Saturday, May 22, 2010

Holding an Effective Conference with Parents of ELLs - Part 1

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.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ten Strategies for Teaching Study Skills to English Language Learners

English language learners (ELLs) need to learn specific strategies to prepare them to take tests. These strategies are most effective if they are built into instruction.
1. Teach students to study actively. They are more likely to remember material if it is written down or if they say it out loud than if it is only read or heard. Give plenty of opportunities to students for active study.
2. Make sure your students really comprehend the material they are studying. You do not want them to memorize facts without really understanding them. If they understand the material, they will be able to remember it better.
3. Assess prior knowledge so that you can connect new material to something your students already know. Teach students to make this connection themselves. You want to foster independent learners.
4. Have students create their own examples when trying to understand and remember a general concept. This not only helps students remember the concept better, but also helps them check their own understanding.
5. Teach students to visualize what they're trying to learn. Have them create a mental image or organize information on a graphic organizer.
6. Show ELLs how to pick out the most important concepts. They will not be able to memorize everything in a unit. They need to learn to pay attention to the information the teacher indicates is important. Demonstrate to ELLs how teachers signal important information. It could be written on the board, repeated many times or prefaced with words such as "This is important."
7. Set reasonable goals for the material that English language learners should be responsible for. Teachers can adapt tests to fairly assess what ELLs. There is no point in their memorizing a list of spelling words, for example, if they do not understand what the words mean.

How to memorize material effectively

ELLS need to learn to space study sessions so that they are not overwhelmed by the language demands and the content material to be mastered at the same time. They will be more apt to remember material if it is studied over several days (or weeks) rather than in a single session. Here are some "tricks" to help memorization.

8. Categories: Have students learn how to group items into categories in order to memorize them. If they have a long list of things to memorize, show them how to group similar items together.
9. Key words: To learn this list of reasons why an event in history occurred, show students how to pick out a key word for each reason and then learn just the key words.
10. Teach students mnemonic devices. These can be short rhymes or poems to help students remember lists or facts. Remember that mnemonic devices can also be visual or kinestetic. I recommend Flocabulary's list of rhymes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nine Postulates of U.S. Culture

In 1969 Francis Hsu wrote an excellent little book, The Study of Literate Civilizations, where he attempted to develop a basic working philosophy of U.S. culture to a series of postulates. Hsu was an anthropologist who lived half his life in China and half in the United States. The raw material for identification of these postulates comes from his personal experience, both literary and popular prose, social science studies, and studies of crime and other forms of societal breakdown.

Here are nine of Hsu's Postulates of Basic American Values:

1. An individual's most important concern is self-interest: self- expression, self-improvement, self-gratification, and independence. This takes precedence over all group interests.

2. The privacy of the individual is the individual's inalienable right. Intrusion into it by others is permitted only by invitation.

3. Because the government exists for the benefit of the individual and not vice-versa, all forms of authority, including government, are suspect. But the government and its symbols should be respected. Patriotism is good.

4. An individual's success in life depends upon acceptance among his or her peers.

5. An individual should believe in or acknowledge God and should belong to an organized church or other religious institution. Religion is good. Any religion is better than no religion.

6. Men and women are equal.

7. All human beings are equal.

8. Progress is good and inevitable. An individual must improve himself or herself (minimize efforts and maximize returns); the government must be more efficient to tackle new problems; institutions such as churches must modernize to make themselves more attractive.

9. Being American is synonymous with being progressive, and America is the utmost symbol of progress.

How much of Hsu's selection of U.S. cultural items was provoked by the particular way the items contrasted to the Chinese norm that Hsu expected to find in the United States? We must remember when reading this list that it reflects the observations and study of an anthropologist who was bought up in another culture.

My question to you is how do these postulates measure up to what Americans are in 2010? Please comment.