Practice Makes Perfect? Maybe Not…
We’ve all heard the expression,” practice makes perfect.” However, in a teacher’s world, it’s not really true. If the practice work is done incorrectly, it takes three times as long to reteach the right method. That’s not time well spent. A teacher’s amended expression would be,” perfect practice makes perfect.”
This means parents need to be able to give guidance at home that parallels instruction in school. My math counterpart in the Title I program, and I, a reading specialist, received countless concerns from parents about not being able to help at home. They explained they didn’t understand the ‘new math’ and didn’t feel equipped to help with reading homework. There were tears of frustration almost every night, both student and parent! To keep parents involved and working with their children, we collaborated to hold parent workshops to answer their uneasiness and support successful practice at home.
An Exclusive Invitation
Our plan was to give maximum information to parents, at a convenient time, spread out over a time period that allowed for implementation and practice. The goal was to strengthen the home-school connection and their child’s academic success with tips, techniques, and strategies to help their child with homework and study skills. The final design was four monthly meetings, January through April, held right after school hours, for 45 minutes. If a later meeting time or perhaps online sessions make more sense, then it’s up to the teacher to make that decision. We invited exclusively Title I parents and guardians to participate and asked that they respond yes or no. If a later meeting time or perhaps online sessions make more sense, then it’s up to the teacher to make that decision.
Tips, Techniques, and Strategies!
The first meeting welcomed the parents and guardians and began with the importance of homework and perfect practice. This was followed with a parent survey; a Likert scale covering various homework challenges they had experienced, asking the grade level of their children in school, and the name of who usually helped with homework. Their answers would direct the discussion points for the next two workshops.
Each participant was given a folder for handouts and activity logs for each month. The activity logs were a place for parents to record which tips were used for different homework assignments during the month, the degree of success, and comments or questions to share at the next meeting.
Since we did not have definitive information from the survey at this point, the first topic covered tips for homework and study skills. We shared how to assemble a homework toolkit, which included everything a student might need to complete assignments, from pencils and a sharpener, ruler, calculator, and a compass, to a dictionary, thesaurus, scratch paper, and sticky notes. A handout titled, “Nine Study Tips for Fewer Tears and Less Frustration” was shared and explained.
Nine Study Tips for Fewer Tears and Less Frustration
- Designate a homework area
- Organize materials in a toolkit
- Schedule a consistent homework time
- Eliminate Distractions. During homework time turn off the TV and other devices. Have siblings complete their homework at the same time or work ona quiet activity such as reading or puzzles.
- Make a “To Do” list
- Tackle harder subjects first
- Work in short intervals
- Lead by example
- Reward hard work
A discussion about how this might look in their homes ensued, with helpful brainstorming and sharing of ideas.
Incentivizing Parents to Attend Workshops
Each month included a drawing for a door prize. The first workshop prize was a full toolkit in a plastic tote carrier. Subsequent door prizes were fun math and reading games and books. Also, each attending participant was given a ticket for the final drawing, which was a Kindle Fire. The more workshops they attended, the more entries they would receive. We hoped these incentives would keep them coming back!
Inference and Algorithms
Agendas for the meetings began with sharing activity logs, comments and questions. We found this time to be important to the parents. Not only were questions answered, but also, discussion was encouraged. They found common ground with each other and readily shared ideas to solve problems. The topics for the next two months covered concerns derived from the parent surveys. We took turns in the area of our expertise.
To begin the reading component month, I shared Scarborough’s rope conception, which demonstrates the complexities of the reading process visually. Explanations of terms in understanding language such as background knowledge, inference, genre, and semantics were shown to be as important as decoding and automaticity. Weakness in any strand of the rope would weaken the entire rope. Then, I proceeded to give support to their guidance at home. Like any other skill, in order to become a better reader, one had to read!
I modeled interactive reading strategies, such as:
- rereading for understanding
- questioning tricky words
- characters’ actions and words
- questions for the author
Handouts were provided for their folders and techniques to try were suggested for their activity logs.
The math month was equally as informative. It was explained that with the growth of the technological age, the shift in “new math” education had progressed to mathematical thinking processes of concepts rather than the rote memorization encouraged in earlier generations. The Title I math teacher modeled the rote process of two-digit multiplication and then compared it to the different methods of solving the problem using place value and visual concepts. The participants had fun trying to try to solve algorithms using some of these new techniques. At the end of the session the teacher led them through the step-by-step procedure for gaining access to the math home links for parents on the school website, which would give them more insight into math homework help. These steps were outlined in a handout for their folders and suggestions were made for their activity logs.
The last month followed the same agenda and then gave an overview of the workshops. Teachers and parents perused the handouts together and the different questions that had resulted from the activity logs. Many parents remarked how their child had shown improvement over the last marking period, which was reflected in their report card. Their confidence in being able to help their children had greatly increased.
With summer approaching, we wanted to alert the parents about the dangers of summer backslide. After explaining this consequence and showing the possible deficits, we provided calendars for each summer month, which included activities on each day for a math or reading oriented activity to use their skills and keep them sharp. Some of these were bowling or other games with the child being the score keeper, following a recipe using liquid and volume measurements, writing shopping lists, or planning a family outing, such as a reading picnic, or mapping a family vacation. You can also try these Summer Success Kits, with game-like tools and activities to keep skills sharp over the summer. Reading lists for all grade levels, in varying interest areas, along with websites for math and reading games were attached. Celebrations of success were recognized, followed by refreshments. Lastly, we had the final drawing for the lucky winner of the Kindle Fire!
When my co-presenter and I reflected on this experience, we realized we met our goal in a big way. Over the months, our home-school connection with these parents became much stronger. We shared a lot of questions, answers, and laughter, but most importantly, we developed a relationship of mutual respect and a shared responsibility for the children’s success in school. Together we celebrated the gains for the students’, improved achievement levels, more active class participation, interests in their own academic performances, and growing confidence. We realized our stronger partnership had a powerful effect on “our” kids!