This year I’ve been part of the Southern Metropolitan Region Community Engagement Project. As a participant of this project I have been looking at different ways of engaging our school community. I’ve outlined the project I developed for my school below. It’s been a ‘new way’ of engaging our parents in how theirchildren learn and our curriculum. My project is outlined below.
I would love to know if other schools are providing interactive workshops for their school community. Please let me know what you’ve been doing in your school to engage your community.
Letter to school community:
You are invited to be a part of the:
Community Engagement Project: Assisting in the Classroom Program
We are offering three interactive, fun and engaging sessions targeting helping in the classroom. These sessions will highlight the ways you as a parent can contribute and gain from adding to the learning experiences of all children you assist. Assisting in the classroom can have an enormous impact on learning gains for students. These sessions will incorporate time for questioning, reflection and maybe even a little bit of homework. Come a long; bring your ideas, hopes and fears.
We will be filming part of these sessions so please let us know if you would rather not be filmed. If you are willing to be part of a short filmed interview at the beginning of the program, and at the end please let us know. We may even approach you!
Session Outline & Dates
Session 1: Assisting in the classroom: Engaging Learners. How can we encourage children to ‘have go’, and ‘take risks’?Prompts we can use to extend thinking and help children in all curriculum areas. Fostering independence and inquiry!
Session 2: The Power of Questioning – The Questioning Toolkit There are many different types of questions e.g. probing, sorting and sifting, strategic, elaborating, clarification just to name a few. Come along and enjoy some role play! Understanding and using different types of questioning will be useful at home and in the classroom.
Session 3: Parent Forum – Answering your questions! This session will remain open and target the areas this group would like more information on. Questions will be collected and specific topics will be targeted. Your input will be vital.
In addition this is a great opportunity to meet other parents and enjoy discussing educational issues and concerns.
The third session of the project was completed this week, and the feedback we are receiving has been very positive. I’ve included a letter written by a parent who completed the three sessions below:
When I first heard about the “Community Engagement – Assisting in the Classroom” project, I thought, “this is for me”! My son is only in grade 1 and already I am struggling with the best way to help and engage him, as well as extract information from him… It is great to know, through attending these sessions, that I am not the only parent who feels this way!!
Lesson 1 was all about EMPOWERING, encouraging children to “have a go” and “take risks” both at home and in the classroom. The most significant thing I learned was how much EXTERNAL PEOPLE play a role in influencing, empowering and or crushing our spirit and growth. It was so thought provoking that as adults we still have very vivid memories of those who helped us and or hindered us along the way. For me it was a real eye opener about how much my child’s development was “in my hands”. The LEARNING ENVIRONMENT I create for him at home by being patient and constructively positive, will determine in the long term whether he thinks of me as someone who has encouraged and empowered him, or stifled his growth. That’s some responsibility!
Lesson 2 was about tools and questioning techniques. Did you know that it is not only OK to ask questions in class (even the parent dreaded question “why?”), but our children are actually encouraged to do so?? And there are no “absolute” right or wrong answers! I must confess that as a person who was in primary school 20+ years ago I struggle with this… This whole “inquiry” thing is very new and foreign to me. In my day, when we asked a
question in class we were either “right” or “wrong”, and as another mother pointed out, after you were “wrong” enough times, you became more and more hesitant to contribute. These days there seems to be a lot more grey, children are being taught to think broadly and be adventurous with their answers… If you have experienced a totally different way of learning, this modern learning style may take some getting used to, which is why understanding “how” my child is learning will help me, I hope! We learned some different ways of questioning, to get to the heart of a situation, or to extract information from our kids, which according to most in attendance feels sometimes like pulling teeth. Some really great ideas and techniques were shared through group discussion.
Not to skip over the “hard” questions that inevitably arise, there was quite a bit of focus on “how much is too much” positive reinforcement/ hand holding… We all want our children to grow up strong, independent and confident. And we want them to be responsible for themselves. Can this happen with constant “fluffy” positive reinforcement? What happens when one day we are not there by their side to give them the cheer on they have gotten so used to? We questioned, should we always be overtly positive when there is a big bad world out there that isn’t always so kind and gentle. Is the old fashioned “why”; “because I’m your mother and I said so” really so wrong? If we don’t explain “everything” are we stifling their “inquiring mind”? Who has the time to explain “everything”?
Because of this line of questioning, our third lesson was dedicated to effective ways of giving feedback. What kind of feedback is good for our kids and what is “wasted” or even “harmful” to them. We learned feedback is not at its most effective when it is that fluffy positive reinforcement, always telling your child they are “awesome””fabulous” “fantastic” at everything, but is more effective when we focus it on the “parts of their work” that is good, that they did well. Our kids know what “good” looks like. Lets help them aim for that by acknowledging the “good” and by also giving them direction as to where they could improve by highlighting other parts of their work they could do “better”. We also talked about encouraging our children to self-assess, which sounds like an amazingly simple tool, which I confess to never having used! Using questions like: How do YOU think you did? Which part is your best work? Where do you think you could have done better? We talked about not simply focusing on how well a task is performed but in the “learning intention” – did they get the purposes or intentions of the activity? Do they know what they were supposed to have achieved? Did they achieve it?
Last but certainly by no means least, we covered the concept of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets… As adults a lot of us really do believe “you’ve either got it or you don’t”. We put people in boxes: He is sporty, She is intelligent. In my family I am the “go to person for English” but dad is the one with the “maths” head. I have even said to my six year old “ask dad, mum ISN’T GOOD AT THAT”… (Anyone else guilty???) Is that the truth? Are we good at” or “bad at” certain things or did I just choose not to devote a lot of effort to a certain subject, extracurricular activity? Or going back to the effect of those “external influencers” did someone tell me I was not good at something so I just believed them and gave up? Did someone laugh at or make fun of me and therefore I decided I wasn’t “good at” something? Our children soak up the language we use at home like a sponge… Am I creating a positive learning environment if I say to my son it is ok for you not to be good at sport because I wasn’t. Am I encouraging him to put in the effort to build his skills? Instead, shouldn’t we be teaching that to be good at anything requires effort!! To quote Janet, “We all have our strengths, things that come easily and naturally to us. Then we have the things which are a bit harder and require more effort. We are not “bad” at them, they are not “weaknesses” but things we can do better with a bit of practice.” The more effort you put in the better you get, the old analogy that “practice does indeed make perfect”. We all have a starting point or “base” in everything we do. It doesn’t have to be where we stay, that’s our choice. Rather we should think of it, for ourselves and our children as a starting point or platform from which to build and grow.
In closing, on behalf of all the mothers and fathers who attended the workshops I would like to thank Nina and Janet for “engaging” with us. I feel I can safely speak for everyone who attended when I say, it was great! We can’t wait for the next one!
The following video was shown at the start of the feedback session and I have to thank Mark Walker for introducing the concept of ‘mind sets’. I also attained this video from Mark’s blog. You might like to read Mark’s post: Do you have a fixed or fluid mindset?