Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tips for Connecting with Non-English Speaking Parents

I currently work with an English Language Learner (ELL) whose parents are learning English as well. When I came across Anabel Gonzalez's article, Tips For Connecting with Non-English-Speaking Parents, I immediately picked it up. As a former ELL herself she has seen this part of school from both sides- student and teacher. She offers six tips for working with parents.
  1.  Listen and learn- all people from the same ethnic group are not the same. We acknowledge regional differences among US citizens, both in dialect and culture. My Tennessee raised niece in law talked about dressing rather than stuffing at Thanksgiving. Having taught in Hawaii, I can tell you their pigeon dialect takes some getting used to. This is true of people from other countries as well. We need to learn the specifics of our student's families rather than generalize.
  2. Use technology. I have heard mixed reviews about Google Translation but it is better than nothing. The author recommends its use. She also highlights how Remind and Classdojo now have some translation features that could be useful when sending out class newsletters, reminders and School notes. Often non-English speaking parents report not attending school functions because they don't know about them. We need to eliminate language as a barrier to being able to participate.
  3. Use standard English. Getting rid of slang and idioms means translation tools work better and help our learners understand what we are talking about. This is true for our kids on the Autism spectrum and those with language issues as well. Further we are the only role model of standard English some of our students may have. It's just a good habit.
  4. Smiles are understood by all. Friendly faces are welcoming. We can use this to get us off on the right foot.
  5. Stay connected. We communicate with parents in many ways throughout the year. Notes home, phone calls, newsletters, report cards, personal visits achieve a great deal and create a positive environment for all. We cannot avoid reaching out to our Non-English parents because it is hard. We need to put in the effort. It pays off for everyone.
  6. Push politics aside. Today this is especially poignant. Yesterday presidential candidate, Donald Trump, suggested preventing all Muslims from entering the country. This rhetoric is bad for everyone. No matter the politics we need to evenhandedly reach out to all our parents. Perhaps especially those who are likely to experience prejudice in other places. Compassion builds bridges that unite and spread peace whereas fear, anger, and distrust inhibit it. We need to be the ambassadors of our country and its legacy of diversity rather than Nativists who breed discontent.
These guidelines are, in many ways, common sense. Many are what we do with our students' parents in general. We just need to be even more aware of our communication and work to be communicating rather than talking to hear ourselves speak or, even worse, not talking at all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

higher standards or higher graduation rates

Long have I argued that our testing regime has a split personality; until it decides what it wants to be it will be unsuccessful at the various things it is asked to do. Goals for our tests range from determining who is ready for college to how good is your teacher to raising the bar so that students will perform better to increasing our graduation rates. Is the test a higher bar that we want our students to strive to achieve or a minimum standard they should all pass?

With this viewpoint I have been amused by the conundrum presented to the New York State Department of Education as reported in the New York Times and an Ed Week blog. They issued requirements for students to pass algebra with a higher grade than previously required (a 74 instead of a 65). Then they switched to the Common Core versions of our state tests, which, many argue, are harder. Many students needed to attempt the earlier algebra test 4 or 5 times in order to achieve a passing grade. When we raise the minimum grade, what will happen to them then. To compound the difficulty, in New York we further have a "safety net" for students with disabilities. These students can pass the exam with a 55. We have not figured out how evolving pass scores will impact the "safety net."

Further muddying the water is the question of whether requiring algebra for all students is a good goal. After all, how many of us spend time solving systems of equations, graphing linear equations, factoring quadratic equations, solving logic proofs or figuring out the number of possible ice cream cone combinations are possible at an ice cream shop that has 25 flavors, 4 sauces, 6 toppings, and several fruit options. I believe that a rigorous algebra course can help students learn to think logically, but only if it is rigorous rather than dumbed down. There are also other ways to teach logical thinking.

So what do we want our tests to measure? Let's design our tests to do that and make policy around that goal, not the plethora of goals we currently observe but accomplish poorly. We need to decide- Are we going to reduce the number of remedial classes students take in math by increasing the cut score or are we going to raise the graduation rate? Is the test a bar all must jump over to get to the other side (i.e. graduation) or a litmus test for remedial math in college? Lets get our assessments some therapy and make a choice.