Friday, July 29, 2005

Getting Parents Involved

I have to admit that one of the aspects of elementary schoool teaching that never appealed to me was dealing with parents in the classroom on a regular basis. It just seemed that there was too much that could go wrong in these situations. Plus, as the parent of a ten year old, I've heard enough bus stop conversations about certain teachers to be thankful that I teach high school. Still, although teens certainly need to become more independent, I've come to believe that parents are extremely important element in their child's education even in high school. It's a time that while giving them more freedom they can get involved in other ways. A lot of research on the subject is summarized here, and while much of it concerns elementary school students, there is a considerable number of studies that show that high school students (especially before senior year) benefit as well. According to one study, "parents' educational expectations and encouragement were by far the most important type of family pratice" (Catsambis 93). Another found that schools who contacted parents about how they could get involved or help their child were view more positively (Sanders, et al 162-163) and they all seem to point to parent-school partnerships as a largely untapped and important resource. But none of them seem to examine a more direct approach to parents and the classroom.

I tried inviting parents to contribute their experience and expertise last year in my American Studies class that combines Sophmore English withUS II (American History from1920 to the present). The idea was to get both students and their parents contribute to the content of the course and have a voice in what was happening in the classroom. Although my teaching partner and I know the material very well, I'm sure the 27 students and their parents have interests and experiences that could have greatly added to the content. At the same time, we were hoping that this would lead to the students being more engaged in the content, and their parents being more involved in their school work as well. Unfortunately, as I've refered to in other posts, only a few parents actually participated. I would like to try and approach this in a slightly different way. First, we could introduce the weblog and the idea at the beginning of the course (rather than in the middle) and explain it further at back to school night. And although idealistically, I would like to leave participation in the weblog as voluntary, I might have to require students to participate to some extent.

Finally, perhaps each student can be responsible for presenting a lesson on a topic that they have an interest in or their family has a unique relationship to. Maybe they have a grandparent that was present at a battle in WWII, or their grandmother worked in a factory during this time. They could conduct an interview and show pictures and artifacts. Perhaps the student is a musician and would like to present changes in the electric guitar and it's impact, or one of their parents grew up in Levittown (like me) and can present pictures and artifacts to illustrate it's importance and impact. This could also end up relating in some way to their research paper. We could get kids thinking about this early on by completing a survey on the interests and experiences of themselves and their family members.

Has anyone tried anything like this? Does it seem worthwhile? Will the involvement of parents serve to limit the participation of some kids or will it be a positive thing? Are most parents interested in being this involved or do they think it better to let the kids do things on their own at this age?


Anonymous said...

I think having parents involved is a wonderful idea. There is so much that they can contribute to the classroom. I was very involved when my children were in elementary school, and would have welcomed the opportunity to do so when they were in high school. I was fortunate, however, to work at their high school, so I had a limited involvement. Grandparents and parents have so much to contribute to a history lesson. In my opinion, a personal narrative is much more interesting and informative than reading a textbook. My children's grandparents would have loved the opportunity to tell their stories of World War II.
I also believe that high school students would welcome their parents in the classroom. I don't think it would limit the student's participation in class, especially if they and their parents work together.
I think most parents would like to be involved, but are hesitant to do so because they think their children don't want them involved. Teens will often say they don't want their parents involved, even though they would like them to be. They don't think it would be "cool" to want parents involved.
One way to invite parental involvement would be to write a letter home. Letters given to students never seem to make it to the parents. Also, perhaps a parent volunteer could coordinate the parents' involvement. If parents knew that other parents were involved they might be more inclined to participate.
Lots of luck with this project - I think it's a great idea that would benefit both students and parents.

Tom McHale said...

Thanks for advice and support. I do plan to send a letter home (we sent them home last year, but I don't think they all made it to the parents,) and to talk about it at back to school night as well. I agree that it is the responsibility of the school and teachers to let parents know how they can become involved in their high school student's classroom. I'll be reporting on how well all this goes throughout the year, so please check back periodically.

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