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Reader questions

Reader questions


I have a new student in my class that doesn't speak English. Where do I start?

This is an excellent question and as the world becomes smaller and the tide of people ebbs and flows, traditionally non-diverse districts may find themselves hosting refugee or immigrant communities.  

Perhaps your school isn’t quite prepared for this new challenge. So what can you, as a single teacher, do?

Well, a lot, actually. (To read more about working with families of English Language Learners read here).

To answer this question I turned to Laura Gardner who works with English Learner Portal, and runs a course called, “Immigrant Family and Community Engagement in Schools.” She’s been working with schools and refugee populations for 16 years. Here are some of the things we talked about.

1. Find an interpreter and meet face-to-face with the student and their family. Helping the family and child feel welcomed is the most important you can do. This will set the stage for everything else you do.  

I have some personal experience with this one as a few years back we moved to rural Mexico. My kids were suddenly the only non-Spanish speaking, white kids around. Like in the WHOLE school. It was super intimidating. But it wasn’t scary and do you want to know why? Because we were welcomed like crazy. My kids came home with “welcome to our school” cards from other kids everyday for the first two weeks. Some kids even brought little gifts. The teachers were approachable and kind and checked in with us individually at drop off. They welcomed questions. I was so grateful and it made the transition so much easier. You can give that same experience to someone else.

Not sure where to find a translator? Reach out to your school community. Odds are there is someone who can help translate. There are local and state agencies prepared to help. There are various call-in translator services you can put on speaker phone to help you during your face-to-face time. And if all else fails, that’s why Google Translate was invented.  

2. Get some training STAT. A child who is learning English needs something different than the “way I’ve always taught.” So dust off those life-long learner skills and get excited to add some more teaching moves to your toolbox. (The good news—these will actually help ALL kids learn better).

If your district has an ELL specialist, start there. Ask him or her to come in a model some strategies or team teach with you so you can learn them.

If your district does not have an ELL specialist, ask for some PD. You can go to a live conference or participate in a host of online trainings. For example, Laura Conrad has an online workshop that will will help you learn some of the basics with working with refugee families. And her colleague at English Learner Portal, Kelly Reider, has an online course of targeted strategies, just for beginners. Check out this article on Colorín Colorado.

Reach out to your worldwide network of colleagues. Follow #ELLchat on Twitter. Post questions. Follow leaders in the field like Colorín Colorado. Check out Christina Thuli’s resources. There is so much great information out there. (check out my more resources page for additional resources)

3. Think beyond this year and this student and help your district get in front of this new challenge. For example, if you have families that speak another language than English at home, you are legally required to translate official school communication in their home language. Talk to your principal, district leaders, PTA president and other school leaders so that you can all work together to do right by these new families in your school community.

Read more about working with English Language Learners and their Families here. Wondering what it might be like to move into a new school and not speak the language? Read this letter.

Have a question? Ask me!

Did you know I love to work directly with teachers, families, administrators, librarians, dads, students, abuelas, community members, program directors, teachers-in-training and literally everyone else? Talk to me.

Amanda Hamilton Roos