Quick Tip Tuesday: Introduction to the Parent Project

In this week’s Quick Tip Jim Vopat, author of The Parent Project, introduces us to the origins of the project and how it helps parents become more involved in their children’s learning.

Welcome to the Parent Project. The Project is a workshop approach to increasing parent involvement in their children’s education. The Parent Project began in three of Milwaukee’s inner-city elementary schools in response to a specific practical need. As Director of the Milwaukee Writing Project, I was at the time working with Milwaukee teachers in an effort to revitalize classroom instruction through the use of journals, portfolios, and workshop structures.

Concerns regarding parent understanding and support for the kinds of instructional changes teachers were making arose with such regularity that I began to search for a means for involving parents in the process. Fortuitously, The Joyce Foundation of Chicago was, during thissame period, determined to support a variety of efforts to increaseparent involvement in their children’s education. Since there didn’t seem to be any available model for the kind of parent involvement I envisioned, The Joyce Foundation encouraged me to work with Milwaukee teachers and parents in order to develop such a program.

What emerged was a workshop approach that focused on what children were learning in the classroom, and how this learning could be supported at home. What emerged was a means to strengthen the relationship between home and school—teacher, parent, and child.

School has changed dramatically since many parents were there and, if the goal of parent involvement is to strengthen the link between home and school, parents need to be introduced to the revitalized school classroom. Many classroom learning strategies experienced by children every day—keeping journals, interviewing, booksharing, cooperative learning, response groups, publishing—are unfamiliar to these same children’s parents. We can’t really expect parents to nurture and support such learning strategies if they don’t understand what those strategies are or how they can be supported.

For example, in one of our initial parent workshops, I invited everyone to write or draw for five minutes in their journals. After we were finished, I asked for comments. Wayne said he knew he had misspelled many words and that he never could spell and it bothered him. We talked about how journal writing didn’t need to be correct and that the freedom simply to express one’s self was one of the advantages of keeping a journal. Wayne’s two daughters (in grades one and three) were keeping journals in school, and Wayne said that when they brought their journals home, the first thing on his mind when he read them was how they were doing on their spelling.

When Wayne was in elementary school, there was no journal writing and good writing meant spelling correctly and nothing more. For Wayne’s two daughters, writing in school had come to be defined so differently that, for them, the messages of school and home were contradictory. As I listened to Wayne joke about his spelling and admit his relief at not having to worry about it when using his journal, I thought about how absurd it is to reform education but then to keep it a secret from parents.

The counterargument often heard is not that school reform is a kept secret but that parents just won’t show up to hear about it. I havea few observations about this. First of all, I am curious as to what happens when the parent does show up and what kind of support structureis in place for follow-up. In Milwaukee, for instance, it has been popular to bring busloads of parents into large auditoriums for infomotivational seminars where they are blamed, tantalized, and talked at. At the end of the day, these parents are bussed home where they have to deal with the everyday problems that have accumulated. And that’s it. There is no follow-up support, only a slightly bitter tomorrow. Instead of this lack of support, what would happen if we called upon the most powerful aspects of school reform to accomplish the goal of increased parent involvement: workshops, journals, cooperativegroups, shared reading, agenda building, interviewing, goal setting, and critical thinking? What would happen?

Through our workshops, we have spent years exploring the answers to this question, working with thousands of parents and teachers in a wide range of settings, including inner-city schools, community centers, affluent and not-so affluent suburban schools, as well as Chapter 1 programs. So what did happen? When I meet with parents and teachers in order to discuss parent involvement and define the advantages of a workshop approach, I usually begin by conducting a workshop itself as a means of coming to understand by doing rather than talking about doing. After a brief introduction of all participants and an explanation of why we are together, I distribute journals. I explain that the journals should be used in ways participants find comfortable—writing, drawing, doodling—whatever will help them remember what they feel is important.

