Last Thursday, my volunteer/tutor Heather accompanied me on a home visit to meet the family of my new high school ESOL student. Heather is one of my county approved ESOL volunteers/tutors who has offered her time in both the past and present to work with my ESOL students within and without the classroom. In this situation, Heather will be working with a newly arrived ELL high school student in the home setting two times a week. She will be helping him with his homework tasks, especially with English and vocabulary comprehension. I took the opportunity to introduce Heather to the family and to describe to them the nature of the tasks that both she and I will both be helping this new student with.
This new high school student doesn’t speak much English . For this reason, he is encountering an insurmountable amount of language that he doesn’t understand/comprehend in his classes, such as World History II, Earth Science, Pre-Calculus, English 9 and English 10. His goal is to graduate in two years from our high school setting. In the same vein, he wants to learn to read, write, and speak English. We discussed the challenges he is currently encountering. I took this opportunity to explain to this family the research behind second language acquisition. It usually takes 2-3 years to acquire Basic Interpersonal Communication and 7-10 years just to acquire Cognitive Academic Language Skills. We talked about our goals and how we can go about establishing them in a realistic way. I also brought some sample SOL (Standards of Learning) tests in both reading and writing so that the family could see what this student needs to accomplish in order to graduate from the high school program. By introducing Heather, as a tutor, to the family, we were able to establish some realistic goals related to this high school student’s graduation.
In addition to setting goals, we were able to accomplish several other important things during the home visit. First of all, Heather and I used this time to just get to know the family and to establish a relationship (which hopefully will create a level of trust). During our home visit, we talked about our different backgrounds (i.e. our countries of origin and how we came to the United States). While the Mexican family shared their immigration experience, I shared my own immigration experience from Canada. Heather also shared that she had lived in Europe (i.e. Poland), where she taught English as a Foreign Language for two years. During this discussion, we found out new information about our new student, such as the fact he was actually born in California even though he lived most of his life in Zacatecas, Mexico! We also took the opportunity to discuss the similarities and differences between Mexican and US schools. We discussed the need for organization-as this new high school student is forgetting his binders at home. From our discussion, we found out that the use of binders is unfamiliar to this student in his past educational experience-as teachers seldom provide students paper handouts in his former school. This small conversation was helpful in the fact that it created a bridge of understanding (and diffuse some frustration) between the family and myself/tutor.
Home visits are also very helpful when it comes to working as a team. When we can help parents understand how they can assist us, the teachers, we can in exchange assist them and their children when it comes to becoming more successful in the school system. For example, there are certain things that Mexican families find foreign to them about US schools. One is the use of technology at school. We took the time to encourage both this family/student to use his electronic translators-which we provide at Goochland High School, and to teach them how to access powerschool and teacher blogs (lesson plans) via the Internet. The use of technology is unfamiliar for certain Mexican families-as many don’t have this type of technology access in their schools.
Fortunately for us, the family we visited on Thursday was much more adept at the use of technology than most ESOL families. This family had their own iPad and invited us to join their family members on Skype (which they streamed from their iPad), from Zacatecas, Mexico. We ended this visit by having a meaningful conversation with other family members half way across the world. How special it was to see their smiling faces and to hear their voices and expressions of gratefulness-to us-the US English teachers who are helping their family member learn English. They even invite us to their home in Zacatecas, Mexico telling us “Nuestro casa es tu casa.”