Volume:9, Issue: 2

Sep. 30, 2017

Improving Student Participation and Achievement Through Increased Teacher-Parent Communication: Implications for a Middle School Teacher
Reid, Carmen [about]

KEYWORDS: communication, education, ELL, homework, parent-teacher, Somali

ABSTRACT: Teachers today face numerous classroom challenges.  Our student learners are diverse and so are their families.  As educators, it is our responsibility to embrace these differences and incorporate them into our classroom environment for its betterment.  Ultimately, we must focus on best practices to promote viable learning experiences for our students - learning that is both engaging and content accurate.  My literature review has clearly demonstrated that we teachers will attain higher rates of student participation and increases in academic achievement through first taking the time to learn about our individual students, their backgrounds, and their families and by making an exerted effort toward regular parental communication.  


21st Century Teachers face numerous challenges in their classrooms.  Every student that walks through our door is unique.  They come from different cultures, different family structures, and different ideologies regarding academia.  As educators, we have the challenge of acknowledging these differences and then finding a way to incorporate them into our classroom environment for its betterment.  As Tolstoy observed,

The best teacher is one that can instantly recognize what is bothering a student.  This ability in turn gives a teacher the knowledge of the greatest possible number of methods; the ability to invent new methods; and above all-rather than the blind adherence to one method- the conviction that all methods are one sided, that the best possible method is the one that answers best of all the possible difficulties incurred by the student.  This is not a method, but an art and a talent (Tolstoy, 2000).

Our job as teachers is to foster a safe space that promotes lifetime learning whether it be in a classroom or like Tolstoy (a famous 19th century Russian writer and hopeful education reformer) at times under an apple tree.  We must search out avenues that promote student scholarship and contribute to a positive learning environment.  Tolstoy suggested that we approach teaching as an art - a fluid body that we tinker with and adjust as need be.  With all of our differences and those of our student companions, I wholeheartedly agree that the prudent teacher teaches with in an ever-changing manner, one that meets the needs of her students as they arise. 

The private middle school where I teach is generally characterized by motivated students who input substantial effort to achieve the learning targets.  That said, recent Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP® standardized testing) demonstrated the need for focused scientific improvements in my 7th grade science cohort.  The classroom culture in my seventh-grade science course, is quite different from my other classes, both student engagement and homework completion levels tend to be low.  Several of my students are children of faculty, who know each other very well and tend to be “overly comfortable” in class.  In addition, I have a number of new students who are Somali English Language Learners (ELL). Sometimes the number of obstacles seems overwhelming, and it is important to step back and look at one piece at a time.  As I am faced with the challenges of some students tending toward being disengaged and lower science achievement scores, I have chosen to focus this paper on parent teacher communication and its benefits on student participation and achievement.   

Literature Review

A review of the literature indicates that an increase in parental communication positively correlates with a rise in learning target attainment.  In addition, the literature has revealed that consistent, accurate completion of assigned homework acts as an indicator of student success.  I will look at these specific areas in depth as a means of understanding how I can improve upon my current practices.  As previously mentioned, a significant percentage of my student body is of Somali origin.  That said, a portion of my research has been dedicated to communicating effectively with this population and their families.  I have learned that in Somali culture, the educator is to the students as a mother is to her child; she is a second parent (Ali, 2011).  This is a lofty expectation, however, as educators it is our job to understand the values and beliefs of all our students so that we can live up to our role as “parent” guides. 

Teacher-to-Parent Communication

Research consistently establishes that keeping parents connected to the classroom results in greater student success.  "School staff often underestimate the willingness of parents to be involved and are likely to find a much greater response than they might anticipate by initiating outreach for parent-teacher bidirectional communication” (Editor of American Teacher, 2013).  Numerous journal publications suggest that the relationship between teachers and their students’ parents play an important role in determining a child’s level of engagement with school (Kraft, 2013).  The literature clearly demonstrated that teacher communication with parents increases student engagement.  Interestingly, findings from the 2007 National Household Education Surveys Program show that only 54% of parents’ report getting a note or email about their children each school year and that less than half of all families with school-age children report receiving a phone call from their child’s school (Herrold, 2008). Knowing that teacher communication with parents is an effective method of motivating higher levels of academic engagement (Marzano, 2010, p.71), I intend to implement this practice for the benefit of my students.

Homework Completion

Although ongoing debates about the legitimacy and effectiveness of homework do exist, for the purposes of this paper, I am looking at obstacles to student involvement in class, homework completion and teacher-to-parent communication.  After a review of the current literature I was able to conclude that students who completed homework which sole purpose was the reinforcement of ideas learned in class, were associated with substantially increased levels of achievement, particularly at the middle school age (Bas, 2017).  Of course, homework can be assigned for a multitude of purposes, however, as it related to my use of home assignments in my middle school science courses, I have chosen to focus solely on homework as it directly relates to our learning goals.  “…Research over the years has demonstrated an overall positive effect of homework on student achievement” (Marzano, 2010, p.70).  What is especially apparent is that as student grade levels rise and students become older, successful completion of homework directly correlates to a higher GPA (Bas, 2017). The importance of remaining focused in class, particularly science courses that so heavily build on previous knowledge, require students to become more responsible with regards to completion of work assigned to be completed out of class.  Promoting individual studying and self-learning, by parents at the middle school age will contributes to academic success in upper grades as students tend to improve their abilities in areas of self-discipline and study skills (Milgrim, 1999).