I then ask everyone to pause a moment, relax, and think back to when they were growing up. What influence did their parents or guardians have on their attitudes and feelings about school and learning? Did your parents or caregiver actively encourage you to learn, were they neutral, or did they discourage learning? Does one particular incident from the past come to mind? Can you place yourself back in this memory? Can you close your eyes for a few minutes and try to reexperience this memory, this time and place? Can you close your eyes and go back, into this time and place? [long pause] Journey back into this memory, Where are you? How old are you? Who’s with you? How do you feel? What’s happening? Have your feelings about this memory changed over time? Why do you think this memory has stayed with you? What are the dimensions of its meaning? [long pause]Now, if you will open your eyes and take a few minutes to jot down some reactions to this visualization of your memory. Any words or pictures or part of  images that come to mind. Anything that will help you remember it.What does your memory have to say about the connection between parents, schools, and learning? What can we do to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education?

After there has been sufficient time for reflection, I divide participants into small groups of four or five people and ask them to share their individual memory with the other members of their group by reading from their journal or verbally recounting what they have been thinking about. When everyone has had an opportunity to share, I ask each group to formulate some observations about what constitutes a positive home environment for learning and to arrive at these observations based on the memories of their group. When the small groups report back to the reformed large group, they usually do so with a combination of moving family history and reasonable, clear educational philosophy.

As we hear these family stories and the resulting observations about how learning can be fostered and nurtured, the significance of parent involvement becomes all the more real. As we listen to the family stories of sacrifice foreducation; of persistence in school in spite of daunting obstacles; ofparents reading to their children, writing with their children, encouraging learning as a sign of self-worth, it becomes obvious that the issue is not whether parent involvement is necessary, but rather how we can all work together to make it more intentional.

Add comment March 29th, 2011

Quick Tip Tuesday: Family Literacy Experiences

This week’s Quick Tip, an essay by Lesley Mandel Morrow, explores how schools and homes can support each other in creating meaningful literacy experiences for students. Literacy learning doesn’t just take place in schools and teachers need to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of literacy experiences students have outside of school. This essay appears in Family Literacy Experiences: Creating Reading and Writing Opportunities That Support Classroom Learning by Jennifer Rowsell.

Home and School Working Together
by Lesley M. Morrow

I have the wonderful opportunity to watch literacy development with my two grandchildren, three- year-old James and six-month-old Natalie. My daughter, her husband, and grandparents have read to James and Natalie daily from the time they were born. We look at books, talk about the pictures, and read stories. Books are all around my daughter’s home. There are accessible bookshelves in their rooms. There are books in the kitchen, the bathroom, and play areas. James sees his parents reading frequently—professional literature as well as novels, magazines, and newspapers—and at times they join them with their own books. In addition to books there are magnetic letters and numbers, paper and pencils, markers and crayons. Playing with these and books bring as much joy as playing with dolls and trucks.

Family literacy encompasses the ways family members use literacy at home and in their community. Family literacy occurs naturally during the routines of daily living and helps adults and children “get things done.” Examples include using writing or drawing to share ideas, composing notes or letters to communicate messages, keeping records, making lists, following written directions, or sharing stories and ideas through conversation, reading, and writing.

Although literacy activity is present in one form or another in most families, the particular kinds of events that some families share with children may have a great deal of influence on school success. Conversely, the kinds of literacy practised in classrooms may not be meaningful for some children outside school. Family literacy must be approached to avoid cultural bias, and activities must be supportive rather than intrusive.

Schools need to view families as partners in the development of literacy. Because no two communities are the same, family literacy programs need to be tailored to the needs of the individuals they serve:

• Hold meetings at varied times of the day and days of the week, in accessible locations that are friendly and nonthreatening. Provide transportation if no public transportation is available or if parents do not have a way of getting to meetings.
• Provide child care and refreshments at meetings.
• Work with parents alone, and with family members and children together. There should be sharing times when family members and children work together.
• Provide support groups for families to talk about helping their children and to find out what they want to know.
• Provide families with ideas and materials to use at home, including easy literacy activities that family members consider useful, such as talking and reading about childrearing concerns, about community life problems, etc.
• Include the opportunity for parental participation in school activities during school hours.

