Authored by Kathryn Manning, K-12 SIG Leader
Starting out the new school year--how will you make an impact?
Around this time of year, we’re all busy bustling about, getting classrooms ready to be the place of welcoming and warmth for all newcomers and returning students. To help with your fresh start to the year, consider the following questions:
How can I better engage with parents?
In what ways can I support my learners to continue towards their journeys of success?
How can I inspire collaboration and understanding with content teachers and staff?
Here are three ideas to help answer some of these questions, or get your own creative thoughts flowing:
To set a tone for valuing parents’ funds of knowledge, try encouraging them to participate in parent interest surveys or a back-to-school activity. While many parents struggle to answer questions about summer vacation, pivoting to asking “How does your family spend quality time together?” instead can bring out more valuable information. Many of our Hispanic families for example, enjoy participating in barbecues with both immediate and extended family. This information could possibly inform future back-to-school events for parents, where teachers and parents can get to know each other over grilled vegetables and smoky meats. During school registration or back to school nights, parents can be invited to contribute a welcome back message or express their wishes for a successful school year for all students. Imagine a growing list of positive messages in all parents’ languages to set the tone of “your language belongs” at school.
Reaching out to Teachers and Staff
At the start of the school year, leap into action with an ELL Newsletter (particularly useful for itinerant ELL staff) to keep coteachers and staff on the same page and excited to start collaborating. Content can range from ELL-specific teaching tips to fun facts about learners’ home countries (a tidbit contributed by Staunton City Schools) or even introducing yourself if you are a new addition to the team. Adding a section on FAQs can also help with commonly asked questions related to identification, exit requirements, ACCESS testing, etc. to further support members of your team in understanding learners better.
Supporting Students Towards Continued Success
Reevaluating and reflecting on our own teaching practices is a great way to ease back into the school year. Are we continuing to give students the space they need to use language, both inside and outside the classroom? In her presentation at CAL’s Improving Instruction, Assessment, and Policies for Secondary English Learners Across the Content Areas, Amanda Kibler gives key considerations to evaluating the language spaces we create for our learners.
She challenges us to evaluate our curricular materials and scaffolding methods to determine how they support learners in their language practices: are we as educators overemphasizing accuracy, repetition, and simplicity?
Who are our students and how do we communicate their value in the classroom? Kibler stresses the importance of reframing our mindsets to encourage classroom student talk in what she terms critical dialogue to support co-construction, intellectual purpose, and community support and respect. To guide our learners in this endeavor, we can create spaces for students to have agency in the classroom, engage with authentically-relevant questioning, and share their multilingual and multicultural voices and perspectives in knowledge building, while also building norms together to further this goal.
Kibler, A., Valdés, G., Walqui, A. (2021) Reconceptualizing the role of critical dialogue in American classrooms: Promoting equity through dialogic education. Routledge.
What great ideas have you had for back-to-school activities and resources? Feel free to share with us at VATESOL.