As parents, we’re always looking for ways to help our children do better at school. One way that really works, according to John Hattie, is “Parent Engagement“. When we are committed to our children’s education (as defined below), the net positive effect can be as much as adding another two to three years of schooling experience. That kind of impact can seriously enhance our children’s overall achievement at school.
- Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.
- The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background.
- Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.
When parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education, the children:
- have better school attendance
- score higher grades
- exhibit more positive attitudes and behaviour
- are more likely to graduate
- are more likely to enter tertiary education
The bottom line: children with engaged parents generally demonstrate greater achievement in life.
What do you mean by Parent Engagement?
According to John Hattie, parent engagement means this:
- setting goals together
- displaying enthusiasm for learning
- encouraging good study habits
- asking questions
- valuing experimentation and learning new things
- enjoying reading
What can we do to increase Parent Engagement?
There are many ways to be an involved parent and it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Here are some suggestions…
- Talk about learning
- Share learning experiences (like reading together)
- Encourage learning through positive honest feedback
Get Involved in School Activities
Attending school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, school events, volunteering to help with school activities can help you feel more familiar with the regular routines of your school. As they say – “actions speak louder than words” – and your presence and involvement at school sends a strong message to your child that school is important.
At my sons’ school, they offer the following ideas:
- Be aware of what your child is doing at school – you can’t talk to your child, ask the right questions, and express your interest appropriately if you don’t know what’s going on. You’ll see that everything relates to this.
- Praise – remember the work from Carol Dweck on Growth Mindsets and phrase it appropriately. You can talk about your children’s achievement by examining their learning process – time taken, problems they had to overcome, the collaborative effort from their classmates – which leads back to point number 1: know what they’re doing).
- Questioning – asking the right questions will help you be more engaged in your child’s learning, but the way you ask them and when you ask them can make or break how effective this method can be. If you get the timing or the method wrong, it won’t work even if you’re asking all the right questions.
- Be interested, even when you’re not – chances are you aren’t going to be interested in a lot of the stuff you kids are into but if you don’t make it a point to be interested, you’ll miss good opportunities for helping them to extend their thinking and their learning.
- Ask, don’t tell and be the student – if you “know it all”, your child will either feel the pressure to also know everything or they will rebel against, neither of which is good for both of you.
- Not everything they like is bad – same goes for everyone else. For example, video games can be educational – they can promote problem solving, critical thinking, and a whole host of other skills. The key is “all things in moderation”.
Work to Promote a Growth Mindset
We’ve covered this topic in detail here: The Growth Mindset in Education.
The Power of Questioning
Help your children think more deeply about issues by asking the right questions. Here are some examples of good questions you can ask:
- How did you do that?
- Can you teach me?
- Why do you think that happened?
- What do you think that is?
- If you did this another way, what might happen?
- What’s the funniest thing that someone did today?
- What did you find hard about that?
- How did you get past it?
- So what?
These questions are designed to get your child’s brain working BUT they’ll only work if you execute them right. In other words, they aren’t going to work if you put your child on the spot and bombard them with these questions as soon as they get home from school. It has to come naturally, at the right time and place.
If you need more help with questions you can ask your children, see Thinking Tools (Bloom’s Taxonomy) to get ideas. Helping your children to think more deeply about issues with creative questioning can really impact your children’s learning.
Questions are not only for your children but also for your children’s teachers. They can help you understand more about what’s going on in school and how your children are doing. How can you find out more? By asking the right questions at parent-teacher conferences, for example:
- What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
- How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
- What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
- How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
- Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
- How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
- How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
- What can I do to support literacy in my home?
- What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
- How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
- What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
- What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
- How do you measure academic progress?
- What are the best school or district resources that we should consider using as a family to support our child in the classroom?
- Is there technology you’d recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
- What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
- How is education changing?
- How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
- What am I not asking but should be?
Assessment for Learning
“The stuff that matters the most in assessment is the stuff that’s happening minute by minute, day by day.” – Dylan Wiliam
In order for our children to learn effectively, they need specific feedback on how to improve. In order to give them feedback, we need to know how much they understand. That’s where assessments come in handy. What kind of assessments are your children getting? Are they formative or summative? Why does this matter?