Likewise, teachers should help promote parental involvement in children’s education: informing families on a regular basis what is happening in school and how they can help their children; involving families in school activities during the day and providing activities for families to do at home. Families need to feel that they are welcome in the classroom:

• At the beginning of the school year, send home the literacy development goals to be achieved for the grade level you teach, in a format that can be understood by all.
• With each new unit of instruction or literacy concept, send home a letter to let families know what you are studying and what they can do to help.
• Invite families to school for parent conferences and school programs.
• Invite families to help with literacy activities in the classroom, such as reading to children, helping with bookbinding, taking written dictation of stories, and supervising independent activities while teachers work with small groups and individual children.
• Send home activities for families and children to do together.
• Require some feedback from the parents or child about working together.
• Suggest home activities such as writing in journals together, reading together, visiting the library, recording print in the environment, writing notes to each other, cooking together and following recipes, following directions to put together toys or household items, and watching and talking about specific programs on television.
• Participate in homework assignments together.
• Invite families to school to share special skills they may have, to talk about their cultural heritage, hobbies, jobs, etc.
• Send home notes when a child is doing well. Do not send notes only for problems.
• Provide lists of literature for families to share with their children.
• Hold meetings for family members and children about progress and projects.

We need the help of families to support the work done in school to promote literacy. All parents can help in some way, and schools need to be persistent in involving them in the literacy curriculum and finding how they can help in a way that is comfortable for them.

Add comment August 18th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Is Reading to Kids Women’s Work?

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Leanna Landsmann’s syndicated A+ Advice column. A reader asked her recently about how she could get her husband more involved in reading to their kids. Leanne turned to Jane Baskwill, author of Getting Dads on Board for the answer.

Is reading to kids ‘women’s work’?

Question of the Week: I read with our young children nightly. I enjoy it, but it takes time. Since my husband was furloughed and I work two jobs, I asked him to take it over, but he says “women” do a better job. How can I get him to pitch in?

This is a more typical “guy” reaction than you might think. While many dads love “reading hour,” some think they need special skills when it comes to boosting kids’ literacy development. Not true!

Dads are very important to their child’s literacy learning, says Dr. Jane Baskwill, a reading educator who coaches teachers on involving fathers. “Fathers are role models. Whenever a child sees a dad reading — whether to look up information, follow instructions to assemble a toy or simply for pure enjoyment — the child starts to value reading.”

Studies show that children whose dads read with them do better academically, exhibit more social competence, and have more confidence as learners. Data also shows that a father’s reading habits, choices and interests positively influence those of his children. Literacy activities also increase communication and strengthen father-child bonds.

Think beyond books at bedtime, says Baskwill, author of “Getting Dads on Board” (Stenhouse, 2009). “Some dads may not enjoy story hour, but they might love to share an article in the newspaper about a favorite team, work a puzzle, or enjoy reading children’s magazines or comics with kids. Encourage your husband to put his own twist on special time with your children.”

Try these activities.

TELL STORIES: With storytelling, kids learn to listen, imagine, and add to their vocabulary, says Baskwill. Find tips on effective storytelling at eldrbarry.net.

PLAY GAMES AND PUZZLES: When Dad and kids share a board game or tackle a scavenger hunt, the result is conversation, inquiry and discovery. “These are easy literacy activities to extend,” says Baskwill. “For example, one dad creates scavenger hunts with his GPS. Another invented a car game called ‘Signs.’ He calls out a letter, and kids spot signs with that letter. They categorize them in a notebook. He says it’s fun, and he feels like he’s helping them with school.”

POINT OUT THE PRINT: Pointing out “environmental print” — the letters, words and logos that surround us — fans a child’s desire to read, says Baskwill. “These activities are especially good when they relate to things young children love, such as reading labels of favorite cereals and signs of places to visit. As kids get older, let them read, sort, and evaluate the family’s ‘junk’ mail. One dad creates a family scavenger hunt with Sunday’s paper supplements. Kids look forward to it each week.”

