Home > Uncategorized > Q: What’s the first thing parents need in order to be engaged with their child’s schoolwork?

Q: What’s the first thing parents need in order to be engaged with their child’s schoolwork?

March 19, 2012

A: They need to know what the assignment is and when it is due.

I like Jay Mathews. He writes a Washington Post education blog called Class Struggle. Jay writes populist, parent-oriented posts that are accessible and deceptively easy to read, describing practical issues you may have experienced yourself.

Mathews wrote a post a few years ago called When teachers reject the Internet. It described the struggle of Tracy Thompson, a parent of two daughters with ADHD. Even with a 504 plan, Ms. Thompson simply could not get their teachers to use their Internet-based tools to communicate upcoming assignments in advance of the due dates.

In a way, it is unfortunate that Mr. Mathews’s post frames this as a special-ed issue. The web tools have improved and are so universal and easy to use now, that there is no excuse for every teacher not to use them to communicate upcoming assignments to every parent and student.

Today’s powerful web-based gradebooks offer home portals for parents and students to view assignments and grades online. Some – like Delaware’s Home Access Center (eSchoolPLUS) – even allow teachers to electronically attach handouts, instructions, or other documents, so they can be downloaded at home.

So to communicate assignments online, all the teachers have to do is enter them in their gradebook – which they are already doing. No more updating and formatting of individual teacher websites.

But unfortunately, teachers still do not consistently post assignments before they are due, often entering them only after they have been graded. That’s too late to help students or their parents who want to make sure tests get studied for and homework gets done on time.

Teachers have a variety of reasons for not communicating assignments online. These seem to fall into three categories:

1. “I don’t have to.” Okay, fair enough. Most districts don’t require teachers to enter assignments until after they are graded. This is an unfortunate waste of a powerful parent involvement tool that is already paid for, but is left on the table.

2. “It takes too much time.” No it doesn’t. Teachers are already required to enter the assignment and the grade into their gradebooks. It takes no more time to enter it before the due date than after it. And teachers might be pleasantly surprised that by providing this timely information to all parents, they might eliminate a lot of time responding to parents one-on-one with email and phone calls.

3. “Withholding this information teaches students responsibility.” This is the reason I have the biggest problem with. All it does is deny the tools for students to take responsibility. The important thing is to get the student to do the work, not to play out some moral drama about how the assignment was communicated.

Last week, Jay Mathews updated Ms. Thompson’s story with a new post, still focused on the ADHD accommodations angle for the younger daughter, now in fifth grade. Ms. Thompson had requested that teachers check her daughter’s backpack before coming home, to make sure all assignments were properly recorded and necessary resources were packed. Teachers were balking at this task and were not doing it consistently. I felt sympathy for everybody involved, but I kept wanting to shout “Use the online communication tools!! It’ll be easier for everybody!!”

I suspect a lot of students with and without ADHD would be helped by having timely access to assignments for themselves and their parents.

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  1. March 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I love HAC, and I love the teachers who use it more!

    Most of the time my kids have a question about an assignment they did write down, probably sloppily.

    Here’s what happens next if the teacher is using HAC:

    1. My kid logs in and gets the assignment.
    2. Do homework

    Here’s what happens if the teacher doesn’t use HAC:

    1. My kid emails the teacher asking for clarification
    2. Because the teacher is human and won’t be able to answer immediately, my kid moves onto FaceBook – asking their friends for the assignment.
    3. While waiting for FB reply, they’ll go to Twitter and Text Messages
    4. Answers from classmates start to come in, but… uh oh… the answers are different. Who’s right?
    5. Teacher receives more emails asking for clarification.
    6. Teacher finally gets home to answer a lot of emails. The assignment is given. Kids report to kids who didn’t email teacher via FB, text and twitter.
    7. Do homework

    Some teachers may not use HAC, but their students try to. I would think using HAC would make their jobs easier. And that whole “teach them responsibility” thing doesn’t ring true. Kids checking their homework online is responsible. Sorta like you don’t have to be in your office to check your business email.

  2. March 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Ha! so true.

    The first-ever HAC usage reports are coming out soon, and I think they will be a shock.

  3. March 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Pandora, or anyone else – have you ever, ever seen a teacher use the document attachment feature to attach a handout or instructions to an assignment in HAC?

    I haven’t. And it’s a shame because that is one of its best features for student empowerment and parent involvement, second only to the ability to post assignments ahead of time.

  4. March 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I haven’t seen it, but will ask my kids. I do know that some of their teachers post assignment instructions on their websites. Also, my daughters Algebra II teacher posts upcoming assignments by their description (Pages 374-375 #19-22,24-37,45) on HAC, so that’s a help – and puts a stop to emailing the teacher and the social network explosion.

  5. March 21, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Yes, math is the easiest for teachers to communicate because the instructions fit in the title. All they have to do is enter the assignment in their gradebook on time and BAM! it is communicated to hundreds of parents and students.

  1. April 30, 2012 at 8:47 am
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