Smart Review | Bridging the Language Barrier with TalkingPoints

As a parent, I can’t even begin to describe how important I think home to school/school to home communication is for my sanity and my child’s success. My son is a bit of a mad scientist, which is all well and good, but have you seen the inside of a mad scientist’s backpack? Probably not because they often forget to take it from Point A to Point B. If it makes it from Point A to Point B, the elusive red Take-Home folder might not be there.

As a teacher, when I need to make sure that those last three students bring in their permission slips for the field trip so my whole plan doesn’t implode, I don’t want to leave that responsibility up to these kiddos who keep forgetting. If you have all ultra responsible child students whose parents speak English fluently, with nary a mad scientist is in sight, you might not need TalkingPoints, an app that translates messages into multiple languages and allows group and individual messaging. But I’m guessing that isn’t many of you! Clearly, home to school/school to home communication can save the day, impacting students (and families) socially, emotionally and academically. This is especially true for ELL students, where communicating needs to their home can be a bit of a challenge.

The TalkingPoints app is effective because the platform is simple in design, allowing the actual service it delivers to take center stage. There aren’t tons of bells and whistles, which in this case is an excellent attribute, because when moving between languages simplicity is an asset. It is so easy to use that I uploaded it to my phone, input the names and phone numbers of some of my language teacher friends and sent them a message, all while having breakfast. All three teachers I messaged from the app had positive comments, noting the good translations. The potential for participation on a larger scale is clear, as language barriers are a challenge for so many schools (see how a district partnership looks here).

Additionally, at Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, NY, where I was doing a literacy training, I spoke with their ENL team about the app, and several of the group had downloaded it after I mentioned it in my workshop. One teacher was trying out messages to her students’ parents. As I talked with these teachers, they emphasized that communication, in a family’s native language, is a win-win for everyone. The school’s philosophy (from their website) echoes this sentiment: We hope to work together with you to meet the needs of our students. We welcome and need parents’ involvement in the school. Children who see that their parents value education, take pride in their children’s work, and support the school in which they attend, grow to understand that education is an important part of their lives. In my own classroom, I’ve found this to be true as well.

The app allows teachers to follow one of the most significant best practices for communicating with ENL families: communicate in their own language. Though referring to Spanish, their advice can apply to any language: “Find a way to send home personal notes and materials in Spanish. This will keep parents in the loop on issues such as report cards, school events and homework. Try to offer complete translations in a straightforward Spanish that parents can understand.” All three teachers who tried the app noted that the translations were good.

The app itself is simple, but it is in its use that we can see how innovative it is for teachers and parents to collaborate in their native language. Socially, it is crucial for parents and students to feel they are accepted, and the self-management they are afforded when given control to communicate effectively is a boost in a family’s desire to participate in the school environment. Additionally, the emotional benefits for families are noteworthy. When parents and students are connected to the school experience, the more likely they are to promote education at home. This leads to the academic benefits, of course, as the entire family is invested in the child’s education, made possible by communicating in the language everyone is most comfortable “speaking.”

The app is loaded on my phone and shared with the ENL teacher on my team, and I’m excited to send my welcome message next week. More than my communicating to parents–which I have been in some predictable ways like their child translating for me–I’m looking forward to “hearing” the voice of parents because I believe it will impact not only them, but me, and when I am better, my ability to teach will be too.

For more on supporting English learners, see:

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Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a middle school teacher at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg, NY.

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