RESEARCH AND REWARD: When dads share reading about their hobbies, such as sports, fishing and cars, they’re showing kids how reading helps you keep up with things you like. A dad who is a NASCAR buff might check a fan Web site every day with kids. Conversely, he could tap into a child’s interest. Whet the “reading” appetite of a child fascinated by sharks, for example, by sharing age-appropriate books and TV shows about sharks.

A father doesn’t have to read Junie B. Jones every night to further a child’s literacy learning. “Dads can participate in ways they feel comfortable. As their confidence grows, and they see how much kids enjoy it, they will try new things and expand their involvement. The most important thing is keeping the activities easy, fun and natural. Both father and child will reap great benefits,” says Baskwill.

Copyright 2009, United Feature Syndicate, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

1 comment July 28th, 2009

Quick Tip Tuesday: Communicating with families

It’s the phone call no teacher likes to make: telling a parent that their child is not doing well in class or is having behavioral issues. The authors of TeamWork: Setting a Standard for Collaborative Teaching, Grades 5-9, found a way to make parents their allies in getting the best out of their students. In this week’s Quick Tip, they share their strategies for making that uncomfortable phone call more productive.

Whether we communicate with our students’ families in person, via the telephone, or in writing, we spread the message that their children are special to us. Whenever we contact parents or guardians, we follow the same format:
1. Say something positive (you may have to dig deep).
2. State what happened and how the student’s behavior is keeping him (and, potentially, his peers) from learning.
3. Say something positive (you may have to dig deeper).

For example, instead of saying, “Johnny talks all the time during class. He never takes notes, and if he doesn’t get it under control he’ll fail the unit,” we might take a different approach. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Doe. I’m just calling to let you know how Johnny has been doing in class. He is one of our most outgoing students, really friendly to everyone in the class. Recently he has been forgetting to take his notes and practice the sample problems. I know how much you and your husband want Johnny to succeed, so I’m sure you’ll be encouraging him at home to work to his full potential in the classroom, and he can still be just as sociable at recess.”

Another approach we use is to make the introductory and closing remarks and let the student tell her mom or dad what she’s been up to. This idea occurred to us after we had many phone conversations with parents who didn’t believe our account of their children’s misbehaviors. We thought (correctly, as it turned out) that if the students heard the disappointment or anger in their parents’ voices, they might be more motivated to immediately correct their behavior.

One such conversation went as follows: “Hello, Mr. Davis, this is Kathryn Edmonds, Lance’s teacher, calling from Dutchtown Middle School. Today in math class we are learning several probability concepts, which are not only going to be on Lance’s nine-weeks exam but also on the statewide assessment in three weeks. This is usually a tough unit for students, and I know how well you expect Lance to perform. Lance is here with me now, and I’m going to let him talk to you and share how he’s been using his time in math class this morning.”
“Dad, this is Lance. I haven’t been doing my work this morning, and now my teacher is upset. (PAUSE) No, sir, I didn’t write any of the notes. (PAUSE) Nope, I didn’t do the activity either. (PAUSE) Well, uh, I was sleeping at first; then when she woke me up, I didn’t know what we were doing, so I started tearin’ up paper and throwin’ it on the floor. (LONG PAUSE) He wants to talk to you again, Mrs. Edmonds.”
“Hey, Mr. Davis, it’s Kathryn again.”
“Mrs. Edmonds, I am so sorry you had to call me to get Lance to finally focus in class. I would like a copy of the notes and the activity, and Lance will complete everything tonight, twice if it’s not perfect the first time!”
“Yes, sir, I hate that I had to call you, too, but I know you only want the best for your son.”
“Yes, ma’am, thank you, and please know this will not happen again. But if he starts to slip, please don’t hesitate to call me anytime.”
“Thank you, Mr. Davis. Have a good rest of the day.”

Lance took notes and completed all of his activities for a solid eight weeks (a major achievement for a special education student with an individualized education plan [IEP] that included a behavior plan).

Our multifaceted team effort to build bonds between school and home has made an astounding difference in our interactions with students’ families. Establishing and maintaining strong, positive relationships with parents and guardians is a conscious part of our work, never an afterthought. They are vital partners in education, and we no longer take them for granted.

