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Jun 112015
 

Question

Hi there,

I am hoping you can give me some advice. I am from England however I live in Brazil and I have a son Josh who will be four in July. My husband is Brazilian and our home language is English. Josh has for the past four months been attending a private school where the learning language is Portuguese. His exposure to Portuguese is high as we have a Brazilian nanny in the mornings, karate classes 3 times a week. Nobody where we are speaks English so Josh daily is dealing with loads of attention at school and pretty much everywhere we go people are listening to us.

As Josh does not speak Portuguese with us and we have our first meeting with his school teachers coming up and I want to make sure I ask the right questions about how he is conversing and progressing. Can you help me with some specific questions I should be asking them about his development as I’m not sure what to ask apart from obvious basic questions.

This is the first time the school have had a bilingual child where their first language in not Portuguese.
What else should we be doing to track his progress.

Any advice would be fabulous!
Many thanks,
Jessica




Answer

Parent teacher conferences can be a great way to connect with your child’s teacher and identify some of the ways in which you can work together.  As a former teacher, I found these conferences to be one of the most productive things I did to get to know my students.

When it is your first time meeting a new teacher or when you have a unique situation like the one you described in your question, it can feel a little daunting.  It is always a good idea to prepare a bit before the meeting so that you can get the most out of your limited time together.  You are already doing the right thing by thinking about the meeting in general, now let’s explore what else you can do.

Discuss the meeting with your child

One of the first things you will want to do is talk to your child before the conference takes place.  Even though he is only four, it still important that you chat with him about it.  Some children get nervous when they know their parents are going to talk to their teachers even if they are well behaved and doing fine in school.

Prepare a list of questions

The second thing I would recommend is that you jot down any of the questions you want to ask your child’s teacher before the meeting.  It is very similar to when you go to the doctor.  If you don’t write down your questions, it is almost a guarantee that you will remember what you wanted to ask just as you leave the room.

So what should be on your list?  

Let me share with you ten different themes that you may want to consider discussing:

  1. Language progress – You will certainly want to ask the teacher how he is coming along with his Portuguese.  Since he is the only multilingual child at your school, do not be alarmed if your child’s teacher expresses any hesitation about his language progress.  Rest assured that over time he will increase his fluency in Portuguese by the exposure he is receiving around the community.  You may also want to take this opportunity to address any hesitations the staff may have about multilingual children.
  1. Academic progress – You will also want to get a feel for how he is doing academically besides just the language aspects. Does he seem to understand the material presented in the classroom? Is he responding well during instruction times? Chances are your teacher will present plenty of information regarding academic progress.
  1. Academic Content – You will want to ask about your son’s academic progress but also about the academic content being presented to the students. What lessons are they working on in the classroom? How can you find out about the vocabulary that is being introduced? You can then reinforce these concepts at home in English while your husband can do so in Portuguese.
  1. Tracking your son’s progress – You will also want to get a feel for how his development is being tracked.  Feel free to ask the teacher how they measure student progress at the school?  Do they have a portfolio of his classroom assignments that is evaluated? Are they making daily or weekly observations?  Get a sense for how he is being assessed.
  1. English materials – You can also consider asking your teacher if the school would be open to you providing English materials for the classroom. For example, you can lend or donate a few English books to the classroom library.  This will not only help your child get a little bit of English exposure in the classroom but may also create a sense of comfort for him.   You may find episode 2 of the Bilingual Avenue podcast   During this discussion, Karen Nemeth shares some strategies to infuse your home language in the classroom.
  1. Volunteer opportunities – I encourage you to also ask your child’s teacher for opportunities to participate in the classroom. Teachers are often overwhelmed managing the needs of all the students in the room and they will often jump at the opportunity to get some extra help!  Children love it with their parents are in the classroom.
  1. Parent/Teacher Partnership – You will not want to miss an opportunity to open the dialogue and ask your teacher how you can work together. Specifically, I suggest you ask how you can reinforce what your child is learning at school while you are at home with him.
  1. Personality Traits – You may find it helpful to share a bit about your son’s personality that his teacher may not already know. For example, if he is very shy or if he does better in smaller groups, you will want to share those tidbits of information.
  1. Expectations – You will also want to get a sense from your child’s teachers about the classroom expectations. What is he or she expecting children to be able to achieve by the end of the school year? Also, what are the expectations for parents and their involvement?
  1. Social Interactions – I would also encourage you to try to get a sense for how your child is doing interacting with his classmates. Is he playing with the other children? Is he speaking to them in Portuguese? Does he feel comfortable in the classroom? Academics are certainly important but so are social skills all of which start developing from quite an early age.

Keep in mind that the time with your child’s teacher may be limited so you want to prioritize what matters to you the most.  If anything is left unanswered because you ran out of time, you could always send a written note with your child and get your answers that way.

Teacher questions

You may also want to be prepared for questions the teacher may have for you!

You may be asked about how the two languages are managed in your home.  In other words, the school may be wondering how your son is receiving exposure in English and Portuguese.  Since you said your son is the first multilingual child in the school, they may be curious and want to understand your family dynamics.

You may also be asked about any hobbies your child may practice at home or in the community. While I was in the classroom, I always liked to ask my students’ parents about their child’s preferences.  Teachers always find it helpful to know those things so they understand how they can motivate children in the classroom.

You may also get some questions about your home environment.  For example, for children that are already being assigned homework, the teacher may wonder how homework is incorporated into the daily routine.

Next Steps

After the meeting, you will want to set some time aside to reflect on the discussion.  Remember that your conference time may be limited so you want to give yourself some time to truly internalize what was discussed.  If there were specific action items that you and the teacher talked about, then you will want to act on them sooner rather than later.  For example, if the teacher provided you with some strategies to reinforce the content presented in the classroom, make sure then to start incorporating these into your son’s routine.

I also suggest you circle back with your son.  Let him know how the meeting went and share with him any action steps that you and the teacher may have agreed upon.

Keep an open line of communication with the teacher.  Do not let the parent teacher conference be the only time you connect.  Find ways to keep an open dialogue and continue to identify ways to work together.

Last but certainly not least, thank your child’s teacher for taking the time to meet with you.  I can tell you from experience that teachers have a lot on their plate.  I guarantee you that expressing your appreciation will make their day!

If you have any further question, please comment below. Also, please let us know how the meeting went!

Wishing you all the best
Marianna Du Bosq

You can now also listen to this Q&A as a podcast on Bilingual Avenue!

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