In general, immersion classrooms tend to have a lot of parental support. In my experience, the immersion program has been a choice made by the student and parent together. They were notified that the classes might be hard, that the student needed a solid base in his or her native language, and that it would require extra work outside of the classroom at times. As parents and students weigh the pros and cons of being in this type of classroom, they make a commitment to the program if they choose to go ahead with it. Often, before the first day of school, parents are reviewing their basic high school language with their child. They are looking for community resources to expose their children to the target language. They are doing research and networking to see if this "immersion" thing really works. It tends to be a classroom where parents really invest time and effort.
It is, therefore, important to help parents understand the best ways to assist their child. Numerous articles have been written in the general education realm and in the immersion setting on parental involvement and parent/home/community interactions. As I reviewed several articles I compiled a "best practices" section for things I would like to incorporate in my classroom to support parents, and another section on how parents can help outside of the classroom.
TEACHERS: INCORPORATING SUPPORT FOR PARENTS INTO YOUR CLASSROOMS
- Invite prospective parents into the classroom. Immersion is a new experience and concept for most parents. "Wow" them with the ability of the students.
- Occasionally invite current parents into the classroom to refresh their interest in immersion. Students become experts as they understand, yet their parents might not.
- Make the target language a part of the students' (and necessarily the family's) lives outside of the classroom. (See parent suggestions that follow.)
- Find ways for parents to provide meaningful assistance in and for the classroom. This may be after hours, working on special projects, or sharing an interest or expertise. Involvement helps foster a sense of community.
- Form support groups for parents new to immersion. Even informal meetings of immersion parents can help give encourage-ment or examples of success within the program. Provide links to resources to help parents understand the immersion process.
- Recognize and celebrate the efforts of families in the classroom (certificates, luncheons, etc.). We know that no student does it alone. Parents need to feel appreciated as well.
- Create language and content skill cards to be worked on at home within the family. Perhaps extend the challenge to parents and family members for a skills graduation later in the year.
- Find out from interviews, home visits, questionnaires, and observations more about the family and student to incorporate their unique experiences into the classroom. Value the funds of knowledge each family has to share.
- Educate parents on the transition into immersion. Explain that the uneasiness they might feel about committing to educating their child in a foreign language is normal, and that their children will adapt and enjoy the second language.
- Inform parents, perhaps through a newsletter created by a parent volunteer, about topics being studied. This will aid at-home discussion of concepts introduced.
- Make want ads in both languages of specific tasks (e.g. collecting craft materials, reading in the classroom, building cubbies, etc.) where parents can help.
- Keep records of parental attendance to show success of the program. Create a year-end report and evaluation. Reflect on practices to grow in the direction wanted.
- Have a variety of family involvement nights, such as an International Potluck Night, bilingual musicals, talent shows, drama, and dance performances. Allow parents to plan and participate.
- Have literature and forms available for interested parents, such as:
- brochures for parents - What can I do to help?
- volunteer information sheet
- family background and interest form
- multilingual family activities
- year-end communication evaluation
- list of homework pointers
- basic target-language cheat sheet for parents
- recommended reading list in the target language for immersion children.
PARENTS: SUPPORTING FOREIGN LANGUAGE LEARNING OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
- Read with your child in your native language! (See web resources below.)
- Check out books on cassette from school and community libraries. Coordinate with others in the community (e.g. invite a high school language learner over to read with your child in the target language, become friends with speakers of the target language, etc.).
- Learn a few basics in the target language: pronunciation, colors, greetings, days, months, weather, feelings, numbers, math equations, homework phrases, phonetic alphabets.
- Identify resources for help: Have a study buddy whom your child can call to clarify homework, practice the target language, and build a support group. Find study aids in the target language (encyclopedia, atlas, thesaurus, dictionaries, online resources, etc.). Model and practice using these with your child.
- Promote use of the target language out-side of school.
- Find summer activities to use the target language: sports, summer camps (Camp N in Miami, Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota), or coordinate story times at the local library.
- Encourage e-mail pals/keypals. (See sidebar.)