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School Communication with ESL Homes. Jen Harris and Laura Card EDPY 413 University of Alberta. “In parents’ view, the school is the door to society at large” (J ang and McDougall, 2007). Allow parents to use the school as a space for social and academic gatherings

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school communication with esl homes

School Communication with ESL Homes

Jen Harris and

Laura Card

EDPY 413

University of Alberta

in parents view the school is the door to society at large j ang and mcdougall 2007
“In parents’ view, the school is the door to society at large” (Jang and McDougall, 2007)
  • Allow parents to use the school as a space for social and academic gatherings
  • Social spaces for parents can be created through the promotion of extracurricular activities, sporting events, family dances, or library clubs
  • Parent support groups can be created with teacher guidance and support. Such groups can be run and maintained at the school

welcoming esl parents into the school environment
Welcoming ESL Parents Into the School Environment
  • Allow parents to be volunteers in the classrooms, lunchrooms, playground, or office
  • Provide parent support groups/ ESL classes that teach cultural norms and daily routines.
  • Teachers can encourage family nights where movies are shown, games are played or holiday themes are celebrated. Such nights give parents a non- threatening opportunity to enter the school without worrying about language or their child’s achievement.
  • Provide opportunities where language is not a barrier.
Less than 50 percent of the school population are native English Speakers…Our school Communities need to adapt.

factors that inhibit esl parent communication values
Factors that Inhibit ESL Parent Communication: Values
  • Values: some cultures believe that their children are the school’s responsibility during school hours and the parents’ responsibility out of school hours; they think that the two dimensions do not interact and should be kept separate.
  • Parents who have had little or no educational experience will most likely be intimidated and overwhelmed.
  • Curriculum and teaching methodology is often different from parents’ country of origin.
  • Racial/linguistic/sexist discrimination from either side.
  • Teacher/school biases, hidden curriculum.
  • Diminished self-confidence due to previous experiences.
  • For many parents there is a deep fear of children losing their culture and religion.Parents may be more deliberate and intense in preserving cultural and religious traditions than they were in their home country.
factors that inhibit parent communication language
Factors that Inhibit Parent Communication: Language
  • Language: if parents do not speak English they are often too embarrassed or frustrated to come to the school and try to communicate with the teachers. In this circumstance, it is important that parents are made aware of their right to an interpreter.
  • Communication is hampered by educational jargon and assumptions.
  • Some parents feel that the language barrier leaves them powerless
factors that limit parent communication economic status
Factors that Limit Parent Communication: Economic Status
  • Employment: many parents have two jobs; these parents do not have the time to get involved at the school
  • Type of job(s) held often have irregular hours compared to those of other families.
  • Transportation may be difficult
  • Some parents cannot be involved because 46 percent are living in poverty, of whom, 60 percent are working poor (EMCN, 2006). These parents are preoccupied with meeting basic needs.
maslow s hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs






Belongingness & Love:

affiliation, acceptance


financial security, psychological safety


nourishment, sleep, exercise, etc.

