Follow Along as Jared Kittelson, Chief Operating Officer at Foundation for Blind Children joins Conchita Hernandez, Statewide Blind and Vision Specialist at Maryland School for the Blind, as she explains helpful tips on how to maximize success when working with ESL Students and families.

From Teaching Tips Tuesday

Jared Kittelson: Welcome to Teaching Tips Tuesday, my name is Jared Kittelson, Chief Operating Officer here at Foundation for Blind Children. Today, I’m joined by Conchita Hernandez, this-the Statewide Blind and Vision Specialist at Maryland School for the Blind, welcome Conchita!

Conchita Hernandez: Thank you so much for having me.

Jared: So, you are a renowned expert in working with-with, um Spanish-speaking families, so, you’re gonna share with us some-some tips that you have working with English learners and their families. What do you-what do you see as the primary barriers for some of these English learners and their families?

Conchita: I would say the primary barrier is that the knowledge base isn’t there, so, a lot of professionals in the field of blindness didn’t receive training and how to work with students that are English learners. And teachers that are called “ESL”, um, or teachers of English learner, they don’t have no idea how to work with blind kids, so, it turns into this ” Well I don’t have the expertise to teach blind kids and neither do I” and how do we best support a student when no one went to school for this particular population?

Jared: Right…[stammers] so what advice or tips would you have for teacher working with the visually impaired working with, with a family, uh, or a student, uh, that English isn’t their primary language?

Conchita: Yeah, so the first thing I would say is that research has really shown us that students learn a new language best when they have a good foundation in their home language, so, for years we had this, uh, kind of contrary idea that let’s immerse some, throw them in, and they’re gonna do fine. And what we have learned over time is that that’s not the case, those are the students that really struggle the most, um, and so the most that we can really bring in their culture, bring in their home language–and you don’t have to know their language, you can do, like, side-by-side vocabulary, really try to, um, make it that–you’re kind of making that transition because their brain will make that connection. Even though the grammar is different, whatever language they’re coming from, um, the grammar and sentence structure will be different, but their brain will start to make the connection of “Oh, I know this structure and so now I can switch to a new structure.” Um, so, try to kind of have some of that home language embedded, and my other, uh, strategy for that is pre-teaching. When we think of pre-teaching, we do it really well for blindness-related, um, but keep that in mind for English learners so is there any cultural aspects that they need pre-taught that they just don’t know because they haven’t experienced it? There’s also a lot of vocabulary that exists in English that doesn’t exist in another language and vice versa. So, for example, cul-de-sac, I had no idea what it was until I was in college! [giggles] And I was like “what do you mean you name a street–

Jared: Yeah.

Conchita: –a particular shape? It makes no sense. Um, so, do a lot of pre-teaching, it’s one of the best strategies that you can do for your English learners to get them prepared for whatever lessons they’re going to be a part of.

Jared: That’s great. What–what about families? [stammers] What tips might you give families who, who have a child, and, and kind of their entry point into the world of education?

Conchita: A hundred percent; so, what I would tell families is really, at home, work on that home language. I know a lot of us were taught to assimilate our children and give them, you know, try to only do English, but the more students have a strong foundation at home–read to them in your home language, speak to them in your home language, encourage them to, to feel confident in it. That is actually going to help their English proficiency, and, it seems contradictory, but the research has shown us that over and over again that that is really what’s going to support, uh, and families feeling that you are an expert in your child’s life, uh, and in your child’s, um understanding. And even though it may be a different educational system, there’s still so much that you can bring to the table, and one way is by supporting your child in their home language at home.

Jared: That’s a great point. Conchita, [stammers] you know I know we’re aligned on this, and we know family engagement is, is crucial? Right, like it can’t just be a, a student-to-teacher interaction. The family is so vital to the education process; what are some, some engagement strategies you-you’ve used to engage families and kind of bring them into-into the educational process?

Conchita: Absolutely, so the first thing I will say is that acknowledging that it is hard. [chuckles] Um, it is something that is difficult, um, and one thing you have to recognize is a lot of families come with a lot of traumas, um, migration is not something that’s like this cutesy little thing and everyone is just here for fun. Um, there’s a lot of traumas in our families, and so because of that they don’t turn in paperwork, they don’t, you know, answer the phone, um, they may be scared of, you know, that it’s an unknown number–they may be immigration or something. And so, we have to keep in mind that we have to meet them where they are, not hope they’re different type of families. And so, meeting them where they are, have one point of contact at your organization who’s going to reach out to them. Families get really confused when there’s six different people from the same school or organization reaching out, and then they don’t remember who said what, what was I supposed to do, who do I call because of all of these six different people. So, my first thing is, figure out your one point of contact–who’s going to be reaching out to families, and then figure out what is their best mode of communication. I have found that for many, many, uh, immigrant families, uh, regardless of what language they speak, right now, their favorite form of communication is WhatsApp because it is the form of communication, they are using to communicate with their families back home, and they can use it regardless if they have self-service, regardless if they have data, regardless if they have a working plan. Uh, so, my suggestion would be look into that and figure out their mode of communication. They’re probably not going to answer, um, which we would love them to, but they’re not going to [laughs], and so figure out what works best for them and how you can start to build that relationship and let them know that you value their knowledge. Their knowledge comes from a lot of different places, from you know, their culture, their food, their families and their values, and so bring that to the table so they feel valued. When they feel valued, they will begin to collaborate with you.

Jared: [stammers] So what I’m hearing is that family engagement is not a reactive proposition, it is much into the realm of being proactive, and finding ways to meet them there.

Conchita: A hundred percent, and a lot of what I hear from a lot of people is like, well “we translate the flyer into their language, why aren’t they coming?” [laughs] That is the floor! Translating a document is the floor, and something you have to realize is, translation’s complicated, so, um, IEP language is at a college level–these terms don’t exist in Spanish. I don’t care that you translated them, they don’t exist. It’s talking garble. So, being able to not only give them the flyer but personally connect with them and say “Hey, I put this in your child’s backpack, let me know if you want more information on it” Um, they may not really understand what it is, um, a lot of things are very different–educational systems–um, in a lot of countries. If you go to school, there, there isn’t a lot of interaction you have to do, like the teachers will just call you and tell you, so, they’re trying to figure out the educational system that is new to them, but then they also really need that personal connection, because translating a document is the floor to really building that connection.

Jared: Yeah, Google Translate only goes so far.

Conchita: [laughs] Yeah.

Jared: Conchita, these are some excellent tips, and like I said before, we, we jumped on this call, I look forward to working more with you. This, this is a super important issue in our field, and I certainly appreciate you taking the time to, to talk to our Teaching Tips Tuesday Group.

Conchita: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me.

Jared: Thank you everyone for joining us for Teaching Tips Tuesday and we’ll see you next time.