., teachers for these classes were paid through a combination of Evening High School funding and Title III supplemental support.  The Newcomer Program became a small group within the existing Evening High School Program, allowing us to maximize existing staffing.)

2:15 p.m. – Third Class – Science –The science course was co-taught by a certified science20161208_145019 teacher and a certified ESOL teacher.  We selected a science course from our high school Program of Studies that was the most hands-on.  This course also fulfilled a graduation requirement.

3:00 – Fourth Class – Elective – Some students choose to participate in the Culinary Arts foods4program which is part of the school system’s Career and Technology Education Program. This course already existed in the Evening High School.  A certified ESOL teacher was added for support. The Culinary Arts program was quite popular, as many students were working in restaurants and understood the benefit of working  towards a  ServSafe Certification.  Other students participated in the “Stretch Your Wellness” course where they practiced yoga and followed a health/physical education curriculum.  Some students also participated in Spanish I, which was focused on developing literacy skills for native speakers.yoga3

4:30 – Dismissal and Bus Transportation – Bus transportation was provided to various locations around Annapolis through a partnership with the school system’s magnet programs that ran after school hours.

We ended the year with approximately an 85% completion rate. This was SIGNIFICANTLY higher than what we had experienced with older newcomers in the traditional school program.  Here is what I learned in the process of watching the Newcomer Program staff embrace the students and their own leadership:

  • If you take teachers who have a passion for what they do, and give them some structure and creative freedom, they come out with amazing results!
  • A well-planned first year of schooling in the United States, with adults who understand the power of relationships, provides a solid foundation for future success.
  • Students need options that respect the numerous challenges and responsibilities they juggle daily. Alternative schedules, transportation, career skills, first language literacy, acculturation, and relationships are all crucial elements.

As the program continues to morph and grow, I’d love to see a continued focus on collaboration – truly it takes a village to have success.  Conversations with our local community college focused on expanding the career training options are promising.  An agreement between the Department of Labor and State Department of Education now allows the school to teach GED preparation courses for students who fit a specific profile, greatly benefiting those older students who just don’t have time to graduate. Exploring options with the school system’s External Diploma program will also provide a variety of options for students to earn a diploma.

More than anything, our students need options and our commitment to provide the best possible foundation.  With that, they are usually more than willing to do the rest!

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NOW AVAILABLE in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – The “Boosting Achievement” book study along with FREE sample activities and articles in our Resource Center.

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A few weeks of whole to part…..

Last year at this time I was the English Language Acquisition Coordinator for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, in Annapolis, Maryland, supervising the educators who served the needs of a growing community of immigrant and bilingual students. Stressed and a bit weary after 6 years of navigating our political climate, I took a leap, and returned to the school setting as a mentor teacher. I needed to step away from trying to manage the whole situation until I could be reminded of the WHY and how all the parts fit together.

Part of my reasoning behind changing positions was to give myself a sort of sabbatical, a venue for visiting classrooms in a variety of content areas, spending more time with teachers, catching up on new classroom technology ideas, and learning from everyone and everything around me. This week I was inspired by a dance class where small groups choreographed the ending of a dance and performed. It was amazing.  Everyone dancedanced.  Everyone smiled.  There are five students in this class who are part of the “functional life skills” program, meaning they manage significant challenges and need extra support.  After this group performed, I had the best conversation with one of the dancers.  She said, “I can’t move as fast as they do.  I can’t roll on the floor and get back up.  I missed a few steps, but I got back in.  It was like my own solo.”  I told her how much I love her attitude and I wanted to bottle whatever it is this teacher is doing to make every student in the class embrace their solo.  This first-year teacher has truly grasped the value of relationships.  I am re-energized by the parts I see come together each day in working with new teachers as they learn to create their whole. Taking these parts that I come across and sharing them with other educators, THAT is what makes me whole.

I recently had the privilege of spending a week in Madison, Wisconsin, for the WIDA IMG_6945Licensed Trainer Institute. It was 4.5 days of intensive training on 9 different WIDA workshop and training plans.  I spent that 4.5 days with dedicated WIDA facilitators, as well as with 8 other participants from around the country. Talk about impressive!  I learned so much each day from this group.  Each person brought such a wealth of varied experiences to the room.  The program as a whole will be very strong, because each of the parts are individually amazing. Although I am still recovering from eating fried cheese curds more times that week than I’d like to admit, I am excited that I will have the opportunity to meet even more new people through the work with WIDA and WCEPS in the future.

piclabAfter a weekend of recovery from brain and cheese curd overload, I was off for a quick spin at the WIDA Conference in Tampa. Meghan Gregoire-Smith, Lindsay O’Keefe, and I presented “From Whole to Part – Early Literacy Instruction for English Learners” to a full room of participants. I fully enjoyed presenting with Meghan and Lindsay again (as we had a number of time before I left my position at the central office).  The 75 minute session flew by, as our participants were fully engaged, asking questions, sharing insights…everything a presenter could wish for at a conference (including no technology glitches!).

