As teachers (and parents), we understand that parent involvement in a child’s learning is a positive thing. Parental engagement in a child’s education is more likely to see a positive attitude develop towards school and for the child to see learning as a worthwhile activity. Studies show there are numerous benefits linked to the high engagement of parents in their child’s learning. Professor John Hattie’s research strongly links parental engagement with greater learning outcomes including staying in school longer, higher achievement levels and aspirations. A recent study by Bristol and Harvard Universities of 16000 students showed weekly texts with dates of upcoming tests, warnings about missed homework and “conversation prompts” encouraging parents to chat with their child increased results in maths and decreased absence levels.
Despite these benefits, schools often struggle to engage parents in the day to day learning that occurs in the classroom. One study by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) showed a disconnect between a large percentage of parents and their child’s classroom and learning.
A study by BECTA of 1000 students and 1000 parents found the following: "Becta surveyed 1,000 schoolchildren aged seven to 14 and 1,000 parents to find out the level of communication that existed between adults and children when it comes to talking about school. It found more than a third of pupils had difficulty speaking to their parents about their education, while 43 per cent of parents questioned admitted they struggled to get information from their child about their school day. Three in ten parents admitted they felt ‘excluded’ from their children’s day-to-day education, pointing to the fact parents become concerned when they feel they have not been given the information they need. In fact, the report revealed 82 per cent of parents want schools to do more when it comes to keeping them informed about their children’s progress, showing that there is a real appetite for active participation and greater engagement."
Traditional methods of communication do not provide regular updates about a child’s learning or what is happening in the classroom. Most schools provide two detailed reports per year and supplement this with parent-teacher interviews, less detailed written reports and/or take home portfolios of student learning. While these are important their infrequent nature means that parents often have very little or no information about what their child’s class is doing or how their child is progressing until the end of a term or semester. If the evidence says that engaging parents has a positive impact then how do we better engage parents in their child’s learning?
I think that there are two distinct types of sharing that a teacher can do.
Engaging parents at a whole class level
- What are we doing today, this week? Written information about topics being covered in that week or fortnight.
- Photos of small groups undertaking tasks rather than individual student work. Often with explanations about the purpose and learning outcomes of the tasks.
- This type of engagement is generally common to all parents in the class (everyone sees the same information). Ways to do this include using a blog, a Facebook group, Class Dojo, bulk text/email messages, notes home or a class newsletter.
Engaging parents specifically with their child’s learning
- Sharing a specific child’s successes and learning goals directly with parents.
- Sharing specific examples of a child’s learning – completed work samples (images, audio, video) with teacher comment.
- This type of engagement requires some form of secure sharing system so that parents only view their child’s learning. Examples could include using Class Dojo, Edmodo, email or a student portfolio.
To help provide a real example of how parent engagement can work in a classroom I want to share Kelly’s attempts to engage with her Reception Year 1 parents.
Kelly has used (and continues to use) a variety of methods to communicate with parents including traditional portfolios (once per term), a take-home book for notes, updates, reminders etc and a Facebook group. All have provided various levels of engagement for parents but have not achieved Kelly’s goal of providing an easy, timely way of addressing the two distinct types of sharing mentioned earlier.
In the second half of term 2 Kelly began to trial the use of Class Dojo. Class Dojo can be used online or as an app on Apple and Android devices. It provides two main functions 1. a behaviour tracking tool and 2. a way of sharing with parents what is happening in the classroom. Kelly has chosen not to use the behaviour tracking tool but is trialling the use of the classroom story aspect of the app that allows information to be shared with parents.
Class Dojo promotes itself as a tool for teachers to engage parents
Kelly has started by using the app to show what is happening on a week to week basis in her classroom. To do this Kelly created her own account, generated parent codes, sent a letter home informing parents of Class Dojo and provided parents with a unique code that allowed them to join Kelly’s class timeline.
Below are some examples from Kelly's Class Dojo timeline. With the app installed on Kelly's iPad she can take a photo in Class Dojo and write a small explanation in a matter of minutes. This provides parents with a starting point for a conversation about their child's learning.
The app also allows private messaging between teacher and parent. This allows Kelly to share a message or photos of a child’s learning directly to their parents. It also allows parents to communicate with Kelly.
An example of sharing learning in a private and secure way with a child's parents.
In the future Kelly is hoping that the recently added student portfolio function on Class Dojo might be something that she can use to replace her traditional student portfolios. The portfolio option allows students to record their own learning through the app. Kelly is hoping that this process can replace her student portfolios that go home at the end of each term. Essentially they will be the same thing but rather than wait until the end of each term parents can see what their child is doing on a more regular basis.
Class Dojo have just added a student portfolio function in their app
Kelly has agreed to further share her experience using Class Dojo at a staff meeting later this term. This will give us a chance to ask Kelly questions and hear about her success and failures engaging parents in their child’s learning.