factors that limit parent communication school resources
Factors that Limit Parent Communication: School Resources
  • Schools lack manpower
  • Schools don’t consider the reading needs of these parents.
  • Access to translators/interpreters is limited.
  • Teachers or administrators may not be adequately prepared for working with ESL parents (may be uncomfortable with open door policy and/or have no experience conversing with ESL parents).
parent reception meetings and greetings
Parent Reception Meetings and Greetings
  • Aside from the normal parent reception meeting, ESL parents need to have grade levels, curriculum, assessment methods, school supplies, intervention plans, and classroom expectations explained to them. An interpreter should be present.
  • “Conflict and miscommunication between English as Second Language parents and teachers has had a major impact on educational policy” (Gou & Mohan, 2008).
creating family literacy programs
Creating Family Literacy Programs
  • Bilingual/ family literacy programs -> library with multi-language books
  • Build conversation skills between parent and child in English
  • Read aloud
  • Home reading: exchange at parent night
    • Send home lists of recommended books
  • Invite them to access library
  • Teach technology to parents -> useful multilingual websites
  • Hobbies as a group -> cooking, games
  • Encourage them to read with their child
  • Parent and child are learning English together
parent evenings dialogue across differences gou mohan 2008
Parent Evenings“Dialogue Across Differences”(Gou & Mohan, 2008)
  • Review curriculum, policies, and assessment methods
  • Recognize first languages at parent night
  • Tour of the school, introduction to teachers
  • Students speak in L1 and L2 (1st & 2nd language) as interpreters -> validates parents’ L1
  • Parent nights help to increase understanding of the ESL program
  • Portfolios show examples of student progress
parent teacher conferencing
Parent-Teacher Conferencing
  • Empty rituals: “when conferences lack substance they turn into meaningless routines and the participants walk away feeling disappointed and cheated” (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003).
  • Send home translated information a week before so that parents can review the topics and plan their questions and comments for the teacher.
  • Follow-up verbally after written notice (or vice-versa).
  • Send home checklists of student accomplishments and records of skills and behaviors for parents to review.
  • Use the checklist information at parent-teacher interview.
parent teacher conferencing14
Parent-Teacher Conferencing
  • Portfolios to demonstrate progress and growth.
  • Student can lead/translate the beginning of the conference, but a translator should be employed for the educational or behavioral matters, to avoid awkwardness and misinformation.
  • Make a plan with parents – give them specific tasks that they will be able to do so they can supplement the students’ learning at home.
establishing teacher parent communication parameters
Establishing Teacher-Parent Communication Parameters
  • At the beginning of the year, teachers and administrators should all decide together what their home communication policies are going to be.
  • Policies should be clearly communicated to parents at the beginning of the year.
  • Schools need to ensure that home communication practices are universal throughout the school so that parents do not get confused with different teachers’ methods of communication.
eliminating language as a barrier
Eliminating Language as a Barrier
  • Ample representation of the various cultures in the school.
    • Display signs in families’ first languages (i.e., Welcome, Please report to the office, etc.)
  • Hallway signs and decorations in multiple languages
  • Take care to promote diverse cultures in your school so that your school atmosphere does not only reflect western world-views
  • Send home parent tip sheets for homework -> preferably with a translated page.
  • Scripted questions to ask about the student’s day at school or curriculum (with answers -> also enables parents to help with review).
  • Regular communication through a school agenda -> provide room for parents to write questions or concerns.
  • Familiarize yourself with families’ cultural background and values
    • CultureGrams
eliminating language as a barrier17
Eliminating Language As A Barrier
  • Send out multilingual newsletters
    • Add a section to the newsletter to thank parents who help out or to encourage parents to come and support a school event or activity.
  • Ask parents or community volunteers to act as translators or ask the ESL consulting services to provide your school with a translator.
  • Ensure that your school website has some sections or phrases that are multilingual and/or have translated pages.
  • Bilingual staff can assist as translators at school.
  • Translating all newsletters -> students can write home in their first language about what they are doing in class.
  • Multicultural materials in school displays -> multiple languages
celebrate and welcome diversity of culture and language
Celebrate and Welcome Diversity of Culture and Language


Jang (2007) demonstrates the necessity of aiding parents in “taking ownership around issues of community and celebrating different cultures that make up our school(s)”.

  • Schools can act as the middle-man to assist families in receiving family therapy and language lessons, and to help foster cultural communities among families in the school population.
  • Not only do students and parents need language skills and language instruction, they also need psychological support. They may be suffering from post-traumatic stress, grieving the loss of family members, as well as having to fit into a new community.

