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Learning for Life
March 24, 2016 | Volume 11 | Issue 14
Table of Contents
Coaching Parents to Communicate Lifelong Learning
Arina Bokas and Howard Andress
In a demanding global economy, kids need to know how to adapt, persevere, and think about a problem in multiple ways. To do so, they need to develop dispositions for self-motivated learning. Schools rely on parents to help support these habits at home, but the truth is, parents are often unsure what role to take in their child's education.
The evidence is solid: teachers' efforts to reach out to parents on academic matters improve student learning and nurture habits of minds that become a cornerstone of lifelong learning (Henderson and Mapp, 2002). Teachers can connect with students' families in many ways—weekly newsletters, e-mails, blogs, websites, class Facebook pages, and Twitter chats are just a few. Regardless of medium, however, a true school-to-home partnership requires two things: consistent and clear communication of the learning dispositions that parents should nurture at home and coaching on how to accomplish this.
Setting Learning Expectations
First, teachers must clearly define and communicate expectations for student learning and for parental support.
For parents, the school can provide preliminary coaching on how to respond to students' most frequent academic complaint—"I don't get it"—in a way that is consistent with the learning philosophy and expectations set for students. For example,
Parents often want to provide background on subjects that their child is learning, especially if they are trying to be active partners. In reality, this kind of "information download" is not the most effective way to help at home. Regardless of background content knowledge, the goal is to help parents become experts in the learning process, not on a particular subject. Parents' recollection of the Pythagorean Theorem, for example, may be vague, but they can still trigger discovery in their child by using a certain line of questioning and prompts.
It is the teacher's job, then, to help parents understand specifically how they can best assist their child, including what language can initiate independent discovery and guidelines for effective coaching. Teachers can provide this information to parents via a broad weekly communication or as a targeted note sent home with a child, especially when a teacher anticipates issues with an assignment. Try the following suggestions:
Focusing on the Process
Consistent communication of expectations and learning dispositions, along with strategies that clearly direct parents to supportive language and behaviors, can help parents and children form partnerships that nurture lifelong learning. Understanding that their children are expected to struggle, that learning can be difficult at times, and that it's their responsibility to help their children persevere can empower parents to assume a supportive role in the learning process.
Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
Arina Bokas is the Clarkston PTA Council president in Clarkston, Mich., and the host of the Future of Learning television series on Independence TV. Howard Andress is a 20-year veteran math teacher in the Clarkston School District.
ASCD Express, Vol. 11, No. 14. Copyright 2016 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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