Empowering Parents by Flipping Support for ELLs

All parents can relate to the school setting one way or another.  They all studied Math, Science, Social Studies; they had recess, lunch time, made friends, broke the rules; they had great teachers and good memories, and they also had struggles, all of which formed the people they are today.  So when we meet with parents to talk about their child, they will have a frame of reference to what their children experience in school on a daily basis.  However, in an international school, to a parent of an EAL student, this point of reference is completely different.  Very few will have attended a school where they didn’t speak the language of instruction.

In my years of experience as an EAL support teacher, I have found that the trickiest support is the one given to parents.  Many parents of EAL students don’t speak English or speak very little, and therefore feel that they can’t support their child’s language development.  So how do we build this bridge?  What do we tell a parent of an EAL student when they ask “How can I help my child at home?” And no, watching TV in English, hiring tutors and/or translating texts is NOT what we should be advising.   We need to empower parents and let them know they can be active participants in their child’s learning, regardless of whether they speak English.

So let’s flip it.

The first and foremost rule of second language (L2) acquisition is the development and reinforcement of the first language (L1).   In reality, schools cannot offer bilingual instruction to each and every student in an international school.  A program like this would be impossible to sustain!  And that’s where the parents come in.  Here’s an example:

G5 students are reading ‘Stone Fox’ by John Reynolds Gardiner.  It’s a tricky read for students who are not very familiar with American culture, but it’s a moving story with strong characters and a great ending.   This is the students’ required reading for a book club.

Here are some ideas about how to flip it:

  • Before starting the book club, I ask students to research the book synopsis in their L1 and collect any information they gather.  Wikipedia.org is a good resource since it provides options in other languages for many of their pages.
  • As homework, they are to take the information they collected and have a conferring session with mom or dad.  I ask them to go over their research and make predictions together.  All in their first language.
  • If there’s a concept like ‘dogsledding’ that might be tricky to understand, I front load these concepts and ask them to translate them and ask their parents to tell them what they know about the concept.  Again, all in their first language.
  • As book clubs are underway and we read the book in class, I tell parents to confer with their child about their reading (check out these useful multi-language bookmarks by Bonnie Campbell-Hill).  You guessed it, all in their first language.
  • And for those parents who want to go the extra mile? How about finding a copy of the book in their L1? Actually, I ask parents to keep grade level texts at home in L1, both fiction and nonfiction.  Also important to remember, all EAL students in all grade levels are attending said grade level for the first time in any language!  Support in L1 at home is invaluable for their learning as a whole, not just their L2 acquisition and development.

I strongly believe that flipping instruction is not just about using technology tools, but rather all tools that support learning.  By actively involving parents in their child’s learning, students are being provided with opportunities to learn concepts and understand content even if their language is still developing, and parents are being empowered by making their support at home a crucial part of their child’s language development.

By flipping ELL support, students take charge of their own learning.  They become engaged and make a symbiotic connection between what they learn at school in their L2 and how they reinforce it at home in their L1, resulting in the equal development of both.

Time to Play!

Let’s be honest.  Games are super fun.  I like them.  I’m sure you like them too, reader.  But when played in the classroom, sometimes, most of the time, they don’t look like ‘conventional teaching’.

And that is a good thing.

As most of the readings on gamification state, using games in education is not a novelty.  Educators all over the world have been using educational games for decades in order to engage their students.  I remember when I used to teach English to adults back in the start of my career, the one thing that would get my class going at at 8pm was a quick language game.  There was this competitive streak, innate to all human beings, to participate, learn quickly and beat the other opponent/team.  It was awesome.  And whether I did it for a short time at the beginning to get everyone going or as a formative assessment to check how much they  had acquired, everyone had fun and that was my main goal.

Enter 21st century technology.  Back then, the only technology I used for gaming was flyswatters on a whiteboard, where students had to swat the past participle of an irregular verb I called out… I’m literally laughing out loud as I remember how awesome it was 🙂

Gaming in classrooms, especially one-to-one environments, cannot escape the use of gaming for learning.  There is so much out there that engages students of all ages!  It also allows students to acquire skills that make them feel successful.  For instance, an ELL playing PopWords against an opponent in his class or anywhere else in the world, doesn’t have to worry about making mistakes with a word they don’t know.  Rather they get to explore the different ways they can form words, and when they form a word they don’t know, they quickly learn it in order to use it in the future and become ‘better’ at playing the game.  It’s a win, win situation.