The degree to which our relationships have changed became clear in the summer of 2006, as we were preparing our presentation for the Disney American Teacher Awards. During our deliberations, we realized that we needed a video clip of Markeith. We called his home to request the opportunity to film him during the next week. Markeith’s mom responded, “You need Markeith? Yes, Mrs. Mayeaux, we will take him to you right now.”

Ten minutes later, Markeith’s brother dropped him off at Monique’s house, and we completed the videotaping. Only when Markeith was about to leave did we learn the entire story. Markeith had been on his way to a doctor’s appointment when we called. His mother quickly rescheduled the appointment and rerouted him to Monique’s house because “his teachers needed him.”

That kind of parental support is invaluable to a teaching team. It is worth the time and effort to cultivate such relationships because they enrich us personally and professionally. Our relationships with students’ families are based on mutual concern for the most important people in the parents’ lives—their children. We have found that our students’ families go out of their way to support our decisions because they know how much we care for their children.

Add comment July 7th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Getting parents involved

In the third installment of our Questions & Authors series with the authors of TeamWork: Setting the Standard for Collaborative Teaching, Grades 5-9, Kathryn Edmonds shares some strategies for getting parents involved in the life of a classroom. Revisit Amanda Mayeaux’s tips for keeping work and life in balance and Monique Wild’s advice on putting students in charge of their own learning.

Teachers often ask each other: “How do you get parents involved in your class or on your team?” Over the years of asking ourselves the same question at the start of every school year we found a few tricks that increased parent involvement that we discuss in chapter three of our book. Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  1. Whether the information is presented at a traditional open house or in before-school-starts letters home, offer a “menu” of choices of opportunities for parents to become involved. Be sure the menu has a wide variety of offerings for parents. These may include donations of supplies or treats for the classrooms, chaperoning for fieldtrips or school events, making classroom materials, and any other things you can do. Giving advanced notice of your involvement needs is always appreciated with working parents.
  2. Throughout the school year update your involvement needs list on the class/team website or newsletter.
  3. Thank you notes and shout-outs to those parents that contributed any amount of time, effort, and/or money, no matter how large or small, go a long way. As much as parents want to feel needed they also want to feel appreciated.
  4. Have the students do the inviting. Recorded voice messages from students and hand-made invitations are hard for parents to turn down!
  5. Offer parents the experience to share their college, career, or special talent knowledge with your class or team. Many parents, like their middle-school age children, enjoy sharing information and life experiences with others.

Add comment May 21st, 2009

Share a Story – Shape a Future: Tips for Parents

In today’s post, Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Know-How and the upcoming Notebook Connections, shares how she reads with and for her son every evening. Aimee offers advice for parents on how to make evening story time a launching pad for talking about books with kids.

See the other topics in today’s lineup at The Book Chook.

EXCLUSIVE: Get a sneak peek of Aimee’s new book!

Reading Aloud at Home

One of my favorite times during the day is when I read aloud to my son. He’s 9 years old, and he’s more than capable to read on his own. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. It gives me valuable insight to the person my son is becoming as well as opportunities to nurture his growth as a reader.

It’s important to make this time enjoyable for you and your child. My son and I have a designated time and place where we read together. I am careful not to turn this into school, but a quiet time for him and I to enjoy a good book. Everything else will come about naturally.

When I read aloud to my son, I choose books like I choose the vegetable I’ll make for dinner. I often choose to cook vegetables that I think he’ll like but may not choose on his own to try. And sometimes, I have to sneak the vegetable into his diet by tricking him or covering it up with something yummy. Reading books with him is similar. I try to choose books that he may not pick up to read on his own but that I think he’ll enjoy. I also may choose books based on what he’s studying – historical fiction to help him visualize the Revolutionary War for example. That way I’m able to enrich his experience with different genres.

This is not to say that my son never chooses the book we read. He does. And there are times I’ll select two or three books for him to choose from. I just figure that he gets to choose the books he reads to himself, and I get to choose the ones I read aloud. It’s like who gets to choose the radio station while in the car. There is no right answer, except for what works for you.

