Just the beginning ...
Of course, we can only do so much in the classroom and developing the learning habits of parents is just as important as developing those of the children. Holding regular meetings with parents and having an “open door” policy is just the beginning of keeping parents in the loop and involving them in their child’s learning journey.
Art Costa et al’s books are full of ideas to involve parents and make them an active part of their child’s learning. Here are a few ideas I have tried that have been successful and have had positive feedback from parents:
Sharing use of language with the parents:
At the beginning of the year, I stuck up a big cellophane “yet” in the window of my classroom with a short explanation of “the power of yet”. My thought was if I could just get parents using “yet” at home as well as in school, children’s perseverance levels could strengthen. This small change made a huge impact. Many parents commented in parent’s evenings and as feedback to the end of year reports that just using that word enabled their children to not give up so easily.
“What (Sammy) takes away from this year is a really little word, “yet”. It has become a really important word in our household.”
Sending information home to parents and open evenings:
When we have prepared letters for parents to give them ideas about practising basic maths and English skills, we have also included a section on how to develop good learning habits. In my last school, as part of the welcome to new parents in Reception, we gave a talk on the research behind Learning Power. Part of this included the language they might expect their children to be using at home. (“Collaboration” seems to stick especially easily in the minds of children. I think they like the idea that some of the best learning can happen with a friend. The ideas of relishing a challenge is also an attitude that parents talk about at home, as well as developed kindness towards siblings).
I know that many schools let children lead parent/carer consultations. By letting the children lead, they are learning to express their ideas articulately and independently highlight their next steps. This link expands on some recent research into letting students lead parent/carer consultations. I am excited that I will be teaching a Patana school in Bangkok next year. One of the many attractions for me to the school was that children lead parent-teacher consultations. Watch this space for tips on how to get this going!
We have also sent home characters that represent each learning disposition. The idea is that children notice the characters taking on those characteristics. This enables them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves as a learner. For example, one character is a “Stickosaurus” who is great a persevering. The child might say the Stickosaurus helped them sound out a tricky word when he/she was reading. It is lovely to hear the children link to learning at home, such as trying to ride a bike.
See example from Twitter below (courtesy of @nicston)
As well as reporting on progress and achievement in all curriculum areas, we also include a section on “your child as a learner”. This is my favourite section to write. Parents often comment that it is also their favourite section to read as it really brings that child to life. Amongst other things, I write about the child’s attitude to making mistakes, ability to face a challenge and their skills as a collaborator. Some sample reports of this section are below (names have been changed to protect children):
Georgie is a confident and independent learner who relishes the idea of a challenge. She listens carefully to ways to improve her learning and will persevere until she has mastered a skill. For example, when learning how to use finger spaces, Georgie said, “I am going to keep trying and practising until I really get it!” She is able to extend her learning and come up with her own next steps. For this reason, she is constantly improving and picks up new ideas quickly.
Georgie has a strong sense of empathy. When she is collaborating, she is able to include others and will gently show them how to complete a task. She will notice when others are upset or struggling with their learning and will go out of her way to make them feel included. She is sociable and able to learn with a range of children.
Georgie is an imaginative learner. She thinks of creative ways to solve problems and put her own unique stamp on her learning. She loves to explore imaginative ideas in Planning Time, such as designing and making her own dresses. Her stories are exciting and fun to read. For example, when describing a troll in her story, Georgie wrote, “He had an eye on his tummy and his beard was made from worms!”
Showcasing children's learning
Ron Berger's Learning That Lasts is full of examples of showcasing children's work. These ideas range from having open evenings to preparing performances to transforming the school (or parts of the school) into a museum. In my last school, we had one class performance per term which showcased our learning for the term. This not only keeps parents in the loop of what the children are learning, if done well, it also gives the children chance to develop oracy and presentation skills, as well as Learning Power skills. Since the children in my class were involved in every step of their class performance, they had a vital opportunity to plan, revise, reflect on and fine-tune their performance. By presenting their learning to an audience, learning has a real purpose and meaning, and gives children the chance to reflect on what they have learned.
St Bernard's school in Ellesmere Port, they planned a whole school project on songbirds. There is more about this project (including a stunning video on the conclusion of the project) in my blog. To conclude the project, they brought together all the learning the children had done during the project and opened the school to showcase it to parents. Below are some photos of the project. I think you will agree that the children, parents and teachers must have been very proud of what the children learnt and produced. They were certainly still excitedly talking about it when I visited about 4 months later!