In many primary schools there is an expectation that parents will share books with children from the very start of school in the reception class. With EAL learners it is important to liaise with parents to explain:
- the importance of getting into a routine of reading at home
- the importance of talking about the pictures and story (parents and carers who are not literate in English may need reassuring that it is still helpful to look at picture books together)
- that talking about the pictures and the story can be done in their first language.
Keeping parents informed about the school’s expectations of homework is also important for older children. It is helpful if EAL learners and their parents talk about what they have done at school in their first language. This helps to ensure key concepts are fully explored and also supports the development of the first language, which helps EAL learners to achieve the cognitive advantages of bilingualism. So set homework tasks such as:
- Talk to someone at home in your first language about the work we have done on volcanoes today.
- Ask your parents what these five words are in your first language.
- (for EAL learners who are literate in their first language) Write these three sentences in your first language.
With beginner bilingual learners it is important to be flexible about homework and not penalise young people for not completing homework if they haven’t understood the task or have not been able to do it. If you are telling the class how important it is that a particular piece of homework is completed you will need to reassure the beginner that you are not expecting them to do it, and give them an appropriate alternative task. Some examples of this might be:
- to look up a (short) list of key words or phrases and write them in their first language
- to do a piece of writing in their first language (e.g. an account of a piece of practical science)
- to research a topic online in their first language and make their own list of key words or phrases they will need to know in English
- to take home some notes or a piece of writing done in class in their first language, and draft a translation into English with the help of a family member with good English literacy skills, or using a bilingual dictionary or translation software.
You may also need to allow extra time for a beginner EAL learner to write the homework task in their diary, write it for them or ask a supportive peer with good English literacy skills (and legible handwriting) to write it for them.