When the bell rings and the school day is finished, educators hope their students’ education and growth continue in their home environment. Regretfully, many teachers know that for some students, once they leave the classroom much of the curriculum they work on during the day stays in their bookbag. It’s a question that reading teachers face every year: how can we open lines of communication with families and increase their involvement in literacy to help students keep exploring, discovering, and obtaining knowledge at home?
Families are a student’s first teachers and they remain central to the learning experience throughout their child’s school years. Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that family involvement is crucial to student success. Students whose parents remain involved been shown to maintain higher levels of academic achievement (11). These students also develop more realistic plans for the future and are more likely to graduate from high school (3). For many students, their first encounter with literacy education starts at home — such as being read a book, told a story, or learning to communicate. In seeking to retain this involvement, many educators and district leaders are actively looking for ways to further engage and empower families to be partners in literacy. Below, we’ve gathered insight and background into opening lines of communication with parents and families, providing parents with instructional practice tools, teaming up with community, and instilling a growth mindset in students and their parents.
Opening Lines of Communication
Opening lines of communication with parents and families is critical first step in increasing at-home literacy involvement. Developing effective communication patterns with students’ parents or guardians can ultimately impact their cognitive and socio-behavioral development as well as emergent literacy skills (4). To build continuous communication with families, teachers can use several strategies, such as parent-teacher conferences, phone calls home, and literacy nights. All of which help to open lines of communication and encourage at-home involvement.
Parent-Teacher Conferences: One of the more mainstream or traditional forms of communication with parents, parent-teacher conferences can be a simple way to meet elementary parents. Teachers may choose to utilize conference time to provide families with easy-to-implement tools and ideas for at-home involvement. It is not uncommon for parents to be overwhelmed or quite simply not know what to ask during parent-teacher conferences. A week prior to conferences, parents may benefit from a teachers sending out a “Questions to Ask” sheet, similar to the one provided by the Michigan Department of Education (3). Providing parents with general questions, or literacy specific questions to ask during the conference, can prepare them to ask questions that will guide their learning about their students’ achievements as well as how to be involved at-home.
Phone Calls Home: Calls home to parents are another traditional method of communication, but unfortunately are often associated with negative student behaviors, or “getting in trouble.” This is an opportunity to change that perception and demonstrate that a phone call home can be a positive experience. In fact, research suggests providing parents with information about their child’s classroom performance between report cards can make parents more likely to remain involved in their student’s work (5). While emails are quick and efficient, they can be easily overlooked or be deemed impersonal. Taking time to call and discuss a students’ achievement can be a great tool for opening up communication lines, as well as checking in on their at-home engagement.
Host a Literacy Night: Hosting a literacy night, whether it takes form in person or as a webinar parents can watch from home, is an emerging way of opening lines of communication. Through providing space for parents to learn about their students’ literacy education, ask questions, and develop at-home involvement practices, parents and teachers become partners for student success (1). Literacy nights present an opportunity to talk about expectations, both parent expectations for their student and student’s teacher as well as teacher expectations for students and parents. In order to increase attendance at such events, the Ohio Department of Education suggests that during literacy nights providing prize incentives such as books, journals or other literacy tools can be used for at-home literacy engagement (5).
Providing Parents with Instructional Practice Tools
In addition to considering methods or tools for communicating with parents, it’s also important to consider why parents may be less involved or visible to educators. For many parents, the new methods of instruction they see in their student’s homework can be overwhelming when they don’t match the methods they used in school. Research suggests many parents believe they are not competent enough to adequately instruct their student (1). There are several simple ways to teach parents how to be successful in their at-home learning role.
Interactive Homework: In today’s digital age, utilization of social media can be a beneficial way for teachers to keep parents up-to-date and involved on their students’ literacy learning. One study suggests using Facebook as a communication tool (6). Creating a class Facebook page for parents to join can be useful in engaging them in what their student is learning. The platform can also be used to provide parents with book suggestions, at-home work, class participation opportunities, and keeping them in the know about what their student is working on and has due (6). In combination with online supplements, assigning students interactive homework in which they must read to a family member, go over vocabulary or spelling terms, or discuss comprehension can be excellent ways of creating at-home engagement opportunities.
Workshops: Creating Youtube videos and online documents that can be shared with your students’ families can not only help build a school-home connection, but can also help both students and their caregivers better understand the specific literacy content and skills that are being covered at school. This content should “help families understand academic content standards and literacy-related benchmarks appropriate to their child’s age (5).” Research has shown that children show greater progress when parents learn specific methods for literacy improvement (4).
Instilling Growth Mindset in Parents: Growth mindset assumes the position that ability can be developed and continually improved through dedication and hard work (7). Parents and caregivers can have a powerful impact on their students’ mindset. While emerging research encourages teachers to integrate growth mindset in their classroom and with their students, instilling a growth mindset in parents is less frequently discussed. Through using positive, encouraging language that encourages growth and accepts failure, parents set the tone for their students’ learning (8). The mindset changes parents’ perceptions from fixed:
“My student can’t read or write like that,”
to one of growth:
“My student can’t read or write like that, yet!”