I am particularly proud of this presentation, because it embodies the essence of the culture of our English Language Acquisition Office in Anne Arundel County, MD, over the past 6 years. From the document correlating WIDA Performance Descriptors with Fountas and Pinnell reading levels, to the impromptu sketches explaining our approach to instruction to an assistant principal, to the professional development we designed which aligns our “whole to part” process across schools and now to the conference, our presentation represents who I am as a professional, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Collaboration. Team.  Outreach.  This one presentation represents almost two years of collaboration between the English Language Acquisition Office, the Elementary Reading Office, the Early Childhood Office, administrators, and teachers to share best practices for early literacy instruction for English learners.  While I am no longer in that office, I carry the best practices with me wherever I go and I find great reward each time I see a teacher tweet about their latest “Whole to Part” lesson.

The conference participants gave such positive feedback and encouraged us to take the “Whole to Part” messages into an online course to share with even more people. So, WE ARE!!  Lots of great work ahead and I couldn’t be more excited!

I hope you have a wonderful end to your weekend, recharged where you can notice all the parts that make your whole worthwhile.

 


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Hard writing makes easy reading…

frankToday’s blog post is written by guest blogger, Frank Bonkowski.  Frank has over 30 years of experience writing English language teaching materials, creating e-courses, and teaching English language at university, college, and high school levels.  Frank teaches at Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal, Canada.  He has co-authored nine textbooks and consulted on many projects with publishers and e-learning companies.  We are thrilled to have Frank as an online classroom partner with English Learner portal.
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Hard writing makes easy reading – an old adage

In Teaching by Principles, Brown compares swimming and writing. You might wonder, what does swimming have to do with academic writing? I am a swimmer, so I know how hard it is to swim well. I am a writer too, and it is just as difficult for me to write well.

I do sprint triathlons—a combination of swimming, biking, and running. frankswinSwimming is my weakest event because I never learned to swim correctly. Fortunately, I am a better writer than I am a swimmer.

According to psychologists, human beings easily learn how to walk and talk; learning to swim and write well is another matter. Brown states that “swimming and writing are culturally specific, learned behaviours.” We need to be taught how to swim and write.

So how do you teach academic writing to English language learners?

In today’s post, I will introduce you to a new professional development course coming soon from English Learner Portal that answers this question. It is called Teaching academic writing to intermediate and advanced English language learners.

Here are some of the issues the course will address.

  • Why is teaching academic English important?
  • How does academic English differ from conversational English?
  • What are some of the problems that English language learners face in learning to write at an acceptable level?
  • What are some effective ways to teach academic writing?

Why teach academic writing?

Let me touch on the first issue: why we should teach academic writing—with the emphasis on academic.

If you are an English language teacher in today’s language classroom, you know from experience the importance of teaching academic language as well as academic writing. In fact, it has become an important part of the curriculum.

In “Teaching secondary students to write effectively: practical guide,” Graham argues that academic English is a necessity for English language learners for achieving success both inside and outside the classroom.

However, attaining language proficiency is a long process. It takes three to five years to become orally proficient in English, and four to seven years to become proficient in academic English, according to researcher Gary Cook.

In other research findings, Graham and Perin point out that good reading and writing skills predict academic success. Having these essential skills motivates learners to stay in the classroom and not drop out. Not all English language learners will go on to higher education. However, equipped with these two skills, learners will be better able to participate more fully in society.

There are other intrinsic reasons to teach writing in the classroom as Jeremy Harmer in How to Teach English attests:

  • First, writing reinforces understanding English and keeping language in memory.
  • Second, the actual writing process is a mental activity that helps learners learn better.
  • Third, the task of writing appeals to some learners who need to see the written language and reflect on it.
  • Lastly, writing is a linguistic skill just as important as reading, listening, and speaking. In both language and content classrooms, English language learners must be able to communicate effectively.

In his practical guide, Graham states that learners need to think critically, analyze information, and express their opinions and thoughts if they are to succeed.

