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In Sync with Families
August 27, 2015 | Volume 10 | Issue 24
Table of Contents
Working with Parents to Take the Focus off Grades
My ultimate goal as a teacher is to cultivate strategic learners—that is, students who are able to transfer learning for independent use and application. Research indicates that family engagement can facilitate this goal and give students a leg up in school, both socially and academically (Centre for Child Well-Being, 2012; Pinantoan, 2013). Joyce Epstein established a framework for family involvement that consists of six parts: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with community (1995). Here, I will focus on two of these six parts: communication (maintaining open lines of communication with parents) and learning at home (finding ways to encourage families to practice curriculum at home).
Technology makes communicating with families relatively easy, and many schools have adopted online learning management systems and grade trackers as ways to enable such communication. But experts caution that these mediums overemphasize evaluative feedback and grades. For strategic learners to thrive, they need to receive a variety of descriptive feedback on their learning—from peers, teachers, family, and themselves—and grades are the least descriptive form of feedback. Emphasizing grades sends the wrong message to students. To facilitate strategic behavior and academic growth, experts recommend using descriptive feedback that is actionable, tangible, and transparent and helps students plan a course of action for their next assignment (Wiggins, 2012). Here's how I encourage at-home communication to invite parents to become my partners in the curriculum, while keeping the focus on using descriptive feedback and goal setting to help students become strategic learners.
A Discussion Protocol for Partnering with Parents
My students work to regulate their learning by setting specific, measurable, and actionable goals based on explicit feedback. In any assignment, they can refer to an exemplar and quantified rubrics, which help to clearly identify their strengths and weaknesses as they reflect on their work. My students and I discuss their feedback to ensure that they fully understand it. Then, I loop in their parents.
Once students have had an opportunity to process the feedback and compare their work to the exemplar and rubric, they take the assignment home with the rubric, the exemplar, and a discussion guide. I ask them to
Click here to see a sample discussion guide.
The discussion guide not only outlines the approach for the conversation but also provides examples of effective and ineffective goals. Students and parents often set goals that are unrealistic and take on too much at once. For example, in my English classes, parents and students want to set goals for grammar and mechanics when working on writing exercises, but I tend to discourage such goals until students can successfully generate and organize content.
I let students practice the discussions with classmates before they try it at home. We talk about and role-play effective discussions (where students ask questions to seek clarity, disagree with feedback in a calm manner, provide evidence from the rubric or exemplar, etc.) and contrast them with ineffective discussions (where students argue, whine, disagree without providing evidence, storm out, etc.). Then, after the students have conducted the discussions with their parents, we reflect on what worked, what didn't work, parents' responses, students' thoughts, and so on. I use this reflection as formative feedback to help me focus on specific areas I need to review and practice to make the discussion protocol more successful.
Parents are grateful to be informed and included. They not only learn the skills, criteria, and methodology we use in the classroom but also assist on making instructional decisions for their children. No longer do I get e-mails from parents asking me questions about the curriculum or standards. No longer do I experience miscommunications during parent-teacher conferences about progress, feedback, or grades. Parents see the value of descriptive feedback over grades.
Inviting parents to help their children come up with goals bridges the gap between school and home, involves parents in their children's learning, and facilitates positive relationships between parents and their children.
Ultimately, when school and home collide in a productive way, the students benefit. We can cultivate such collaborations by allowing parents to help create strategic learners with scaffolds, tips, and frameworks from the experts—the teachers. Parents will appreciate the guidance and eagerly implement the procedures and processes, which means more hands to guide students toward strategic learning.
Centre for Child Well-Being. (2012). Importance of parental involvement in their child(ren)'s learning. Alberta: Mount Royal University.
Epstein, J. (1995). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 76 (9), 701–712.
Pinantoan, A. (2013, September 22). The effect of parental involvement on academic achievement. Retrieved from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/the-effect-of-parental-involvement-on-academic-achievement/
Wiggins, G. (2012). Feedback for learning: Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10–16.
Pooja Patel is a middle school learning specialist who works as a 6th and 7th grade English and humanities teacher at the United Nations International School in New York City. She is an adjunct instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and presents on self-regulated strategy development both nationally and internationally. Patel has also coauthored a book on formative assessment and differentiation.
ASCD Express, Vol. 10, No. 24. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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