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!
This is a guest blog from Robert McGill (Teacher of English as an Additional Language South Ayrshire Council) sharing the work South Ayrshire has done to engage with parents who are new to Scotland.
On Friday 28th November, 2014 we had one of the best experiences of our teaching careers when we held the first English as an Additional Language (EAL) Parent Forum in South Ayrshire. Approximately 55 parents made the extra effort to come to the John Pollock Centre in Ayr to tell us about their and their children’s experiences in our schools. It was an excellent forum to get to know each other a little bit better.
Everyone was excited about this event particularly when we saw the invitation letter acceptances coming back in such big numbers. 12 languages were represented on the day: Spanish, Tagalog, Punjabi, Visayan, Swahili, Yoruba, Greek, Turkish, Russian, Nepali, Polish and English. We had sent the invitations out to parents in the home languages as well as in English and the parents made special mention of this telling us that they really appreciated our efforts to use their home languages. Of the 12 languages represented there was a request for four interpreters: Punjabi, Spanish, Nepali and Polish which we were able to provide. These interpreters played such an important role in helping everyone to communicate and share with each other.
As this was our first ever parent forum we were to have we looked at what the issues and concerns of parents are from carrying out a search of the internet. We found the ‘Bilingual Matters’ website to be a wealth of information as they have worked extensively with bilingual parents and have kindly shared their findings and experiences. We also found the British Council EAL Nexus website very useful and we adapted information gained from these websites to provide information to help parents understand the Scottish education system and supporting bilingualism.
As we delivered our talk, which highlighted the importance of developing the home language at home and that parents didn’t need to speak English at home, you could see relief appearing on the parents’ faces. More important than focusing on English is the quality of communication within the family. We talked about the challenges of families with bilingual siblings with sometimes the older sibling wanting to speak English and how this affected the younger brothers’ and sisters’ use and development of the home language. Our core message was that bilingualism was positive and advantageous for all young people.
The core message from the parents was that having specialist language teachers helped their children to learn English and to settle into school life. The parents also told us that they liked and valued the bilingual books which we send home to help parents and children develop the home language and which we have in schools as a way to value and an opportunity to use home languages. The parents told us that interpretation in the schools is fundamental to help them communicate with class teachers and schools. Bilingual parents would like more EAL support available in schools, they would like more support for developing English at home and they wanted easier access to the EAL teacher.
We now have EAL information leaflets translated into some of our home languages which have the contact details for each EAL teacher. We were able to receive funding from South Ayrshire to have key school documents translated into Polish. We have created management advice for translated documents. We have increased our bilingual books library. We are going to continue to have an annual EAL Parents Forum. It was a great day which the parents and EAL staff enjoyed and in which we both learned so much.
Here are some of the information leaflets created for EAL parents
For most families moving to the UK, the first communities they come into contact with are their children’s schools. But becoming a part of the school community can be a challenge.
The Gathered Together project (run by BEMIS, a body supporting the development of Scotland’s ethnic minorities voluntary sector, and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council) works with parents from ethnic minorities to get them more involved with their schools and with their children’s learning.
Says Lorraine Dougan, head teacher at Golfhill primary in Glasgow, where over a third of the pupils don’t have English as a first language.: “Parents who speak little English are often less confident about coming into the school, which means that they tend not to come to parents’ nights, school events . . . and this means they are missing out on really important aspects of their child’s learning and being part of that wider school community.”
In Gathered Together’s conversations with parents, language, confidence and lack of information come up time and time again as barriers stopping them taking a more active role in their children’s school.
When you’re not confident in you language even the simplest contact with school can be stressful. We met one mum who spoke about how difficult it was for her to phone the school to say her child was sick.
The Scottish education system is also different from other cultures. Many countries have regular tests so that parents know where their child stands in relation to their classmates, and some parents find it disconcerting that this is not the practice in Scotland.