Formative assessment is a method of monitoring student learning that provides ongoing feedback that can help teachers to improve their teaching and students to improve their learning. They help students identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can target areas that need attention. Formative assessments also help teachers recognise where students are struggling so they can adjust their teaching methods appropriately.
Summative assessment is a method of evaluating student learning at the end of a topic or school year so that it can be compared against a standard or benchmark.
You may recognise that most of our assessments back in the day when we were still in school were mostly summative. We sat for an exam at the end of the year and we got a grade to tell us how well we performed. End of story. Unfortunately, summative assessments aren’t very useful for helping students to learn because there is no feedback on how to improve.
Formative assessments help us identify where our children are at on the learning curve so we can give them feedback to improve. What kind of feedback? For feedback to be effective, it needs to be clear and specific. Letter grades are non-specific – they don’t tell the students much other than whether they are doing well or not so well. Here’s an example of good feedback:
Your paragraphs are nicely structured but you need to consider how you can link each one back to the question.
Revisit your work, add one sentence on the end of each paragraph explicitly telling me how this information helps to answer the question. Then resubmit it.
Consider using starters such as:
- The evidence here proves that ……..
- This clearly demonstrates ………
- In relation to the question this tells us ………
3 central processes in assessments:
- Be clear about where the learner is going;
- Be clear about where they are and establish how to get there;
- Think about the role of the teacher, the role of other peers in the classroom and the learner.
5 key strategies for Assessment for Learning:
- Finding our where the students are in their learning – teachers make sure they know where the learner is through questioning, classroom tasks, and dialogue.
- Providing feedback that moves the students forward in their learning – this should be differentiated from feed back that merely tells them they are or are not doing okay.
- Ensuring all students are clear about the success criteria – teachers clarify what the learning is about and peers (other students) have a role in communicating this to each other as well.
- Student peer assessment – peers support each other and act as teaching resources of one another.
- Student self-assessment – encourages students accountable for their own learning (see also: Metacognition – managing emotions towards school and work).
Make Technology Your Friend
Let’s face it – technology is here to stay and our children are going to be using it. The only way we are ever going to keep up with it and make sure that our children’s experience with it is largely net positive is to make it our friend. Simply put, don’t fear your kids’ technology use; embrace it – wise words of advice from Rebecca Levey which you should read in its entirety, but here are the main points:
- how you handle your child’s online life should be exactly the way you handle your child’s real-world life because children need your guidance online as much as they need your guidance in the real-world.
- just as you teach them how to stay safe in the real-world, teach them how to stay safe online.
- teach children to be responsible with technology just as you would in the real-world.
- remember that there are a lot of good things to gain from technology if we can teach our children to use it well.
- keep the conversation open and stay in touch with your child’s online life just as you would in the real-world.
Remember that kids do what you do, not what you say so what are you like with technology? Are you intimate or inanimate? Here are some good tips from Debra Fine on HuffPost on bridging the digital divide:
- As they say with the FISH Philosophy – Be There! When you are with your children, be PRESENT and put your device away so your children know they are the priority.
- Set rules for technology use and make sure everyone in the house follows them – you too!
- Conversation is important! Show your child what real conversation should be like by asking open-ended questions and giving thoughtful answers.
- If you call your child on the phone, make sure your child calls back – no texting.
- Keep private information private – don’t share embarrassing pictures of your kids or information they won’t like being public notice. Teach your child social media discretion by exercising it yourself.
- The Home-School Collaboration: Parent-Teacher Team Effort
- Early Reading – the Benefits of Starting Early
- Tips for Helping Children with Reading at Home
- Jeff Gunhus’ Tips for Reaching the Reluctant Reader
- Philosophy for Pre-Adolescent Children
- Video Games can Make Your Child Smarter
- Parental Guidance Recommended – Keeping Pace with Digital Media
- Recommended Educational Apps