The school day varies across the world, with children spending an average of around 800 hours per year in the classroom. Even accounting for time sleeping, this leaves a lot of time spent outside of school. Evidence is mounting to suggest that the involvement of parents in children’s learning outside of school has the greatest impact on learning outcomes in primary-aged children. Parental engagement is therefore likely to be high on the agenda for many schools.
It is fair to say that the Covid-19 pandemic tested schools with even the most robust parental engagement processes. Turning the traditional view of parental involvement on its head, the shift from broadcasting information to parents in the form of newsletters, emails and class blogs toward involving parents in an active role of scaffolding learning meant a change of strategy.
With a year of lockdown learning under their belts and uncertainty surrounding the potential return to remote and blended learning, time will be well spent considering what processes should remain, even after children return to the school building.
The outlook for schools investing time and resources in parental engagement is promising. Positive statistics emerged in a survey undertaken by Learning Ladders and Twinkl, showing a new appreciation among parents of teachers’ roles in teaching and learning. With 84 per cent having a better understanding of what their child is learning in school, there has never been a better time to tap into that parent power.
“A year into teachers using reactive parental engagement strategies, it is time to review the sustainability of these processes.”
A year into teachers working hard to minimise disruption to their pupils using reactive parental engagement strategies, it is time to review the sustainability of these processes.
As Edtech responds to parental engagement needs, it is clear that automating processes can allow communication at scale, on demand. Sharing explicit and unique learning goals for each child with parents is made possible with engagement systems rooted in formative assessment.
Realistic communication specifically centred around home learning tasks, providing evidence and reports, leads to improved learning outcomes in the longer term (and fewer burnt out teachers discussing term dates and forgotten forms, issues better rerouted to administrative teams).
“When children practise articulating learning with adults in school, they will be more able to do the same with adults at home.”
Teachers benefit from whole school parental engagement strategies when there is an understanding that it starts in school. When children practise articulating learning with adults in school, they will be more able to do the same with adults at home. Helping children to be “co-owners” of their learning prepares them to be independent learners at home and in turn, leads to improved learning outcomes.
Gaining feedback from home learning is an area of difficulty exposed in early lockdowns with gaps in formative assessment data leading to an incomplete picture of learning over time. When teachers use parental engagement systems that allow self-assessment and opportunities for pupil voice as well as feedback from parents involved in the learning, a continuous loop of feedback and formative assessment is created. Planning future learning is targeted to ensure children are set tasks that meet their individual needs.
For parents to continue their involvement in learning, parents must receive:
Explicit learning objectives, on-demand: Lockdown dispelled assumptions that the families most involved in schooling (those attending school trips, listening to readers and attending events) are the families who engage in learning at home. For many, home learning was more difficult than anticipated, with a near-impossible task of home working and other caring responsibilities. Parents require learning goals to be shared explicitly, accessible on-demand without the deterrent of multiple logins to access home learning, view evidence, or download reports.
Accessible support for upskilling: parents approach learning from their own experiences and attitudes ingrained over time. Learning Ladders’ research found that one in four adults have maths skills at or below those expected of a 9-year-old. Teachers hone skills of questioning, modelling and breaking down abstract concepts over years of continuous development and parents require support at the time they need it. Effective parental engagement upskills parents to become confident partners in learning with tools to mirror the same vocabulary, resources and activities used in school. Removal of the language barrier that exists between teacher and parent further provides accessible support for all.
A shared understanding of attitudes about learning: Schools who share the attitudes to learning fostered in school with parents at home ensure that parents understand how to model these. Some schools choose to weave attitudes to learning into pupil reports, support articles and home learning activities. With the lack of opportunities for peer and group scaffolding, children look to parents to model resilience in the face of challenges and independent thinking to find strategies to solve problems.
Information to provide consistency in motivating children to learn: For many parents, motivating their child to learn at home during lockdown was a challenge. Involving parents in learning requires learning to take place within the complex relationships formed between parent and child, differing to the relationship between teacher and learner. To provide consistency in motivating children to learn at home, schools can share information about intrinsic motivation strategies used in school, share evidence to celebrate success and allow children to experience a visible partnership between learning at home and messages in school.
One thing is clear, the Covid-19 pandemic caused accelerated changes to schools’ parental engagement approaches. In a pandemic that physically keeps us apart, parents, teachers and children are brought together in long-lasting partnerships based on good communication.
By Melanie Evans, education lead at Learning Ladders, which provides online tools for teachers, parents and children.