This topic – Involving Parents In Their Children’s EL Writing Using Digital Learning – was presented at the 55th International RELC Conference on 15 – 17 March 2021, by Benjamin Luke Moorhouse, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong.
How many of us educators feel that communicating with parents are imperative for students’ progress? What do parents feel about this? Why do we want parents to be involved in their children’s learning? How can we engage and encourage busy parents to do so?
According to an article on Scholastic.com, “the best way to avoid misunderstanding with parents is to have ongoing, clear lines of communication from the beginning”. Partnering parents means they are informed about classroom news and school happenings which will make them feel like part of the team. One of the ways to start effective communication with parents is to explain how and when you will keep in touch with them. At the DAS, monthly communication is mandatory and most educational therapists employ the email to update parents on their child’s progress. For the educational therapists, updates on students will include what has been taught in the classroom, how these students have progressed, what is the behaviour during the lesson and what may be taught next in the upcoming month. Some parents may reply in response; some may not.
Another way to achieve effective communication as stated on Scholastic.com is to “assure parents that they will be immediately informed about any concerns you might have with regard to their child”. Parents may not appreciate knowing of troubles after months since they have been observed in the classroom. Hence, share disturbing instances sooner rather than later. When such information is made known to parents, educators do appreciate when parents respond, look into reasons why they occur and assure cooperation in order to mitigate the behaviour from happening again. Nevertheless, is this form of communication sufficient to be considered as parental involvement? The Center for American Progress reported that “when parents are engaged, their children experience better academic, behavioural and social outcomes”. Although many factors can influence engagement, what is certain is that communication must be clear and consistent so as to build trust between parents and teachers in order to increase parental engagement.
This presentation by Benjamin Luke Moorhouse from Hong Kong Baptist University suggested that parental involvement should include them giving feedback on their children’s work in English language learning. According to him, involving parents in their children’s school-based English language learning is beneficial to learners’ academic achievement as well as their language and literacy development. A study conducted by this presenter to address the lack of parental involvement in their child’s learning reported a teacher’s use of a digital learning platform, Seesaw, which is a classroom app for remote learning and student engagement. It also allows teachers to create activities for students and for parents to view their child’s work, leave comments and encouragement. In this study, this teacher had used this app for his English language activities with his students where learning is captured in a portfolio through creative tools such as taking pictures, drawing, and recording videos. The platform became a space for parents to be involved in their child’s school-based writing. It enabled them to view, like and comment in response to their child and other children’s English work. However, although parents were seen to be involved on the platform, it was observed that they mainly viewed and liked their children’s work rather than leave comments. Parents leaving comments on their children’s work have been found to boost children’s self-esteem.
Indeed, involving parents is not always easy. Parents who are busy working, not tech savvy, and/or those who do not possess sufficient English language proficiency may find it hard to respond to feedback given by teachers on their children. Nevertheless, parents’ reluctance or non-response should not be taken as a disinterest in their children’s education and learning as the factors mentioned above present real and significant barriers to them. According to an article on Understood.org, “reaching out to parents begin with meeting them where they are emotionally; emotionally meeting families where they are requires empathy, asking questions, and sharing that you have a common interest in their child’s education”. Not all parents have the same idea about parent-teacher partnership as there are matters that could be of higher priority such as taking care of the household. Hence, they would prefer to leave school affairs to the teachers and trust that they would take care of things well. Also, not all parents have the resources to be proactive in their children’s education. Those who are more capable and resourceful tend to find complementary educational services to support their children.
One size does not fit all. Some parents may be happy with a monthly email informing them of their child’s progress. Some may appreciate a phone call on urgent matters only, while other parents may want to follow-up with what has been taught in class so that they can provide supplementary activities at home. Whatever it is, what is certain is that all parents want to be involved in many aspects of their children’s life even if they are not sure how to go about it. Sometimes, that means leaving certain jobs to others while they take care of their children at home.
For fellow educators who are willing to explore digital learning platform such as Seesaw which encourages active engagement between teachers, parents and students, here are a few recommended apps that allow for teacher-parent communication:
To sum up, teacher-parent communication is important and necessary because the intention behind it is in the best interest of the child. How it is done, what messages get shared and how often they are conveyed between parties may depend on what has been agreed upon. In this way, both teachers and parents can collaborate in a way that encourages reciprocity in their child’s learning journey in a meaningful and responsible manner.
Hani Zohra Muhamad
DAS Lead Educational Therapist