New Online Training course

Let me describe briefly the self-paced course that we are in the process of creating at English Learner Portal.

The five modules in the course are designed to help teachers learn and use effective strategies and techniques to teach academic writing to English language learners.

The training course has five objectives:

  • Describe critical issues in teaching academic writing to ELLs.
  • Explain why teaching academic writing to ELLs is important.
  • Demonstrate to ELLs the initial steps in planning to write.
  • Show ELLs examples of effective writing at the sentence, paragraph and text levels.
  • Illustrate to ELLs techniques for editing and revising their writing.

highlighterCourse features

Here are the main features of the training course:

  • Audiovisual presentation of the more than 25 lectures
  • Transcripts of all the lectures
  • Readings: the latest research in the field of English language teaching
  • Interviews: writing specialists share their thinking on teaching writing
  • Activities: tasks to get teachers to implement what they are learning
  • Discussion forum: teachers share their ideas with the instructor and all the teachers
  • Quizzes: self-graded
  • Self-assessments: allow teachers to to get feedback on what they’re learning
  • Graded assignments: allow teachers to get feedback from the instructor
  • Certificate of completion.

Interviews

Knowledgeable resource people will share their ideas about teaching writing:

  • Kelly Reider, founder of ELP, on Wida writing rubrics
  • Dorothy Zemach, author of “50 Ways to Practice Writing”
  • Ktwente, HS teacher, on plagiarism
  • Nick Walker, creator of the Virtual Writing Tutor, on self-correcting.

Bonus Material

An added feature is a fun section dealing with teaching English literature through film.

Downloadable teaching unit

The training course will make available to teachers —at a discount price—a downloadable teaching unit called “The Amazing World of Comics” (Soubliere, 2007).

The unit offers a number of engaging reading, listening, and speaking activities.

Learners build on these activities to create their own comic strips about a famous person or a superhero.

comics

The unit—which I created—shows learners how illustrators and authors present their creative ideas through comics. The broad areas of language learning include career planning, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

The teaching unit encourages learners to:

  • use information
  • exercise critical judgement
  • be creative adopt effective work methods
  • use information and communication Technologies
  • cooperate with other learners, and
  • communicate appropriately.

The materials include the following three components:

  • 40-page teacher guide explaining how to use the unit, including suggested answers for activities end tasks.
  • 18 student activities that teach writing, grammar, and vocabulary leading to three engaging closure projects.
  • 27-page full color teaching unit in PDF format.

School licenses will be available for teachers to use the unit in their classroom.

Stay in touch with us at Englishlearnerportal.com. Sign up for our email updates to get the latest information on the upcoming course launch date!

Relationships first….then data

In my last blog, I shared a few simple tips to welcome your newcomer English learners into your classroom.  Now that everyone is settling in, what’s next?  Getting to know who exactly is sitting in front of you!

It’s important to get to know your students as people before drawing any conclusions about their knowledge and potential.  Even if students are not proficient in English, they are coming to you with a lifetime of experiences in their first language to lean on.  Take some time to get to know their interests, their background, and how they think.  As you get to know what sparks their interest and engages them in learning, ideas for differentiation will come more easily.

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The best way to get to know your students more personally is to take the time to talk one-on-one.  This may be difficult with your beginning English proficiency students, but with the help of some visuals and manipulatives, it IS possible.  Questionnaires that allow students to use pictures, clip art, or magazine clippings as their responses are particularly helpful.  With the popularity of social media, emojis and other icons are widely understood and can help students express their feelings, likes, and dislikes.  Students can match a picture that shows an emotion to pictures of scenes, determining how the student feels about particular situations or activities.  For a few sample “getting to know you” visual sorts, please visit our free Resource Center found in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom.  In the “Newcomer/SIFE” file you will find student profile samples, sort cards, and directions you can download and use right away.  Sort cards are also quick and easy to make if you need to customize to a certain age or group.
sortcardpicPicture sorts that require students to categorize and classify items will give you insight into how a student is thinking and processing.  Sorts such as living or non-living, colors and shapes, or land features and map elements will allow students to share some of their background knowledge visually.  There are a number of sample cognitive sort and match cards in our free Resource Center as well.

classShuffleSnip

You can also combine whole class movement to be both “getting to know you” and language development activities.  For example, in our Resource Center we have a sample PowerPoint activity “Class Shuffle”, where students view a slide that asks them to decide what they like better.  The slide may show chocolate or vanilla?  Dogs or cats?  Reading or math?  Students move to the side of the room that represents their preference. Once sorted by their preference, students use the sentence frame provided to verbalize their selection with a partner or with the class. The sentence frames can be modified to match the target English proficiency level of your group.