“Social identity in the new language and new culture is being formed, and for the time being, the new identity is fragile” (Rance-Roney, 2008)

  • Parents and students need assistance understanding the new culture, and encouragement while constructing their new Canadian identity.
  • Help parents to understand that Canadian society can support their ethnic background while they adjust to Canadian customs.
  • New language/culture/identity formation can happen within the school setting.
  • “ESL classes for the adult should be held at the same school as the kids so the whole family feels they belong in the school” - ESL father (Ladky/Stagg, 2008)
strengths of newcomer families
Strengths of Newcomer Families
  • Resiliency
  • Adaptability
  • Flexibility
  • Positive values
  • Facilitate larger perspective for all of us
recognize the school as a center of information and support
Recognize the school as a center of information and support
  • Jang and Douglas (2007) discuss how immigrant parents “face unique challenges related to settlement, language, and employment” (p. 4).
  • Outreach center lists
  • Information sessions about Canadian schooling
  • Community potlucks
  • Settlement services
  • Mental health professionals
refugee experience
Refugee Experience
  • Educational gaps hamper refugee students and parents
  • Canadian Refugees by Language Ability English speakers: 48.4 % (EMNC, 2006)
  • ‘many families are separated’ - roles have to change and this causes family dysfunction
somali parents
Somali Parents
  • In Somalia the community raises the children - not just the nuclear family.
    • implications for school: it’s our responsibility too
  • ‘Father the bread winner’
  • ‘Mother is caretaker/educator’
  • ‘there are now many single Somali mothers because of fathers lost in war or divorce once in Canada due to new stresses’
pre assessment process and home visits
Pre-Assessment Process and Home Visits
  • “Observing language use in context allows educators to see how students actually use the relatively compartmentalized skills measured by formal tests” (Herrera, Murry, & Morales-Cabral, 2007).
  • Home visits allow parents to share their child’s educational history, their personal observations, and explain their child’s linguistic abilities in their first language.
  • Home visits can provide alternative evidence of skills (a Kindergarten student sorting sock colours opposed to sorting blocks at school).
  • Observing student interactions with family, who share the same linguistic-cultural basis, demonstrates true linguistic abilities.
  • Whenever possible, home visits should include an interpreter in so that the majority of the visit can be in the student’s first language.
  • It is essential that teachers make their assessment approaches clear to both students and parents before assessment is done.
  • Positive feedback is key to building confidence in students and increasing interest in parents.
  • Frequent feedback helps students take responsibility for their own learning.
  • ELLs’ dropout rates are much higher than Canadian-born students (60% in Edmonton Catholic in 1999) / decreased enrollment in provincially-examinable high school courses (Toohey & Derwing, 2008).
communicating assessment to esl parents
Communicating Assessment to ESL Parents
  • ESL report card used in addition to an ESL parent night
  • At parent night -> show samples of levels 1-4 students’ writing, speaking, etc.
  • Involve parents in the ESL Intervention Plan
  • ESL Assessment Portfolio: parental input about strengths/academic goals/aspirations the parent has for the child
language proficiency assessment
Language Proficiency Assessment
  • ELLs need to be able to assess their language proficiency so that they can communicate strengths and challenges to their parents.
  • Reading checklists with easy-to-understand vocabulary help parents to see their child’s language growth, strengths and challenges.
tips for planning a home visit
Tips for planning a Home Visit
  • Verbally set up a home visit time and then follow-up with written communication about date and time.
  • Send home language proficiency checklist and Home Skills Survey in advance, so that parents can prepare questions.
  • Book an interpreter well in advance.
if home visits do not work for your school
If Home Visits Do Not Work For Your School…
  • Provide child-care during parent-teacher conferences.
  • Have ESL parent-teacher conferences at a different time than the school- wide conferences.
  • Designate a school area as an ESL resource room where parents can gather, get educational and cultural information and sign out reading materials.
  • Invite police, fire, medical and social services personnel to conference night to explain their roles in the community.
special education referrals
Special Education Referrals
  • When notifying parents of Special Education concerns, ensure that consent forms or meetings are accurately translated.
  • Ensure that Special Education testing is assessed in the student’s first language.
  • Always consider the ethical dilemma of how long the student has been in Canada and their previous educational background.
useful websites
Useful Websites
  • CultureGrams
  • Grasslands Public Schools
    • Brooks, Alberta -> comprehensive language resources
  • People for Education
    • Ontario group of parents working to support public education -> where grasslands gets a lot of its materials
  • Coalition for Equal Access to Education
  • Colorin Colorado
    • American site, primarily English/Spanish but with good reading resources
more useful websites
More Useful Websites
  • UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
    • Great source of information and lesson plans
    • -> interactive online game
    • -> educational tool/ simulation game to promote understanding of the experience of refugees
useful organizations
Useful Organizations
  • NAARR Northern Alberta Alliance on Race Relations
    • Professional Development: Cultural Crossroads
    • Classroom resources
  • EISA Edmonton Immigrant Services Association
    • Programs and Services
      • Language Bank -> translation services
  • Catholic Social Services
    • Counseling, sponsorship, language instruction, etc.
  • Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
    • Language & cultural brokers
    • Counseling
    • Language instruction

