The clay they used was a young child’s mind and they fashioned it with care.
One was a teacher: the tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent with a guiding hand and gentle loving heart.
And when at last their work was done, they were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child could never be sold or bought!
And each agreed she would have failed if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school, and behind the teacher the home!
I have a very vivid memory of sitting with my mother as a pre-school child and attempting to write numbers and letters. The books that we had were very simple, Janet and John were not spectacular, but the memory persists. I did become a young fluent reader and can remember sitting in the sunshine with another Janet and John story. This was an early attempt at differentiation; I’d probably finished my writing early. So the diet was not great, but neither did I suffer from malnutrition, as I also had the Look and Learn magazines and annual. Was my mother wrong to encourage early efforts at literacy?
I’d want to argue that something is better than nothing, as it encourages and maintains learning momentum. It is also important to demonstrate that learning happens in and out of school.
There have been two polarised schools of thought over many years. Homework as a concept has been encouraged to inculcate good learning habits, but is this always as successful as the proponents argue? Does homework slip into a stereotype, simply by being so regular and similar? Are some teachers guilty of sending home busy work, because something is expected? Does homework always progress learning?
Those who like homework are happy whatever is sent home. However, unwanted homework can cause significant stress in the home, for both child and parent(s). This stress could become a drag on learning motivation in and out of school, so how can we conceive of more engaging, active homework, which can possibly have a positive impact on learning?
One suggestion is the “walking homework”, a topic which is given at home time, linked to a topic, to be discussed as the child and parent/adult walk home. The outcomes are brought back to class the following morning. This can be extended to a longer piece of discussion and possible research at home, as a home task, with the purpose of supporting subsequent learning. These approaches can extend further, with a piece of reading to be considered in preparation for the next day’s lesson. How much time is spent in school reading or drafting and idea? Could valuable teaching time be freed by undertaking more mundane tasks at home, but which feed teaching at a deeper level? See ”Flipping the classroom”; for further ideas like this.
By this point some readers will be arguing that some parents will be supportive and some won’t, but that is currently the case. The teacher cannot necessarily guarantee the quality and value of any home activity.
Innovative practices include “Stay on and Play” activity, where parents come into school for the first twenty minutes of a school day, to share an activity, such as playing a game, with the sand or water, a maths or other curriculum related game. This has been extended with art activity, making something together, undertaking some kind of maths or writing together, in fact any activity that can be done as a collaborative act lends itself to this time.
One school invites parents to come into school in small batches to develop the idea of parents and children sharing books together, through teacher modelling. The opportunity to model skills with parents will pay dividends, especially if the support is available to all and non-attenders are followed up to ensure that the opportunity is equitable. There is still no guarantee of quality, but positive engagement may well outweigh lack of expertise, some support being better than none. Schools may need to determine quality and make some differentiated provision to back up any shortfall, using volunteer parents and TAs.
Home activity that involves extended engagement is more likely to have an impact on learning than a photocopied sheet to be undertaken in isolation, as children will have an opportunity to articulate their thinking.
The basis for parental involvement is likely to be the quality of communication and the accessibility of the organisation. Therefore schools need to consider their target audience. School communications are written by a professional with a level of articulacy which may greater than the receiving parents, indeed there may be a significant group for whom English is not their most fluent language. It may be necessary for a school to have a member of staff whose role it is to interpret newsletters and other written communication into another language, or simpler oral English.
Consider a teacher parent evening early in a school year, where teachers outline the learning journey for the year, together with outline information about how the parents might help. It is an opportunity to detail opportunities coming up where they can learn the specifics of reading, writing or spelling teaching. Ensure that they know how communication will be maintained during the year.
Think about a Home-School Link Book, a dialogue book which should be written in regularly by home and school staff. This can be developed to the needs of the school community, but can cover issues such as home activity, books read commentary, issues including early morning or overnight which might affect learning during the day, reminders, news. Parents respond positively if this book is an active component of school life, but are negative if they are all one way.
Parents who support the school give a positive message to their children that home and school work together. This powerful message has a positive impact on learning behaviour. The opposite view is that the child has permission to misbehave, through the covert, sometimes overt, negative message.
Should parents and schools work together? The answer seems self-evident, a resounding “Yes”. How? This should be determined locally to the needs of the community. Homework should be very carefully considered so that it supports learning and does not cause additional stress in the home.
Once started, ideas develop as parents begin to request specific support.