When I submitted work in high school and college, I would receive a grade back in the form of a letter and a percentage. There were few markings and even fewer notes.  I did not know what I did well or where I missed the mark.  This is how some families feel when they receive a letter at the beginning or end of the year to notify them of their child’s enrollment in the language program.  It feels like a pass/fail with no information on how to support their child’s development.

Things to Communicate with Families 

We want to communicate as many details as we can about our language program to families because we want them to be partners in their child’s growth.   Families can’t support us if they don’t know exactly what we’re doing.  Twitter . Work with your administration and your team to determine which of the items from the list below are appropriate to share and what details to provide. Tailor it to meet your school’s policies and practices.  

Entrance & Exit Policies
  • At what language proficiency does a child require or no longer require language services?
  • What test(s) were used to determine their language proficiency?
  • When were they tested?
  • How does the test work?
  • How was the test administered?

At my current school, we use the WIDA Model to gauge language proficiency.  The WIDA rubrics and Can Do Descriptors (especially this one from Irina McGrath and Michelle Shory) are detailed and organized by domain so that teachers can provide targeted language lessons. 

  • What type of service will your ELs receive?
  • Describe the service: co-teaching, sheltered instruction, small-group instruction (pull-out), co-planning with teachers to scaffold resources and differentiate assessments 
  • How often will they receive services?
  • Who will be providing the service? 
  • How will the language service affect their schedule?
  • How can the family reach you?
Supporting their children 

Families will want to know how to promote their child’s English development.  Consider advising them to:

  • Discourage English-only policies at home.  One of the best things they can do is support the use of their own home language because we want students to be expressive in any language.  If they are expressive in one language, they are more likely to be communicative in another. 

Encourage reading every night. Free reading from a student-selected book is one of the best things we can do to develop comprehension, vocabulary, and writing.  As students read more, they develop their comprehension skills. As they read, their vocabulary expands and they start to use the language structures used in the books.  I like to show parents this graphic about the Matthew Effect in reading:


  • Discourage tutoring. Some families with financial means will want to know if seeking a tutor will help.  I offer parents a free alternative instead of tutoring and in addition to free voluntary reading.  I suggest to families that they have their child read current event articles from Newsela, Tween Tribune by the Smithsonian, The Day (if they are more proficient).  These sites are written for children, and Newsela can provide an article at 8 different reading levels. 

News articles written for children give students a chance to read academic language.  If students are super keen on developing their English skills, you can encourage them to write a quick summary or a response to the current event article.  This will provide them with an opportunity to write formally.

Platforms for communication 

In addition to emails, I have found three other formats for communicating with families to be highly effective: 

1.) In-person Meetings:

Find time for families to come and meet you in person as early as possible.  Structure the initial visit as a whole-group meeting to provide the information that was described above.  If possible, bring an interpreter for the language with the highest representation. Tell them that you welcome individual conferences on Parent-Teacher conference days. 

During individual meetings, provide a writing sample from their child for families to examine.  This can be a chance to celebrate their growth if you can compare it to writing samples taken at the beginning of the year. Additionally, share video and voice recordings to celebrate their growth.  Many schools use Seesaw as a digital portfolio of photos, voice recordings, and video recordings to share with parents.  These meetings should always focus on the positive things their children are doing.  

Of course we need to communicate areas of growth, but that should not be the focus of the meeting.  Remember to not only point out areas of difficulty but also explain ways for students to grow in these areas.  

Lastly, communicate their child’s current level of proficiency, and remind parents of the proficiency at which their child might be ready to exit the program. At my school, we weight the writing (35%) and speaking components (35%) of the WIDA more heavily. In other worse, these two components count for more when determining whether a student is ready to move on.

2.) Google Slide Presentations:

When I meet with parents, I share this Google Slide presentation.  Everything that I communicated above is now embedded in that presentation.  I even provide a link to the WIDA writing rubric and break down the composite score.  

The slide that is particularly important for families is the one that addresses the process of exiting the program.  We are careful to say that students must have at least a composite score of a 5.0 on the WIDA Model test to be considered for a possible exit of the program.  That’s because we also take teacher observations into consideration.

One slide from my family presentation slides.

I do provide families with the shareable link of this presentation so that they have a reference.  If they are not fluent in English, having a copy of the document allows them to get someone to translate the information for them if they need it.  Often times, that person is their child. Families have expressed how much they appreciated having the information organized this way. 

I fully understand that much of this information is highly sophisticated teacher terminology, and most families will not be able to understand the WIDA rubric. However, for many, they feel better knowing that their children are receiving language support and that there is a process that students undergo to exit the program.  Rather than enrollment in the program being decided arbitrarily by a single teacher, families appreciate the existence of a system, even if they do not fully understand all of it. 

3.) The Talking Points App

Though I do not use the service because it is not offered outside the U.S., Talking Points is an app that facilitates communication via text message between teachers and families. You simply create an account and text a message in English. Then, that message will be sent to the family in their particular language.

WIDA has a FANTASTIC resource called the ABCs of Family Engagement that provides practical ideas for communicating to families.  It’s worth a read!


We need to take the mystery out of our language services.  We owe it to our families to clearly communicate how we test students for services, the types of service we provide, students’ language proficiencies, the requirements for exiting the program, and most importantly, what families can do to support their child.  If families are to be partners, then they must be provided with information to make their contribution and engagement meaningful.