Reading with my child creates opportunity for me to model fluent reading with appropriate intonation. Many children read monotone, even as they get older, because as the text gets harder, it’s more difficult to figure out the intonation. I’m still a more fluent reader than my son, so by simply reading aloud, I can model habits of good readers. When I come to a word I may not know, or think he may not know, I stop to think about what it might mean. If as I’m reading, I get confused or my mind trailed off, I stop and tell him I have to reread that part and why we’re doing it. I’m not putting on a show, and I can do this quite casually. After all, in the books I read to myself, I do have to stop and think about words or reread parts I don’t understand. Now I’m just doing it aloud with him so he can see me doing it.

Discussing the books we’re reading is very natural. I don’t quiz him or tell him to write about it. But I do have some ways to get him to talk about the book. Here are three tips:

1. Before we read each night, my son is responsible for a ‘nutshell summary.’ This is a quick summary of the chapter we read the night before. It’s not a retelling of the whole book, just a way to remind us what’s happening in the story before we begin to read. I never interrupt him during this time. If he forgot an important part, I may say something like, “Oh, and do you remember when…”

2. My son will stop me from reading when he wants to talk about his thinking. It wasn’t always this way. So, to get him willing to stop and talk, I would stop in the story when I felt the urge to share my thinking. Sometimes we both wait until the end of the chapter or picture book. It just depends on what feels the most natural at the time.

3. When my son talks about the book, I insist he uses the character names. This is important. So if he says the “boy” or uses a pronoun before mentioning the character’s name, I ask him, “Do you remember the character’s name?” If he doesn’t, we either look back in the story or I tell him. (It depends how close to bedtime it is!) If a child doesn’t know a character’s name or can’t accurately tell you where the story is happening, it’s likely they don’t understand what’s going on. You’ll want to help your child with these details.

Overall, when reading aloud to your child, just be natural. Allow conversation to flow from the book based on your thinking and your child’s. If nothing else, you establish a wonderful ritual that helps you and your child connect … over books.

4 comments March 12th, 2009

Questions & Authors: Getting parents of ELL students involved in the classroom

Parental involvement and support plays an important role in the success of every student — and teacher. But what is the best way to get parents involved in their children’s lives at school — especially parents who might not speak English? What challenges does this mean to teachers? Robin Turner, author of Greater Expectations and Academic Literacy addresses this important question and suggests ways for teachers to break through the language and cultural barriers when reaching out to parents.

This struggle is a familiar one to anyone who works with underrepresented students — and to be honest, there’s no easy answer.

Bringing parents in to the educational experience despite language barriers requires a reexamining of what it is we want them to do and what their role is in the overall academic process.

Often, what we want is for parents to be enforcers of our assignments, to ensure that their children have materials, attend school with punctuality, do homework, and treat their instructors with respect.

It’s a fairly limited and somewhat menial set of expectations to which we too often limit parents of underrepresented students. It seems to me that, while these facets of parenting schoolchildren do matter, they certainly can’t be the sole functions of the mothers and fathers and guardians of our students. Their relationships with our students are so much deeper, and the benefits of working with those relationships are enormous for all involved.

For instance, much research reveals that underrepresented students rarely see their worlds, their neighborhoods, or their heritages represented in academic classes. The more we teachers get them thinking and writing about those topics, though, the more they develop their composition skills through an intrinsic motivation AND the greater their ability to think reflectively becomes. Through these writing experiences, the parents and families of our students can be great resources, regardless of language.

In my sophomore English classes, students interview parents and/or grandparents in order to research how their own family made the trek to the United States. These conversations often become precious memories for my students and create a sense of academic purpose for the parents.

Often, their role becomes magnified, as they move from simply monitoring their kids’ completion of homework to ensuring that the family history is told accurately. They know that their children’s papers will be read by other members of the family, and thus they frequently become enmeshed in the academic process.

