Lorna Anderson, an English as an Additional Language teacher based in Glasgow, has taken time out from her dissertation writing and written a blog for us about her work with the families of the children she supports.
I have recently completed the Post Graduate Certificate in Supporting Bilingual Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. We had to carry out a project that addressed concerns we had around supporting EAL learners. Where I worked at the time, parents with limited English language rarely engaged with the school. I talked to these parents at parents’ night and found that they lacked confidence and didn’t believe they could be involved in their child’s learning due to the language barrier. Supporting their children with homework was the biggest issue, as it was generally the traditional tasks such as spelling and writing sentences. Parents prioritised their child’s ability to use English and placed little value on their own first language. I decided to run a series of workshops, with help from interpreters, for these parents on supporting their children with homework. I focused very much on the positives, what parents could do to help.
Firstly, we looked at the reading books that went home and the types of literacy skills they could develop with them using the visuals – regardless of what language the words were written in; skills such as making predictions, recounting the story, speculating and sequencing. I emphasised that developing the ability to make reasoned predictions, for example, is the same skill no matter what language it is in, and that research had proven that you can transfer concepts to a second language effectively if they are embedded in the first. We practiced asking good questions, and the children had the opportunity to come and work with their parent(s) on the aspect we had been looking at that day.
Secondly, it was important to emphasise the value of maintaining first language at home. I made up a series of story packs, which contained a dual language story with supporting games and props. Parents could use these in the same way as the homework reading books to develop literacy skills, plus use the dual language text to share stories and talk about them together at home. These were loaned out weekly and swapped for a new one the following. They were a great success, and very popular with both parents and children!
The parents all said they felt much more confident at the end of the project and were very grateful for the support. Some of them came into school later that year to read stories in their own languages to different classes – something they said they wouldn’t have even considered before. That was the best outcome I could have hoped for!