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Parent Involvement in Elementary Language Arts: A Program Model
Author: Marge Simic
"Parent involvement" is fast becoming a hot topic. Teaching periodicals, parent magazines, newspapers, and even television talk shows and special broadcasts are emphasizing the impact parents make in educating their children. Topics include hints on effective communication at conference time, tips for establishing study skills and habits at home, and information on how to use parents effectively as volunteers in the classroom (Vukelich, 1984).
A potential limitation with the teacher-parents involvement suggestions described in some articles is that even though they may be worthwhile, they often lack an overall organization that allows teachers to plan and develop principled programs for parents (Becher, 1986; Becher, 1984; Vukelich, 1984). Many well-meaning, dedicated teachers approach parent involvement as an "afterthought" that may lack purposeful implementation. Parent involvement, in this sense, is not seen as part of the curriculum. A general format may help to eliminate wasted effort and guide the development of an organized approach to parent involvement--a parent involvement program that is integrated into the language arts curriculum.
DIMENSIONS OF INVOLVEMENT
Petit (1980) attempts to organize the various dimensions of parent involvement. Petit specifies three levels or degrees of increasing parent involvement: (1) monitoring, (2) informing, and (3) participation.
At Petit's MONITORING LEVEL, schools make parents aware of the school situation. Potter (1989) suggests that this is done through informal conversations (e.g., open houses, school programs), announcements regarding the school's activities, and questionnaires. This type of contact helps to establish parental feelings of assurance, confidence, and acceptance. Parents feel more comfortable sharing with the teacher their child's positive, as well as negative, attitudes about school that the child may be experiencing at home. Many schools are effective and active at this level of parent involvement with weekly bulletins, annual open houses in the fall, and public invitations to special school programs and activities.
Petit's second level is described as INFORMING. This means keeping parents informed about the policies, procedures, aims, and expectations that exist in the school, but particularly in the classroom. The contact is more formal and direct. Communication at this level is more specifically between the classroom teacher and the parent rather than between the school and the parents. This is done through (1) parent-teacher conferences, (2) home visits, (3) class newsletters, (4) bulletin boards, (5) reporting, (6) phone calls, and (7) take-home packets.
In addition to teachers informing parents, parents need to inform the teacher about anything going on at home that may help the teacher to understand the child's behavior and performance at school. Parents should communicate with the teacher on how the child's reading and language activities are progressing at home and give feedback regarding the supportive activities done at home.
PARTICIPATION is Petit's final level. At this level parents become actively involved in the classroom with teachers. Teachers solicit the assistance of parents in helping the school and/or classroom with instructional support. Parents might act as aides or volunteers in classrooms, helping with bulletin boards, checking assignments, or making games and activities. Parents might volunteer to work in the library, do typing, or work with school equipment such as laminating and duplicating. Parents who have had experiences that match a special theme or topic being explored by the class could be asked to make special presentations. They may be asked to participate in classroom instruction or act as classroom reading tutors or writing editors who work with one or two children who are experiencing difficulty. Parents who cannot actively participate in the classroom are encouraged to provide supportive instruction at home using reading and writing strategies and methods similar to those being used in the classroom.
It is necessary that parents be aware of effective instructional techniques when working with children in the classroom and at home. Parent knowledge and skills can be extended through parent observation and/or instruction. It is at this participation level that parents become involved in workshops or reading courses. Teachers, specialists, or other professionals explain to parents about the school's language arts program. Parents are then given instruction on how to help students in the classroom and at home.
A PROGRAM MODEL
One such program encourages parent participation in the classroom for those parents who are able to volunteer their time, but also emphasizes participation at home. In this program, an elementary school teacher was implementing a literature-based program in the language arts curriculum. The teacher informed the parents through letters that the students would be integrating reading and writing in the language arts block and that they would be involved in a variety of literature experiences. Parents were given detailed explanations of various strategies in the letters. The teacher asked for their support and involvement at home in helping their child accomplish assignments through these new experiences. Parents and students were encouraged to share reading at home, as well as to share ideas and thoughts about the books. Suggestions or strategies for sharing books were explained and sent home for parent reference.
As the students became acquainted with this literature-based program, enthusiasm for reading was apparent in many of the students. A letter was sent home recounting some of the students' positive experiences and asking for parent volunteers--those who felt comfortable with the discussions and strategies for sharing reading. Some parents came into the classroom to help with small group discussions, book projects, etc.
Later on, the writing process was briefly explained in a parent letter, and activities the students were engaged in and editing marks and skills were defined, so that parents could assist their child at home. In this same letter, parents were asked to come into the classroom to help small groups of students with the authoring cycle, edit final drafts, type student stories, and assist with bookmaking. When parents did volunteer, it was very common to see the students explaining and informing the parents what it was they were doing in literature circles. It was not uncommon to see parents in authoring circles listening to student stories, offering suggestions, and helping students with first drafts.
Parents were given opportunities to help in book selection for new literature groups. The teacher sent home book club orders and suggestions and recommendations for book selection. The letter encouraged parents and children to discuss the recommended books on the list and then make their selection together. Literature groups were then determined from the book selections made by parents and children.
The teacher provided additional opportunities for parent input through a variety of correspondence. Periodically, parent letters were sent home telling of the progress students were making with literature and author circles. An invitation to observe these activities in the classroom was extended. Contracts were sent home to be signed by parents, students, and teachers regarding classroom rules, homework policies, responsibility for using classroom literature sets, and support for achieving success in this program. A list of necessary reading and writing supplies was sent home, and parents were asked to donate some of the items, such as white-out ink, contact paper, markers, old greeting cards, index cards, wallpaper books, cereal boxes, cushions, bean bag chairs, and so forth.
CAREFUL PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL
Initiating an effective and well organized plan for parent involvement takes plenty of work--work to achieve it, work and commitment to maintain it. It is realistic to think that as one moves through the levels of involvement that Petit describes, the audience of parents narrows. It is easy to have all parents and all teachers included at the beginning levels. However, as movement makes its way up the levels, the focus narrows. Fewer parents and teachers are able and willing to enter into the "participation" level of involvement with classrooms and homes. Teachers cannot let this be discouraging. Instead, they must continually remind themselves that the obligation to reach a wider audience of parents still remains.
When parent involvement reaches the level in which parents are actually involved at school and/or at home, teachers must recognize that it was attained through effective communication in the beginning or at previous levels. This effective communication involves positive actions by teachers, parents, and administrators who are willing to cooperate and act in concert with one another. The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (1986) argues that teachers who succeed in involving parents in their children's schoolwork are successful because they (teachers) work at it. "Working at it" calls for a commitment from principals, teachers, and parents which ultimately benefits the child.
Becher, Rhoda. "Parent Involvement: A Review of Research and Principles of Successful Practice." In L. Katz, Ed. Current Topics in Early Childhood Education, 6. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1984. ED 014 563
Becher, Rhoda. Parents and Schools. ERIC Digest. 1986. ED 015 756
Petit, D. Opening Up Schools. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1989.
Potter, Gill. "Parent Participation in the Language Arts Program." Language Arts, 66(1), January 1989, 21-28. EJ 381 859
Vukelich, Carol. "Parents' Role in the Reading Process: A Review of Practical Suggestions and Ways to Communicate with Parents." Reading Teacher, 37(6), February 1984, 472-77. EJ 291 313
What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning. Washington, D.C.: Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1986. ED 263 299
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