Good Communication with ELL Families

Lisa Lord

Math opens the door to partnership with families of ELL students. One of my students recently said, “My daddy is real smart in math. He showed me how he does this problem. I showed him how I did it and he liked my way.” We have interpreters and we have translated materials, but even better, we have visual ways of doing the work. A picture is worth more than a thousand words for sure!

For some of our ELL parents, having newsletters and homework assignments available in Spanish is all they need. For some, an interpreter at Family Math Night simply translates what the teacher says. If a parent learned math a different way in his or her native country, the Bridges attitude of respecting so many different strategies is respectful and welcoming of good conversation.

For others, the language difference isn’t the only barrier. For many reasons, the parents may not have had opportunities to study math. One of our interpreters recently led a session in which a parent asked, “What is a fraction?” In any language, I would hate to answer that question without a picture or a model.

In both cases, just as we ourselves have come to see math concepts in new ways, the models we teach children work well for their parents. At our Family Math Night, students helped their parents with clock fractions and we saw parents experiencing ah-hah moments. This was a breakthrough of several types: parents got the math; they now expect to get good understanding, no matter what the language; and they appreciate the tools we have to use. Students, parents, and teachers can now work more effectively as partners.