ERIC Identifier: ED326901
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Simic, Marge
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills
Parent Involvement in Elementary Language Arts: A Program
Model. ERIC Digest.
"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]