Between October 2018 and March 2019, almost 50 teachers in ten cities, towns and villages across Europe, engaged in an experiment with some 65 parents and over 200 children (age 4-8) using different bilingual materials. The way they used the materials varied.
In some places, parents would come into the classroom and read stories in their home languages to the entire class, while the teacher would repeat the story in the school language. In other schools, teachers discussed with parents which materials would be taken home to practice with their children. One week, this might be a word game to match pictures with words in both the home language and the language used at school. During another week, the kids would be doing addition and subtraction in their home languages with their parents.
Afterwards, parents and teachers discussed the results with each other. The experiment was initiated by project partners of AVIOR, a project funded by the European Commission through the Erasmus+ programme. By collaborating and sharing best practices at European level, the project partners hoped to reduce the costs of producing bilingual materials, improve teacher professional competence and enhance migrant parental involvement in the learning process of their children.
The participating countries were Croatia, Italy, the Netherlands, Estonia, Germany and Greece. Schools could choose from ten different types of literacy and numeracy materials: bilingual stories, word and math games, lesson plans for teachers with suggestions for creating multilingual classroom activities and a series of themed word posters to hang up on the classroom wall.
Translations were provided in the following languages: Albanian –Arabic -Bayash –Croatian -Dutch –Chinese -English –Estonian -German –Greek -Italian –Polish –Russian –Turkish. Not all the materials were produced in every possible language combination; only those language combinations that were considered relevant for the schools were created, sometimes by the project coordinators, sometimes by the schools or the parents.
The objectives of the experiment were among others to increase the involvement of parents with a migrant background in learning processes in schools, increasing their awareness of their children’s learning processes, as well as their own role in enhancing basic numeracy and literacy skills of their children. And also to create greater insight among policy makers, school leaders and teachers about opportunities and obstacles for parental participation in learning processes of migrant children.
Results: improved communication and more involvement of parents
The results showed that using the materials indeed improved the participation and involvement of parents in the education of their children:
“Teachers mentioned that communication had improved with both the children and the parents who participated (e.g. Estonia and Croatia). For the preschool teachers in Croatia who worked with the AVIOR material, the communication with parents was reported to be even better than before. This was because the materials demonstrated to the parents that the teachers valued the language of the children and therefore also their culture, while allowing teachers to accomplish a better contact with parents.
In Greece it was reported that for the teachers the experience was ‘extremely helpful, as it gave them the chance to communicate and cooperate with the parents of the students.’ By discussing with the parents how the material would be applied at home, the teachers in Greece said that they had gained the trust from the parents about the work involved in acquiring both languages.
In Italy, the teachers found the experiment a very useful way to involve parents who were otherwise difficult to involve, by promoting an active role of parents in the education of their children. In one school, it was reported that:“the experiment created a sort of ‘cascade effect’ among the parents: if at the beginning only a few wanted to participate, others, when hearing their children reporting home what they had done in class, asked to join. As a consequence, the teachers decide to replicate the activity throughout the school year. On the other side, the parents who participated were very happy to be involved in the school–life of their children and find it easier to collaborate with the teachers on a very practical way: this may represent a good starting–point for building a stable teacher–parent relationship and communication in the future.”
Several project partners mentioned that the materials were also useful to establish better communication with what they called ‘hard to reach’ parents. In Germany, for instance, “the study primarily fostered the already positive relationship between engaged parents and teachers. However, it benefited the relationship between teachers and ‘hard-to-reach’ parents indirectly in two ways: (1) Teachers developed a better understanding for the languages and the background of the families who they know little about … Teachers feel they are now better equipped to reach out to some of the families who they found difficult to reach before. (2) Teachers and parents who participated in the study discussed several ways of how the materials could be used in the future and how more connections between their use at home and in the classroom could be created.”
The experiment also led to some unforeseen effects.
A better relationship between parents and their children
“One unexpected effect was that parents in almost all countries reported that the project contributed to a better relationship with their children and that they were learning together. In Estonia, parents saw the materials as an additional activity to engage their children to spend time together. In Greece, something parents really enjoyed was the fact that their children were able to “teach” them words and phrases in Greek and helped them improve their language performance respectively. In Croatia, as mentioned previously, in some families all members participated in doing the exercises with the child. For most parents it was the first time that they saw Bayash in the written form. Parents commented that“it was fun! We also learned how to pronounce some words accurately ourselves. So, we are learning something with our children. And playing while learning.”
More contact between parents from different language and cultural backgrounds
“This was the case in the Netherlands, where parents reported that they would normally only interact with parents who speak the same language, but now they worked together with other parents. As one parent said:“I used to take my child to school and I wouldn’t talk to anybody. But now I also have contact with the other parents. We work together. With Turkish and Spanish speaking parents.”
Boosting parents’ confidence
“Finally, for parents occupying very marginalized positions in society, we saw the AVIOR project boosted their confidence. In Croatia, for most of the Roma parents who participated, it was the first time that they saw their language (Bayash) in written form. This filled them with pride. Also, they understood that their support of their children at home has a positive influence on their children’s development and learning. The parents were intrigued by seeing school–approved usage of materials in their own language. The introduction of AVIOR materials by teachers showed parents that they and their children are respected in school. In the Netherlands, the AVIOR project provided encouragement for a mother of Turkish descent to start Dutch language classes for the first time since she arrived in the Netherlands 30 years ago.”
AVIOR was a collaboration between Risbo, Rutu Foundation, Farafina institute, NEPC, University of Western Macedonia, Praxis and Terremondo società cooperativa. The full report is available here.
After the AVIOR project was completed, our NEPC partner presented the materials at the Innovative Teachers’ Regional Conference, that took place in August 2019 in Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This led to teacher trainers in Kosovo who decided to translate AVIOR materials into three more languages: Serbian, Bosnian and Roma. In November 2019, 66 teachers were trained as part of the Kosovo Council of Europe’s project Fostering rapprochement through education for democracy and language learning (FRED). An estimated 500 students from 10 pilot schools were involved in classroom activities with the materials after the training.