Spotlight on English Learners: Family and Caregiver Activities for Young Learners
REL West, in collaboration with RELs Northeast & Islands and Northwest, designed the resources highlighted in this Spotlight on English Learners to help families and caregivers strengthen children’s language development as they engage in everyday activities at home. Written by Elizabeth Burr, Senior Research Associate at WestEd, this article first appeared on the REL West blog and is adapted and posted here with permission.
Family members and caregivers of young English learners bring tremendous cultural and linguistic capital to their interactions with their children, regardless of their own educational background.
To leverage these cultural and linguistic assets and knowledge, REL West, in collaboration with RELs Northeast & Islands and Northwest, created nine simple and fun family and caregiver activities (FCAs) that can help strengthen children’s language development as they engage in everyday activities at home.
Geared toward families of English learners in grades PreK through grade 5, these FCAs are available for free in ten languages. The activities draw on research-based recommendations from Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School, a What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide.
Our cross-REL team also created a constellation of related resources to support families, caregivers, and educators in using the FCAs. They include:
- An Educator’s Guide that provides a brief summary of the WWC practice guide’s recommendations and shares strategies to help families and caregivers make the most out of the activities.
- An introductory webinar for educators who want to learn more about the nine FCAs, see them in action, and get tips for sharing the activities with families.
- A three-part video series for educators that demonstrates how educators can use the FCAs to connect classroom learning with activities in the home. Each video shows the practice guide recommendations reflected in classroom instruction and the families’ use of particular FCAs that align with the classroom lessons.
Resources in Action: Q&A
Recently, we spoke with D’Lisa Crain, Administrator for the Department of Family-School Partnerships in Washoe County School District in Nevada to learn more about how her team has been using the FCAs with families and sharing them with other departments in their district since the activities were first published over a year ago.
How do the family and caregiver resources meet a need in your district?
We often see resources for either families or staff, but rarely do we see resources that connect the two! Building educator capacity to more effectively partner with families aligns to our department’s work and the framework that guides it, the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships.
I also appreciate the fact that the FCAs are available in so many languages. We often receive resources in English and if we’re lucky, in Spanish as well. Rarely, if ever, though, do we receive such high-quality resources in many of the languages spoken in our district. It is phenomenal that the FCAs will soon be available in Dari; we have many newly arrived families from Afghanistan. It saves our district time and funding to have these resources ready to go and accessible to so many of our families.
Also, our staff are thrilled that we can use the FCAs to tie instructional practice in the classroom with learning at home for our more than 64,000 students. You haven’t just put out the FCAs, you also have the Educator’s Guide, a deep and direct resource, and then the videos that model the connections between school and home learning. I’ve been here 20 years, and we’ve been talking about it forever. Honestly, I have never seen a resource that makes this link so explicit.
How are you planning to use the videos?
A few years ago, we developed a professional learning program for teachers that includes a Parent University and a Family Literacy Club. We provide the research, resources, and ideas for facilitated discussions, as well as interpreters, child care, books, and so on. The videos will be perfect for that program, which is designed to build teachers’ capacity for partnering with families.
What advice would you give to teachers on how to use the FCAs?
I would say that the FCAs just don’t offer skills for the children, but for the families as well. I noticed in the videos that the parents demonstrate many skills, like asking open-ended questions, listening, and asking follow-up questions. These are skills that take time and practice, and educators can help. So don’t just hand out the FCAs at a workshop. Model the practices and give parents a chance to practice using the FCAs with each other and build their confidence. Then talk about it! Ask what went well and what didn’t.
What do you like best about the FCAs?
I love that you don’t need many materials. Families can take a walk and notice things together! Also, the same FCAs can be used by children in different grades—you show how to differentiate according to their age and level.
Do you have a favorite FCA?
All of them are culturally relevant and explicit. I love Making a Meal Together and Interviewing a Special Person! I’ve seen [other] resources about interviewing someone, but this one breaks it down: here’s how you do it, step by step.
To find the entire resource collection—the FCAs in ten languages, the Educator’s Guide, the webinar archive, and the video series—visit our FCA home page. Please share with your networks of educators who are working with English learners in grades PreK–5. And please let us know what you think! Email us at relwest@WestEd.org.
These resources reflect the REL program’s commitment to supporting English learners and their families and caregivers so that students can thrive in school and beyond.
Related Resources: Video Series for Educators
- Video 1: Building Oral and Written Language Skills
- Video 2: Supporting Young English Learners to Develop Academic Vocabulary Across Content Areas
- Video 3: Applying Academic Vocabulary and Language to Multiple Contexts
Posted on March 21, 2022