The home-school connection 1

This is the first part of a two-part article where Theresa Zanatta shows us how parents can be encouraged to create opportunities for their children to learn English at home.

Theresa Zanatta

[Families today take many different shapes and forms. In many instances, biological parents are not always children's primary caregivers. In this article, the words 'families' and 'parents' are used in the inclusive sense to refer to the group of any and all people who form the main community of caregivers to children.]

If we accept that as teachers we need to invite, inform and coach parents in ways to become active participants in the development of their child's literacy and language skill development, then we must begin to think about how to go about putting this objective into practice.

In this article, I would like to focus on this important area of the home-school connection: how to reach out to parents to read with their children. I will outline the rationale behind this approach, and provide two classroom routines to help develop the connection. In the second article - The home-school connection 2 - I will provide three more classroom routines.

  • Rationale
  • Two classroom routines for involving parents
    • Routine 1 - Keeping parents informed
    • Routine 2 - English folders
  • About the author

What do you think - true or false?

  1. When families and educators and communities work together, schools get better.
  2. We now know that parents have a critical role in developing their children's learning habits.
  3. The most recent data concerning literacy scores (test scores for reading and writing) shows that schools that involve parents in developing reading habits at home have higher school reading scores than schools that do not.
  4. Parents are an essential link in improving academic success.
  5. Sending report cards home is not enough.

If you said true to all five of these statements then you are part of a growing body of educators who understand the importance of involving parents in their child's learning process.

Whether it's governments, school supervisors, administrators, directors, teachers, or parents themselves, anyone who is involved with teaching children knows that involving parents as a means for academic achievement is critical to success. Pursuing and achieving academic success is no easy matter. Yet the positive consequences of parent involvement have been well documented.

Allowing parents to question, comment on, and become aware of teaching practices and learning objectives is both informative and formative for parents and teachers and a critical part of creating opportunities for parents to become more involved in the development and review of their child's learning behaviour.

Specifically, encouraging parents, showing parents how, and inviting parents to become active, responsive, and responsible participants in their child's education and in particular, in their child's literacy and language development is in large part about getting families, parents, and kids reading and talking about reading together.

This invitation to parents to read with their children begins with any age (ready to read is ready to learn in any language!) and continues throughout the academic careers of our students.

Easier said than done, especially when most of us have been trained to be neither parent coaches nor reading teachers as well as English teachers. Here are two simple, systematic classroom routines that form part of the body of best teaching practices around the world. They can help you begin the process of inviting and involving parents in the journey to reading at home.

Two classroom routines for involving parents
Routine 1. Keep parents regularly informed by sending home hands-on, student-made learning tools
Set up and organize class time to create hands-on, student-made learning tools for students to take home regularly to show parents.

Things like flash cards; take-home storybooks; and realia such as puppets, game boards, sentence machines, personal picture dictionaries, and spelling boards are invaluable memory and speaking prompts for describing and explaining what students are doing and learning in English class.

I call these learning tools because they are much more than just simple cut, paste, and colour activities. Apart from providing irreplaceable opportunities for language development in all of the four skills, they also allow you to manage language diversity in the classroom by providing multisensory learning opportunities for students that cover the different ways that each and every one of your students learn.

Remember the old adage, a picture's worth a thousand words? Well, when these student-made learning tools go home, parents see what students are doing and learning, which is far more effective than their just being told about it. As students demonstrate how the learning tools are used, parents receive on-the-spot demonstrations of what is happening in English class.

Not only are these hands-on, student-made learning tools informative for the parents, but they are also formative for parents in that they demonstrate new ways in which their children are learning and interacting in the classroom. They are a tangible invitation to parents to participate and learn about how and what their child is doing in English.

Many parents aren't able to see the value of these learning tools or how language is developed, practised, and learned until they see them in use demonstrated by their child.

Routine 2. Set up individual student portfolios or English folders for students to keep their learning tools organized and accessible
The English portfolio or English folder is an excellent organizational tool to facilitate and systematize parent involvement. When student-made learning tools such as those described above are readily accessible in an English folder or portfolio it is much easier and quicker for parents to see how students are progressing in all of the four skills.

All parents need to do is open the folder and see what has been done and when it was done. Progress, improvement, difficulties, and challenges are visually evident to even the most untrained eye.

What was created, brought home, demonstrated, and signed in September is and will be different from that which was created, brought home, demonstrated, and signed in October, and again different from that of November, and so on throughout the year.

These differences (or lack of differences in the case of no student progress) provide the firsthand evidence parents need to determine just how their child is doing and to invite them to participate in this continuum of personal development.

About the author
Theresa Zanatta is an author, teacher, teacher trainer and education consultant. She has been teaching English in Spain and Canada for more than 15 years, and she has given courses on ELT methodology in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Canada and the United States.

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