English Language Learner Support

Research supports the that first language retention helps with the development of the second language.  Academic success, and cognitive development are positively impacted through the learner’s ability to maintain their first language while learning their second (Kruizenga, 2010).  In addition, children who are proficient in their first language have a greater sense of belonging and cultural identify.  This impacts their confidence and independence at school (Husom, 2009). The loss of the first language limits family connections, the transfer of values, and parental control.  Mulki Ali stated that some scholars have called language the most intimate of all possessions (2011).  It is such a significant part of how we define ourselves.  Ali further described the home language as being closer and much more intimate and genuine than the second language.  Family relationships, especially parental ones are undermined when the first language is lost.  As teachers, we should encourage our English Language Learners (ELL) to speak their home language at home, as it is more beneficial in the long run for children and family relationships as well as their academic career (Walick, 2015).  We must be firm proponents of this paradigm. 

Teresa Kruizenga (2010) brought to light the challenge educators are encountering with the group of youth who were born here to immigrant parents.  In her estimation, this is the category of most at risk adolescents in this population and heads educators to take special care in addressing their needs.  As mentioned above, when the native language is lost, the family communication disintegrates.  This leaves a group of youngsters with a loss of identity and guidance.  Educators in Canada have incorporated bilingual teachers into the classroom in order to remediate the loss of the first language.  The few documented case studies demonstrate initial academic underachievement in those students who did not speak the native language of their parents.  Although these students spoke only English, they found reading to be confusing and difficult compared to their peers of similar age.  When these same students were taught, Somali and paired with a peer who also spoke Somali, their emotional and academic progress was exponential.  Even though these students were born in the United States, English speaking only, by learning to speak Somali using peers they were able to then successfully learn to read and write in Somali and English simultaneously (Kruizenga, 2010).   To reiterate, it is imperative for educators to partner with their Somali students and their families in order to create a feasible bridge between prior knowledge and current knowledge.  The ability to speak, read, and write the first language allows for an intellectual stamina that is otherwise absent.

Conclusion

In reviewing of the current literature surrounding parent teacher communication, homework completion and the education of ELL (specifically Somali immigrants), I have found that one of the primary ways in which we as teachers can contribute to the successful academic and emotional growth of our students in the classroom is to take the time to understand their backgrounds and their associated needs.  By conducting this research, I have tried to find some solutions to assist my own middle school students to reach levels of academic improvement and increased student success.  

My takeaways for this study were that increase parental communication was a beneficial form of increasing student awareness of the consequences of their behavior and to encourage at home study in the form of homework.  With regards to our English Language Learners, some special effort may need to be made toward parent communication.  This can take the form of interpreters if need be.  Somali culture tends to be an oral one and hence, phone conversations and in person communication is much more effective then written word.  For all of our ELL students it is important that we avoid the use of students as interpreters and encourage the proper parent child relationships through respect and communication to the appropriate source at all times.  In conclusion, increased parental communication as well as attaining a better understanding of our students, their backgrounds, and their families will provide a strong foundation toward student engagement.  Taking the time to understand all of our students will allow us to assist them on their paths to higher education (Kapteijns 2016).  In the words of Tolstoy, “’If education is good,' he said, 'then the need for it will manifest itself like hunger’ “ (Simmons, 1968).   Ultimately, this is what we want.  We want students who are hungry to learn.


References

  1. Ali, M., Franklin, K., & Harvey, K. (2011). Teaching Somali Immigrant Children: Resources    for Students Success [Teacher Resource]. The Alberta Teachers Association, Alberta, Canada. Canadian Multicultural Education Foundation
  2. Bas, G. (2017). Homework and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Issues in Educational Research, 27, 31-50.
  3. Herrold, K., O’Donnell, K., & National Center for Education Statistics. (2008). Parent and      family involvement in education, 2006–07 school year, from the national household education surveys program of 2007. First Look (NCES 2008–050). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
  4. Husom, G. (2009). Raising Muslim Adolescents: Somali Parents perceived challenges in raising their children in the public schools (Unpublished master's thesis). Hamline University.
  5. Kraft, M. A., & Dougherty, S. M. (2013). The Effect of Teacher–Family Communication on Student Engagement: Evidence From a Randomized Field Experiment. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 6(3), 199-222.
  6. Kruizenga, T. M. (2010). Teaching Somali Children: What Perceived Challenges Do Somali Students Face in the Public School System? International Journal of Education, 2(1). doi:10.5296/ije.v2i1.334
  7. Marzano, R. J. (2010). The art and science of teaching: a comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  8. Simmons , E. J. (1968). Introduction To Tolstoy's Writings . The University Of Chicago Press. Teacher-parent communication boosts homework completion. (2013). American Teacher, 97(4), 7-9.
  9. Tolstoy, L. N., & Blaisdell, R. (2000). Tolstoy as teacher: Leo Tolstoys writings on education. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
  10. Walick, C. M., & Sullivan, A. L. (2015). Educating Somali Immigrant and Refugee Students: A Review of Cultural-Historical Issues and Related Psychoeducational Supports. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 31(4), 347-368. doi:10.1080/15377903.2015.1056921

 





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