There’s a real need to engage with parents who are new to Scotland so that they understand how their children are being taught and how to support them- and reassure them that their children are learning. In an effort to engage with the parents who speak English as an additional language (EAL), Marilyn Gordon, Golfhill’s EAL teacher, started a “learning together club”. This group gives parents the chance to work with their children, see how they are being taught and learn ways of supporting their children’s learning.
Gordon says that when parents came to school and worked with her, “the confidence levels of the children just were obviously going up and up and up. The expression on their faces when they knew that their parent had come into school to work with them – they were absolutely delighted.
“It shows that the parents and teacher are working together and the children could see that the parents were part of the school life, that it was a place for families and not just for children.”
Getting parents involved in their children’s school has a massive impact on the whole family. One parent talked to us about the challenges posed by her children growing up in a culture different from her own and how getting involved in the school helped bridge that gap and gave her an understanding of the world her sons were living in.
Another mother at Wynford Nursery in Maryhill said that getting involved in a parents group run by the nursery helped her feel less isolated by giving her the chance to make friends with other parents, find out about local clubs and services – it gave her a sense of belonging.
Maria, a parent at Golfhill Primary, is originally from Bulgaria and is now firmly part of the school community, and is involved in the Families in Partnership Programme and the Parent Council. She’s incredibly positive about the importance of getting involved: “To be involved in the school here makes a big difference for my daughter because she sees me in school, she sees that I’m taking part in the Parent Council and she’s really proud.
“She says, ‘Oh, this is my mum, she’s doing this and that in school’. I know the teachers very well and I can have a chat with them anytime- so it’s like a small family- the school is my family”
Taken from an article on Gathered Together from Migrant Voice http://www.migrantvoice.org/voices/pagenews/the-gathered-together-project.html
For Mother’s day we’ve been thinking about all the wonderful mothers we’ve met over the past two years of the project. In our interviews with parents we’ve been asking them to give advice to parents in their first language and wanted to share some of the words of wisdom we’ve been gathering.
Ahlam was a member of Oakgrove Primary Parent Council in Glasgow. She’s been really active member of her community and has helped the school to reach out to all parents, particularly those from ethnic minorities. Ahlam is from Algeria and here she gives advice in her native Arabic
Ji Bian (or Jessie as she is called in Scotland) is a parent at Wyndford Nursery in Glasgow, she’s been involved in the “Well Chosen Words” project which the nursery ran in partnership with Maryhill Integration Network, supporting parents to find the right words and help each other to access local services and activities. She has helped the nursery with translating signs into Chinese and interpreting for parents who are less confident in their English. Here’s her advice to parents in Chinese
Bushra is one of the volunteers at St Albert’s Primary’s Bilingual story telling group. The bilingual story telling group gives children a chance to hear stories in English and Urdu, celebrating the mother tongue. Here she talks about her experience of getting involved in the group and gives advice to parents in Urdu.
What advice would you give parents? We would love to hear from you
It is difficult for children coming into a class where they don’t know anyone, it is even harder when that child has little or no English. While lots of children adapt brilliantly to the new culture, the first while can be challenging when they are not able to communicate and join in with the rest of their class. Marion Stempczyk and Kayee Chui from Falkirk’s Bilingual and Traveller Pupil Support Service (BaTPSS) explained to us the importance of being able to meet with the children and their family before they started school- to give them the opportunity to assess the children’s English level, explain how things work in the Scottish education system and so that the BaTPSS team can help the school get ready for the new students.
We have heard some wonderful stories about teachers who taught the class how to say “hello” in Chinese, so that the new student would be welcomed in his own language and straight away get a feeling of belonging. However, as Marion explained, a lot of teachers are unsure how best to work with students who arrive from a different culture, with limited English and different experiences of school. How can teachers make sure that a child feels included in the class when they don’t have the language skills to join in?
This is where the BaTPSS team come in, as well as helping the children develop their English, Marion and Kayee work with the teachers to help them understand what it is like for the children and how they can support them in the classroom. English as an Additional Language services are only able to support children for a limited period of time and it’s essential that the classroom teachers have the skills to be able to support children who have English as an additional language in their learning.
Here is Marion talking about the work they do with teachers