This post has been excerpted from Teaching English Language Learners Across the Content Areas (ASCD, 2010) by Judie Haynes and Debbie Zacarian
The increasing population of linguistically and culturally diverse students in our schools poses a challenge for classroom teachers who need to communicate with their families. Parents of English language learners (ELLs) may not be familiar with the practice of meeting with their child’s teacher and do not know what is expected of them during a parent-teacher conference. Many classroom teachers do not know how to communicate with parents who do not speak English and who are not familiar with U.S. school practices. The aim of this blog is to help you hold productive conferences with the parents of the English language learners in your classroom.
Advance planning can make your conference successful. Conferences with parents of English language learners require preparation. First, you need to determine whether a translator is needed. Many parents do not speak English well enough to understand what you are saying so it is important to the success of a conference to contact a translator for parents who need one. If your school does not provide translators, ask parents to bring a bilingual family member. Siblings, or worse yet, the child herself, should never be used to translate for the parents. When a translator is needed, the meeting time should be lengthened to ensure that there is enough time for the teacher to provide information and answer questions.
Notify parents in native language. You will want to provide a translated notice to parents with the beginning and ending times of the conference. An oral invitation in native language should also be issued so that parents who are not literate are informed of the conference. Assemble samples of the student’s work to share with parents.
Assemble student work to show parents.Have a solid understanding of the student’s current English proficiency level and prepare to provide samples of this during the meeting. Try to schedule the conferences so that both parents can attend. In some cultures, the father must be included since no important decisions are made without his agreement.
Greet parents at the door. You want body language to reflect a receptive attitude. Walk to the door of your classroom to greet parents as they come into your room just as you would greet guests in your home. Do not greet them from across the room behind your desk. This does not convey a welcoming attitude.
Consider the physical set-up of your conference space. A face-to face setting may be too confrontational for parents of some cultures. Arrange chairs so that your body is at a 45-degree angle to the parents. Place the parent between yourself and the translator.
How to include parents in a translated conference. During the conference you should speak in short uncomplicated sentences and stop so that the translator can translate for parents every few sentences. If you do not stop speaking every few sentences, your whole message will not be conveyed. Do not use educational jargon. Avoid speaking directly to the translator. Include the parent in the conversation. When you ask the parent questions, give the translator time to talk to the parents. It is imperative for you not to misinterpret parents’ meaning if they don’t make eye contact. In the U.S we feel that someone who doesn’t look us in the eye is untrustworthy. People from some cultures consider making eye contact confrontational. Sitting at a 45-degree angle to the parent helps minimize the amount of eye contact.
When parents are actively involved in the education of their children, those children are more likely to make good grade and test higher on standardized tests. They will attend school more regularly, be less likely to drop out. This is a worthy goal that teachers can strive for when they have effective conferences with the parents of English language learners.