Family engagement is hard to get right. Even in socioeconomically advantaged homes, parents are often busy and sometimes insecure in their own knowledge, and can even feel like they are having “teacher work” pawned off on them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg–for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, the challenges only get more severe: parents or other family members may be working two jobs and, as a result, are not present; there may be multiple brothers and sisters competing for parent(s)’ limited time; parents may not just be insecure in their knowledge, but may have dropped out of school or forgotten much of what they learned.
But more and more research continues to show the importance of having an adult be involved in students’ learning at home. How can teachers and principals overcome these challenges?
According to PowerMyLearning CEO and Co-Founder Elisabeth Stock, their new approach is different than past efforts. “Family Playlists first ask an adult family member to be a ‘student’ and allow their child to teach him or her what is being taught in school. Then that family member is asked be an ‘expert’ and give feedback to their child’s teacher on how confident their child was in teaching the material,” said Stock. “The first step is brilliant because, as the old adage goes ‘the best way to understand a concept is to explain it to someone else.’ The second step is also brilliant because teachers can receive valuable information from the adults who know their students best – their parents or other adult caretakers.”
After a pilot program at South Bronx Preparatory School, PowerMyLearning received encouraging feedback from a variety of stakeholders.“It was nice to work with my daughter on her homework so I could fully understand what she is doing in class. I have learned some things from her while she was teaching me about coordinate planes. It was good to get a good knowledge back from such a long time ago from my great big girl,” said one parent.
“I have more conversations with my mom than before and now my mom knows what I am learning in school,” said a participating student.
“While other family engagement efforts put families in the role of compliance enforcer (‘I see from the parent portal that you have not turned in this assignment yet – why not?’), Family Playlists put families in the role of teammate and supporter (‘Your math teacher says you should show me how to plot our neighborhood on a coordinate plane – that sounds fun!’),” said Stock.
But it wasn’t just families who appreciated Family Playlist’s approach. “Family Playlists opened a new door to my life as a teacher. The connections among my kids and their families is a closer relationship… [and] Family Playlists allows me to differentiate my teaching strategies in a unique and very strategic way,” said one participating teacher. “It gives them a resource to help their children regardless of their personal level of understanding,” said one South Bronx Prep School administrator.
With many commonly advocated methods of encouraging family engagement centered around expensive or time-intensive strategies involving more in-person meetings, less-than-engaging communication dashboards, or “flipped” lessons where the parent often ends up being the teacher, we’re impressed by the creativity of PowerMyLearning’s approach.
“We are so thrilled with the results of our Family Playlists pilot. We saw a high response rate and were just blown away by the personal comments families chose to submit to their child’s teacher—a choice that was offered to families as optional. Teachers received >300 personal comments from families in the spring semester alone and these comments were filled with pride and emotion,” said Stock.
For the 2017-2018 school year, PowerMyLearning is expanding Family Playlists to 180 students at South Bronx Preparatory. It will also expand to approximately 800 students in 8 primary and middle schools in NYC, along with a number of additional students in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Jose and Washington, D.C.
“I hope Family Playlists can become a new measure of family engagement for schools across the country so we can ensure all students have a supportive adult helping them with their learning outside of the classroom,” said Stock.
For more on family engagement, see:
- How to Reduce Barriers to Family Engagement
- 3 Strategies for Building a School Community Through Technology
- Engaging Parents to Engage Learners: Digital Portfolios Can Make it Happen
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