Family Language Planning at School
You may be wondering what role schools play in family language planning, as it seems to be a strictly parental affair. While it is true that parents are the main architects of their family language plan, the more support they get from the school, the more likely they are to be successful, and the better off their children will be. In this post I will outline the basics of setting up school support for family language planning, and how the mutually supportive relationship can benefit bi/multilingual children.
Why should a school support Family Language Planning?
Although it may not always be evident, schools have a key role to play in ensuring that parents have a clear understanding of the nature of bilingualism in development, what is 'normal', and how to best support their children. Even parents who try to do their research may be side-tracked by incorrect or even detrimental advice that can be found all over the internet (Instagram is a particular offender!). Schools have a lot of soft power over family language decisions, the advice they give is likely to be respected and followed (at least to some extent), and the school's attitude towards multilingualism will surely affect parental decisions, especially for lower status languages (immigrant and minority languages, usually).
What does Family Language Planning involve?
Family language planning has three main elements. The first is goal-setting. Families need to consider the languages that are a part of their family and community, and think about how they would like to their children to be able to use these languages later on in life. There are three main goals: communicative; basic literacy; academic literacy. What goal is set for a language will depend on the extent to which a child will learn to read/write, and for what purposes. Some languages have only a spoken form, some are not used for educational/professional purposes, or a family may have too many languages to address literacy in all (when children are young). Goal-setting will help families to understand and plan for the kind of language input their children will need to reach those goals. The planning aspect relates to what languages are used when/where. and how that will impact language development. While co-planning with parents, teachers can emphasise the importance of conversation, story-telling, game playing, and where possible, reading to children. These are all ways to ensure that they home language they are exposed to is rich and varied. Literacy planning helps families understand how development of literacy in the home language, where possible, can help support literacy in the school language as well.
What do parents need from the school?
Explicit and consistent positive messaging about the importance of home languages for development
Opportunities to build community
A safe space for asking questions about language development - not linked to classroom or LS (fears of SEN labels)
Clear guidance on where to find (appropriate) support if needed
How can a school develop staff to support Family Language Planning?
I've worked with several schools to develop staff expertise for collaborative family language planning, particulary in the Early Years. This is the process that we go through to develop the knowledge base, supportive structures, and parent communication.
If you would like to know more about school-based Family Language Planning, I'm always happy to answer questions.
mIf you If youily Language Planning involve?