Likewise, when I have students interview their parents about leaving home for a distant university, the resulting conversations can be powerful, and in many cases, it frees up parents usually divorced from the university experience to share their fears and hopes, their pride and their anxieties, and have an authentic conversation — beyond “did you do all your homework tonight?” — about the importance of school. As a first-generation college student, I can attest to the power of these talks.

Parents don’t need to be experts on the academic world in order to contribute to academic success. But we educators need to strategic in making the overall academic experience as rich and powerful for our underrepresented students as for our students that come from a background of collegiate achievement, which means expecting more than just ensuring good behavior and consistent attendance.

How do you reach out to your students’ parents? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section!

1 comment January 29th, 2009

Getting parents and students involved with blogging

In his last guest post Gresham Brown, a fourth-grade teacher in Greenville, South Carolina, talked about how to get started with classroom blogs. This time, he tackles the task of introducing parents to blogs and getting them involved in the classroom blogging process.

Classroom blogs are powerful tools that open up communication between students, parents, and teachers. This kind of communication and collaboration can have a huge impact on learning. But for classroom blogs to be effective, parents and students need to be equipped to use this incredible tool. Here are some strategies I’ve used to engage my students and their parents in the blogging process.

What is a blog anyway?
I’ve found that many of parents and students do not know what a blog is. So, I began the school year by explaining the differences between a blog and website. I used Open House and our class meeting time to showcase my class website and class blog, pointing out the differences between each one. Websites are organized by pages, are generally static, and do not allow for any type of back and forth communication. Blogs are organized by posts and tags, archived by months, and provide an avenue for discussion and collaboration.

How do we use this?
The next step was to demonstrate how to leave a comment under a post. At Open House, I used my computer and a projector to demonstrate to the parents how easy it is to leave a comment. I spoke to the parents about the power of conversation and how blogging provides us opportunities to hear and build on each other’s ideas. In order for all readers of the blog to understand the commenting feature, I recently created a short video tutorial that shows this process step by step. At the beginning of the school year, I took my entire class to the computer lab and taught them how to leave comments. I went through the same demonstration I gave to parents, but this time I gave each child an opportunity to respond. I created a post that asked kids to describe what they’ve enjoyed about school so far – a safe invitation that each child could respond to. The kids loved watching their comments appear and were amazed at how easy it was to “talk” to one another in this format. We studied posts from my previous year’s class and saw how they collaborated with each other through the blog’s commenting feature. After studying several examples, our class created criteria for appropriate blog comments; such as respond to the post, build on each other’s ideas, stay on topic, be positive, and use correct spelling and conventions. The students went home excited and equipped to be contributors to our classroom blog.

How do I keep them coming back?
This question presents the real challenge – How do I encourage parents and students to continue contributing to the blog? Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
1. Blog regularly. You’ll lose readers if you only post once every two weeks. Try to set aside a day a week to work on your blog. Parents will visit regularly if you post regularly.
2. Send email updates. Like many teachers, I created an email distribution list at the beginning of the school year. Whenever I want parents to read a particular post, I’ll send out an email with the blog’s link. It’s an easy way for parents to check the blog.
3. Give students a sneak peek. Each week, I show my students what’s new on the blog. Like all kids, they love seeing pictures of themselves! And like all kids, they want their friends and family to see the pictures, too. My students love to go home and ask their parents to view and respond to the blog.
4. Create posts that ask for a response. Present a challenging math problem and ask students and parents to share their thinking. Showcase a student’s writing and ask for feedback. Ask students and parents to post questions about your current unit of study in science or social studies.
5. Make it worthwhile. Parents love to know what’s going on in the classroom – your blog gives them an opportunity to take a “peek” inside. Post lots of pictures and videos of the incredible learning that is taking place. Use your blog to make your classroom “come alive” for your parents.
6. Respond. Make sure you take the time to respond to comments. Blogging is a conversation, so make sure you’re a part of the dialogue.

When parents and students begin reading and contributing to your blog, a conversation begins. Learning is no longer contained within the walls of your classroom; it is now part of the larger world.

2 comments December 1st, 2008

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