Although this might be a very simple way of looking at gamification for education as I know there are all sorts of games out there that reinforce all kinds of learning in all subjects, I think the most important aspect of gaming is the engagement of our learners.  If a game can present students with situations where they have to think in different ways, see things from different perspectives, use diverse problem-solving skills and challenge themselves to learn new things, I can certainly see the relevance, or even importance of gaming in any classroom.



Moving up the SAMR Ladder

It’s almost impossible to explain my absence during course 4, except that it started with this back in October:

(info@coetail, this should explain the weird email…)

And ended yesterday celebrating my 32 years of life.  Yes, it’s been a month hiatus that I will try to make up for in 1 week.  I do, in fact, have a lot to say and reflect upon in Course 4.  So let’s go, ha-tee-ho!

As many of you COETAILers out there know, my school Shekou International School, as a whole has been moving up the SAMR model ladder. Just our hashtag #SISRocks has trended (in fact, it’s the most trended international school hashtag in the Asia South-Pacific region) since mid-2012, and has redefined our professional sharing practices, both among our staff and with other schools/colleagues/classrooms in the international school community.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in our practice.  Everywhere you turn on our campuses, learning is being redefined.

When asked to reflect on my practice and how the English language learner support is also being transformed at SIS, I don’t know where to start!  So much has changed as language barriers and the students’ exposure to, and the opportunities to develop language (both academic and social) are now endless due to global connectivity.  So here are some examples about what this transformation looks like, and how it continues to evolve and climb that ladder step by step:

  • Augmentation – Using A+Pro or other flashcard apps to make individualized word banks that include images, audio, links to web and a daily practice reminder.


  • Modification – Using the CONFER app to combine WIDA Can-Do descriptors and the TCRWP teaching points, to assess ELLs.


  • Redefinition – Using Padlet to create a ‘wall of walls’ to collaborate on vocabulary learning and learning.

The tricky part about me reflecting upon this as ‘my practice’ is that it’s doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to them, the students.  I may guide them into using the tool, but it is them who redefine their learning through the use of the tool.  For the Padlet, for instance, I may think of the endless ways it can be used for students to develop their vocabulary.  I may also suggest to them what they can do and how to take it further.  But it is really in their application of the tool that will show me its capacity (and/or limitations).  It is the exploration of the strategy through the tool and how each learner uses/applies it that will truly be the real redefinition.

Again, just the tip of the iceberg in what truly is to be a 21st century learner as well as a 21st century educator.  So I climb this SAMR ladder with my learners every day.  I see them climb it as well, sometimes without even realizing it, they enhance and transform their learning.

Looking for Info Online – Video

A while ago I made a video for students, which explains how to look for information online in different reading levels and for ELLs to search in their L1 (first language).  After sharing it with other teachers and students, I’ve found that a quick video like this can have such  an impact if shared at the right time.  I recently resent it to G5 students to help them in researching for a Social Studies project.

Feel free to share this video with your students and colleagues.  The target audience is grades 4-5, but could be helpful for grades 3-8.



I bet it happened to you as well fellow COETAILer.  The email from Jeff came in to your notifications and you took a deep breath, as I did, and exhaled the words ‘Here we go…’

So here we are.  As Jeff says, we’re in this together.  I’ll start.  My name is Ceci (SEH-SEE), short for Cecilia.  Yup, like the song.  (Bet you won’t be able to get the tune out of your head for the rest of the evening).  I’m currently working at Shekou International School, in China (#SISRocks) as the coordinator of the EAL program, as well as support teacher for grades 4-5 who are currently on 1:1 iPads.  I love my job and I’m passionate about what I do.  And now, the newest addition to my professional passion is COETAIL.  I can’t think of a better way to jump on the fast-moving eLearning train than by doing this course.  I’m excited and can’t wait to go on this journey.

What about you? Who are you and why are you here?  Looking forward to your blogs 🙂

Let the COETAILing begin!