Family Engagement in a Distance-Learning Dual Language Program

In these times of pandemic-related distance learning, teachers often struggle to engage their students via the video conferencing and learning management systems they use for their synchronous (live) and asynchronous (pre-recorded) instruction that connect them. Online networks of teachers have sprung up, offering support and resources for student engagement during these incredibly challenging times. Families also face challenges in supporting their children while working away from home, enlisting caregivers or non-working members of the family to supervise the children during their synchronous and asynchronous lessons, for which teachers are extremely grateful.

One aspect of a well-rounded educational program that has not received much attention in many districts across the US during these challenging times, and especially at the classroom level, is family engagement. Teachers may have some interaction with family members if there are questions regarding the assignments or if they are having technical difficulties accessing the online instruction or resources. But families are not having the opportunity to truly engage in their children’s learning like they likely were afforded when instruction was in-person. With total respect for teachers and the amazing effort they are putting into their lessons, we would like to offer some suggestions to support family engagement that may assist teachers with both their synchronous and asynchronous lessons during these very challenging times.

Read Aloud

With many English and partner language arts curriculum available online, parents/guardians who are native speakers of either English or the partner language can be partners in providing strong language models for the students learning the language. These family members can read the text selections aloud for the students either live, or synchronously, or be videoed reading the texts for presentation during an asynchronous lesson or assignment. Teachers can project the electronic version of the text or allow the parent/guardian to share their screen while reading the text aloud.

Parents/guardians may also appreciate some coaching on how to support their child’s literacy development as they read together at home. For many, decoding is the primary support that the parent/guardian provides. Sharing strategies with the families, such as prompting a student to sound out a word instead of just telling the student what the word is, would allow the student to apply the decoding skills taught in class.

Helping Parents/guardians expand their repertoire of strategies to support their child’s reading comprehension would provide greater opportunity for students to better understand what they have read, both at home as well as in class. Providing a set of comprehension prompts/questions for families to use would be helpful. If possible, share a video of you using these prompts/questions with a student or group of students, or if there is a video from your language arts adoption or that another teacher has posted online using these types of questions, share the link with the families.

Small Group Support

Depending on the requirements established by your district in collaboration with the certificated bargaining unit, there may be an opportunity for parents/guardians to work with a small group of students in a virtual breakout room to support them in any of the content areas (language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, etc.) that are presented in the parent’s/guardian’s native language. We would recommend that you use a gradual release of responsibility approach, having the parent/guardian observe you working with the small group via video conferencing, then gradually having the parent/guardian take a role with that group that gradually increases to full responsibility. This will allow you to work with another group during that time, or if you have multiple parents/guardians supporting small groups, you can drop in to the breakout groups to check in with each parent/guardian and the participating students.

Open Forums in English and the Partner Language

We often focus on the socioemotional needs of students, but we also need to recognize that families have socioemotional needs, as well. Having a weekly time (outside of the synchronous class sessions) to reassure parents/guardians that their children are progressing well linguistically and academically and to also answer any questions or concerns that they may have about the support they are providing for their children would be invaluable. We recommend having a short session during the day and one in the late afternoon/early evening to accommodate the families’ availability.

We also recommend that the open forum be presented either bilingually, or having a partner language open forum so that the families that speak the partner language may feel more comfortable sharing their questions/concerns, and an open forum in English for the native English-speaking families.

You may want to consider sending out a survey of possible times (based on your availability!) and language preference to see what time slot would have the greatest number of participants for family members from each linguistic group.

English and Partner Language Family Connection

Hosting a monthly or weekly time (presented bilingually) where families of all the dual language students can come together to meet each other and to form friendships that may span beyond the distance learning context, as their children will likely be grouped together for a good portion of their elementary and secondary education. Having a bilingual host for this time will help to facilitate the connections between families. Incorporate some of the ice breaker activities that were used at the beginning of the school year with your students to help the families connect.

All of these family engagement strategies can continue once you are back in-person with your students. A dual language program provides some of the greatest opportunities to engage all family members in the education of their dual language students!

Kris Nicholls, Ph.D.
CEO, Nicholls Educational Consulting


Kris Nicholls
Author: Kris Nicholls

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