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.