In the Classroom with Liliana X. Aguas: Promote Parental Engagement
Many barriers stand in the way of parental engagement. One very dangerous barrier is a deficit view of ELL students and their parents. Deficit perspectives may lead educators to believe that linguistically and culturally diverse students and their families lack the know-how to succeed in school and don't value education. Instead, educators should consider and remedy their own deficiencies when it comes to serving and understanding diverse populations and should create a learning environment that is caring, inviting, and receptive to all parents. I have found that a warm smile is the first step toward toppling potential barriers, including language. It doesn't matter whether you speak the same language; what parents want is the opportunity to be part of their children's academic success.
To effectively engage my ELL parents, I have adopted three practices that have resulted in increased parental interest and participation in my classroom. These three activities are designed to make parents feel welcome as partners in their children's learning in spite of language barriers.
CafecitosLast year I began to host Cafecitos, or coffee time, with my Spanish-speaking parents. I drafted colorful invitations and sent them home with students to give to their parents. I use Cafecitos to connect and build a trusting and caring relationship with my ELL parents. I usually don't have an agenda and instead offer this time to answer any questions that parents may have about school. For instance, at our last meeting, parents asked me to describe the difference between ELL and English as a second language.
Cafecitos also allow parents to network with one another and share information about resources that can benefit other families. At a previous Cafecito, one of the parents shared information about enrolling younger siblings in preschool and where to get free parenting classes and babysitting jobs. Parents also share ideas with one another about how best to support their children academically and socially. When appropriate, I use Cafecitos to share math and reading strategies that parents can use at home to assist their children.
P Is for Publishing PartyOne of my colleagues shared how much his 4th graders had enjoyed having a publishing party where students shared their published essays with one another. To celebrate their writing accomplishments, his whole class came dressed in pajamas, drank pineapple juice, and munched on pretzels and popcorn. I fell in love with the idea and decided that it would be an ideal opportunity for my students to showcase their writing accomplishments to their parents. Valentine's Day was around the corner, so I decided to host an "I heart publishing" party.
I sent out bilingual invitations asking parents to attend our writing celebration. Students wore "I heart publishing" paper crowns and read their published writing aloud to their peers and parents. Although most parents did not understand what their children were reading, they were glowing with pride. Opening the doors of our classroom for special activities such as this makes parents feel welcome despite existing language barriers.
Family MathYou won't always be able to speak directly with your ELL parents, but you can always defer to math. Math is the universal language simply because the principles of arithmetic are the same throughout the world: one plus one always equals two no matter what language you speak. Take advantage of this universal language and invite your ELL parents to partake in math activities in your classroom.
I place simple math games at each group table in our classroom and invite parents to come play them with their children. Teams of parents and their children visit each table to play a different math game. Each game focuses on a specific math skill and strategy. To ensure that all parents will be able to participate, I teach my students the rules of all the games in advance so that they can teach their parents in case I have difficulty communicating with them.
In my classroom, I subscribe to an "assets-based" teaching pedagogy and reject deficit-based ideologies that view ELLs as "bundles of deficiencies" that have nothing to offer to their learning community. I also reject the myth that parents of my ELL students don't value education, a myth that has been debunked by many studies demonstrating that linguistically and culturally diverse parents are deeply concerned about the education of their children. In my experience, linguistically and culturally diverse parents have a lot to offer, not only to their children but also to our entire learning community.