Now that you have taken the time to get to know your students as people, people who come to your classroom full of life experiences, lessons that engage and challenge them will come easily to you, and the time spent building relationships will be time well spent!

 

NOW AVAILABLE in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “The Road to English Proficiency – First Steps in Differentiating and Scaffolding for Language” FREE 10 minute webinar along with FREE sample activities and articles in our Resource Center.

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Building Relationships with Newcomer Families

lauraThis blog post is written by guest contributor Laura Gardner.  Laura’s bio can be found at the end of this post.

It’s our favorite time of year – Back to School!  As you begin to work with your English Learner students, please don’t forget about engaging their parents.  Numerous studies have shown just how important family engagement is and the positive impact it has on student achievement.  I would argue it’s even more important for our newcomer families as they learn how we “do school” in America.  Here are three tips for building relationships with newcomer parents as you start off the school year.

The most important thing any teacher or school personnel can do is to make ALL 02i11774families feel welcome regardless of what country they’re from, what language they speak, and so on.  Regardless of one’s feelings on the immigration debate, it is important that we check our politics at the door.  So smile!  Greet parents as you would want to be greeted, even if there is a language barrier.  Feelings can easily be conveyed through body-language so smile and say hello!  Even better – learn a simple greeting in another language or two.

03A38219.jpgThe second most important thing teachers and other school personnel can do is to provide newcomer parents with some kind of orientation.  There are so many things that seem obvious to us, but could be new to some families.  For example, school busses are yellow.  Families may not know these sorts of things, so explain everything!  Be sure to also explain expectations around parent involvement because in many countries, this expectation or practice doesn’t exist.  In fact, in many countries it is considered disrespectful if a parent visits their child’s school because it is seen as challenging authority.  Orientations may be delivered in person or by video (for an example, click here).

A third necessary component to building relationships with newcomer families is interpretation and translation services.  If your district has interpretation and translation services in place, please use them!  It is not up to you to decide whether a parent needs the language assistance or not – it’s the parent’s decision and their right. If your district does not have interpretation and translation services in place, please do not use students to interpret!  This will be tempting to do, but students often do not have the vocabulary needed in both languages, nor have they been trained as interpreters.  Furthermore, it puts them in a position of power with access to information they normally wouldn’t have access to.  A second word of caution: do not use Google translate!  This will also be tempting to do, but machine translation is far from perfect and can sometimes cause more problems than good.  A colleague of mine once tried using it for a poster that said “bully free school” and Google translated to “school without killers.”

So if your district doesn’t have interpretation services, what should you do?  ing_38192_23612.jpgProbably the most reasonable temporary fix is to see if any parents or bilingual community members can volunteer their services.  However, please note this really should just be temporary solution because anyone interpreting in a school setting really needs to have their language skills assessed and needs to be trained.  Just because an individual speaks two languages does NOT mean they know how to interpret.  Interpreting is a skill set of its own that requires practice!   Furthermore, language volunteers should go through whatever procedure is typically used to screen volunteers and to ensure confidentiality.

If you’re encountering language barriers with parents and do not have access to interpretation services, the most important thing you can do is speak with your principal and someone at your school district’s central office about the need for these services and share this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education.  It explains the federal laws around providing parents with information in a language they understand.

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So there you have it.  Be welcoming, provide orientation, and provide interpreters!  Those are three suggestions to get you started for this school year.  Be on the lookout for a new online course on “Immigrant Family & Community Engagement” in the English Learner Portal Online Classroom.  It’s coming soon!

Please note: Welcoming America is sponsoring “Welcoming Week” September 15-24 and also just released a “Building Welcoming Schools” guide.  Check it out!

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Laura Gardner has 16 years of experience working in public education (MD & VA), refugee resettlement, and social work. While in public education, she worked as a district level manager for immigrant family and community engagement as well as a school social worker. Prior to working in the schools, Laura worked for Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) and managed their national technical assistance initiative to federal Refugee School Impact Grantees. Laura has facilitated trainings on building the capacity of teachers and school systems to engage immigrant families in their children’s education, language access, cultural competency, equity, unaccompanied immigrant children, immigrant family reunification, and refugee resettlement. Laura holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor’s degree in Education.

COMING SOON to the English Learner Portal Online Classroom – “Immigrant Family and Community Engagement” online course.  

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