At the beginning of my first school year as a first grade ELL teacher, I set a vision for each of my students. It wasn’t some long, elaborate prescription, but it did outline their goals for the end of the year and my hopes for their future. In September, I asked each student to commit to yearlong math, reading, and citizenship goals. Transferring ownership, they adopted these goals as their own. Moreover, we revisited our goals daily. Before each lesson, we discussed how each objective would affect our year-long aims. Then, we would turn our brains on and get ready to learn.
At the end of each day, the students walked past a sign by the door that read, “What have you done to reach your goal today?” As they filed out during dismissal, they were required to tell me either something they learned that day or something they were going to do at home that afternoon that was going to help them reach their goal. Often, it was a contest over who could read for the longest period and be first to report back the next day. But with my lower performing students, it was generally a fired-up promise to do their homework. However, even with my students seemingly invested, I was at a loss when the same seven students continued to hand me homework that was completely blank.
Not until October, did I realize where I was going wrong.
As if I had forgotten that the majority of my students were not native English speakers, I took for granted the level of family literacy. During conversations with my students, I discovered that their parents did not have English literacy skills that would allow them to help their child’s understanding or guide the completion of homework assignments. With this in mind, I sought to rectify my mistake. I began translating assignments and writing out step-by step instructions. I recorded sight words on CDs and sent home books in English and Spanish. I also began parent-student tutoring several times a week. With these structures in place, my group of seven students made immediate and tremendous growth.
Parents genuinely want the best for their children. My taking the time to understand family strengths and challenges had huge returns in my class. While this takes some investment, by simply equipping parents with the tools they need to support their children’s education, we can enable student achievement that goes beyond the classroom. By thinking more broadly about enabling parents’ support of their child, we can secure a valuable partnership. By doing a little bit extra, we can commission parents to be teachers in the home. And, by working together, we can produce life-long learners.