Research suggests when teachers instill a growth mindset in parents, it has two effects:
- It shows parents they can make a difference in their child’s literary achievements, and
- It has a large potential to positively impact classroom performance through giving parents the confidence to supplement school efforts and help their student read and express themselves well in writing (9).
When families offer concrete praise focused on specific literacy-related skills, students not only gain confidence, but also build metacognitive skills. For instance, rather than saying, “you are so smart,” replace it with pointed positive feedback about the students work, “I was proud that when you weren’t sure about how to find the main idea, you decided to go back to the story and re-read it” (8). To help parents familiarize themselves with this language shift, develop a list of “Say This, Not That” examples to provide students’ parents and class volunteers.
Utilize Family & Community Support
Students are often encouraged to use their resources to make finding solutions easier, however, it can be easy for teacher to forget to do the same. Communities and families are excellent resources waiting to be explored in order to solve concerns with parent engagement and communication. Through tapping into the resources below, teachers are likely to increase parent engagement and student learning.
Volunteers: When we think of classroom volunteers, we often tend to only think about parents and caregivers. What if we extended our definition? Volunteers could include older siblings, extended relatives, and grandparents and community members (5). In fact, one study suggests that bringing in retired community members as classroom volunteers may be the most beneficial for students.
“The teaming of senior citizens and children is proving to be a natural and effective combination. Schools get free, reliable, dedicated assistance at a time when pressure to boost low-achieving students’ performance is growing, and shrinking budgets are resulting in fewer classroom aides. And the volunteers dispense grandparent-levels of love that many of the children crave” (2).
However, if securing volunteers proves to be challenging, consider eliminating the travel and offer a pen pal option instead. Pen pals can help build students reading, writing, and comprehension skills while also incorporating SEL in their instruction (5). Partnering with a local retirement homes in the community can be a great place to find volunteer pen pals.
Available After-School Resources: While teachers do their best to serve every student and family well, some students require extra assistance. One solution is proactively locating community programs and after-school assistance locations to provide for parents and students (5). Providing a list on your class website or in a hand-out could be greatly beneficial to students success or parents struggling to provide at-home assistance.
An Overall Look
How does it all tie together? Providing parents with a road map at the beginning of each year can be an excellent way to plan and communicate a home-school literacy connection all year round (10). Your road map, such as the above example provided by the Council of Great City Schools, might include resources such as a short letter to parents, what their student will be learning, objectives for their students, a guide to helping their child learn outside of the classroom, and a volunteer sign up sheet. Providing this type of resource sets a tone for communication throughout the school year.
Want to learn more about engagement, growth mindset, or SEL? Check out the resources below:
- A New Vision for Empowerment: Growth Mindset
- How to Provide High Aptitude Learners with Social and Emotional Supports
- Digital Learning for Literacy Growth and Engagement
- 5 Ways Teachers Can Make Learning Communities Accessible for Parents of English Learners
- 5 Guiding Principles of Social and Emotional Learning
(1)Plevyak, L. H. (2003, 10). Parent involvement in education: Who decides? The Education Digest, 69, 32–38. Retrieved from http://libproxy.highpoint.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/218174097?accountid=11411
(2)Calling All Grandparents: Senior Volunteers Transform Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin355.shtml
(3)M. (2011). “Collaborating for Success” Parent Engagement Toolkit. Retrieved from https://d1e2bohyu2u2w9.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/tlr-asset/4a._final_toolkit_without_bookmarks_370151_7.pdf
(4)Swain, J., & Cara, O. (2017). Changing the home literacy environment through participation in family literacy programmes. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, (2017). doi:10.1177/1468798417745118
(6)Thompson, B. C., Mazer, J. P., & Flood Grady, E. (2015). The Changing Nature of Parent–Teacher Communication: Mode Selection in the Smartphone Era. Communication Education, 64(2), 187–207. https://doi.org.libproxy.highpoint.edu/10.1080/03634523.2015.1014382
(7)MINDSET. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html
(8)How Parents Can Instill a Growth Mindset at Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mindsetworks.com/parents/growth-mindset-parenting
(9)Andersen, S. C., & Nielsen, H. S. (2016). Reading intervention with a growth mindset approach improves children’s skills. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(43), 12111–12113. doi:10.1073/pnas.1607946113
(11)Yurtoğlu, N. (2018). Http://www.historystudies.net/dergi//birinci-dunya-savasinda-bir-asayis-sorunu-sebinkarahisar-ermeni-isyani20181092a4a8f.pdf. History Studies International Journal of History,10(7), 241–264. doi:10.9737/hist.2018.658