Basitani, John. (1997). Home-school work in multicultural settings. Melksham: David Fulton Publishers.

Calgary board of Education, Curriculum Support Department. (2005)English as a Second Language: English Language Proficiency. Benchmarks 1-9, 2nd Edition.

Campey, J. (2002). Immigrant children in our classrooms: Beyond ESL. Education Canada,42(3).

Retrieved from

Chavkin, N (Ed.). (1993). Families and schools in a pluralistic society. Albany: State University of New York.

Cheng, L. & Wang, X. (2007).Grading, feedback, and reporting in ESL/EFL classrooms. Language Assessment Quarterly, 4(1), 85-107.

Colombo, M. (2004). Family literacy nights...and other home-school connections. Educational Leadership, 61(8), 1-6.

Culturally Responsive Teaching.(2006). Teaching diverse learners: Equity and excellence for all.

Retrieved November 10, 2008, from


Edmonton Mennonite Center for Newcomers. (2006).Cultural Diversity Information Session.Retrieved from the ESL Conference, April, 2007.

Gou, Y. & Mohan, B. (2008). ESL parents and teachers: Towards dialogue? Language and Education, 22(1), 17-33.

Guofang, L. (2006) Culturally contested pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York.

Herrera, S., Murry, K. & Morales-Cabral, R. (2007). Assessment accommodations for classroom teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Columbus: Allyn and Bacon/Merrill Education.

Jang, E. & McDougall, D. (2007). Lessons Learned From Schools Facing Challenging Circumstances. Orbit,36(3), 22-25.

Kauffman, E., Perry, A. & Prentiss, D. (2001). Reasons For and Solutions to Lack of Parent Involvement of Parents of Second Language Learners. Opinion Papers, US Department of Education.

Retrieved from content_storage_01/0000019b/80/19/74/3f.pdf

Ladky, M. & Stagg-Peterson, S. (2008).Successful practices for immigrant parent involvement: An Ontario perspective. Multicultural Perspectives,10(2), 822-910.


Law, B. & Eckes, M. (1995). Assessment and ESL. Winnipeg, MB: Penguis.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara. (2003). The essential conversation: What parents and teachers can learn from each other. New York: Random House.

Moretti, S. (1991). School welcomes ESL parents with a special night devoted to world languages. Ottawa Board of Education: Curriculum Review,31(2), 1-4.

Rance-Roney, J. (2008). Creating intentional communities to support English language learners in the classroom. English Journal,91(5), 17-22.

Scott, J. (2001). A Study of the Settlement Experiences of Eritrean and Somali Parents in Toronto. Ontario Administration of Settlement and Integration Services.

Retrieved from


Shariff, S. (2006). Balancing competing rights: A stakeholder model for democratic schools. Canadian Journal of Education,29(2), 476-497.

Toohey, K. & Derwing, T. (2008). Hidden losses: How demographics can encourage incorrect assumptions about ESL high school students’ success. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 54(2),178-193.

Window, C. (2003). Helping parents learn English: Tips for parents. Reading Today, 20(4), 17.