The research I have done in the past does not quantitatively on a large scale connect on-line communication to student achievement. However, there are plenty of other studies out there that connect what parents do to student achievement. There are plenty of others that look at what schools can do to help parents do those things that will help their kids learn. What I have attempted to do is make logical relations between these concepts.
This is my most "academic" post ever...
Relationships are the Key to Achievement
A classroom environment consists of an atmosphere shaped by relationships and instruction. Without one or the other the learning experience is incomplete. I believe that the two come together to create an environment where a student feels that they belong.
“To create schools that function as personalized communities of learning rather than anonymous institutions where some students feel they belong and others feel ignored, we must know our students-how they think, what they need, and what they want” (Hoffman and Levak 2003, p. 31)
The type of communication I was having with my students allowed me to hear their distinct voices. It showed my kids that I cared about each of them.
Caring connects us to one another through a sense of responsibility which is “sustained by a process of communication” (Gilligan 1982 p.32).
Continual on-line communication gave me the means to communicate, but what I did with it was the key. I used every bit on knowledge I got from each kid to tweak my relationship with them, to differentiate my instruction, and to better understand their perspective of our classroom.
As Ferguson (2002) puts it “when teachers have strong content knowledge and are willing to adapt their pedagogies to meet student needs, adding good teacher-student relationships and strong encouragement to the mix may be the key” (p. 3-4).
The result of all of this is a feeling of belongingness by the student where students try to maintain positive relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Students that feel close to teachers through belongingness benefit from higher grade point averages, are more willing to ask for help, and enjoy a higher quality of education (Dornbush & Glasgow, 1996; Ferguson, 2002; Osterman, 2000).
What I was getting was better information which helped to build positive relationships. Research shows that this should lead to a better educational experience and higher achievement for students.
As I delved further into my research I was surprised to see a connection to the concept of efficacy. I wasn’t even very familiar with efficacy. For those of you that are now where I was – efficacy is when an individual believes that they have control over the events and changes in their life and that these things are not just left up to fate or out of their control. Self-efficacy is one of the strongest traits we can build within our students – and parents.
One of the greatest student traits that teachers can foster through positive teacher-students is a strong sense of self efficacy; which is “a set of beliefs regarding a person’s competence to formulate and carry out a particular course of action” (Jackson, 2002). Self-efficacy has a great impact on how students face failure, adversity, approach learning, solve problems, and directly affects their academic performance (Bandura et al., 1996; Jackson, 2002).
From this research it stands to reason that teachers whose classrooms make students feel like they belong increase the self-efficacy of students and will create learners that feel empowered to make changes in their lives and affect their own educational outcomes.
Teachers must find effective methods for communicating with students and parents and for infusing approaches in the home that will heighten student outcomes at school. Many studies show that parent encouragement and discussion at home is one of the greatest influences on student achievement
Self Efficacy - Being empowered to be in control and not leave it up to someone else
Expectations and Encouragement
In fact the effect of parents holding high aspirations and expectations for their students is such an influential factor that it can make differences in achievement great enough to offset some of the effects caused by differences in socioeconomic status (Fan, 2001; Griffith, 1996; Keith & Keith, 1993).
Some studies have shown that parental involvement occurs more often and is more beneficial in the elementary schools than in the upper levels (Griffith, 1996; Strom & Strom, 2003). Others dispute this through empirical evidence that finds that parental involvement in the higher grades is still important (Davis, 2000; Fan, 2001; Lee, 1994) and does not decrease, but rather, changes focus (Catsambis & Garland, 1997). There is a large amount of quantitative research that shows that adolescent students achieve at a higher level when parents are involved in their student’s education (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Catsambis, 1998; Fan, 2001; Fehrmann, Keith, & Reimers, 2001; Ferguson, 2002; Griffith, 1996; Ho & Willms, 1996; Keith & Keith, 1993; Lee, 1994; Singh et al., 1995; Trusty, 1999)
Encouraging students, having expectations, being involved in the student’s education, and helping students make academic achievements all have a positive effect on the achievement of high school students (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).
Further quantitative research supports Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s research that close supervision or monitoring daily behaviors have negative outcomes on student performance (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Ho & Willms, 1996; Lee, 1994; Sanders, Epstein, & Connors-Tadros, 1999)
According to the research of Sanders et al (1999) high school teachers can help parents by encouraging a positive parent attitude towards high school, trying to get parents involved with the school, and by providing them with resources and strategies to help learning take place in the home. An empirical study performed by Swick and Hassell (1990) determined that interpersonal support of a child through parental efficacy supported development in children. Teachers can support parents’ efficacy through effective communication and by creating relationships with parents (Swick & Broadway, 1997).
Sanders et al (1999) explain that schools that employ these methods of high school parental involvement are thought of as better schools by the parents.
I believe that when teachers ask for parental involvement they are really looking for parental efficacy. Teachers want parents that have the means and will to create a difference in their child’s life. When we give parents information through websites or grade portals we are empowering them with the information they need to be involved in their child’s school life. They can be empowered to be part of the process – rather than an observer that just watches school happen.
Parental efficacy provides a reason for developing lines of communication that is timely and relative to classroom activity and student performance. When teachers provide knowledge to help parents build their efficacy skills it will pay dividends in their classroom.
What Parents Can Do
I wanted to be clear that this isn’t all up to the teacher and school. Parents play a huge part in this as well. David Boers (2002b) searched for the most common suggestions that teachers had for parents. He grouped the responses into nine groups defined by teacher actions:
1. Initiating Communication: Reach out to the teacher.
2. Monitoring Homework: Give attention to homework or follow it up.
3. Parenting and Study Skills: “Know your child” and “Create a work ethic”.
4. Getting Involved: Attend conferences and raise concerns.
5. Establishing Student Behavior: spend time with your child and model proper behaviors for them.
6. Responding to Teachers: Provide positive supporting feedback to teachers and support them at home.
8. Responding to Communication: Reply to teachers.
9. Recognizing Health Factors: Provide a healthy diet and require proper sleeping habits (p. 52-53)
In the study seventy percent of the teachers responded that initiating communication is what they need from parents. Teachers want to see parents involved – even at the high school level.
As I mentioned above – parent expectations and involvement are the most powerful factors in student achievement. They are so powerful they can even control for socioeconomic status. Knowing that shouldn’t we be giving parents the tools to feel empowered to influence what happens with their child’s achievement. It is still true – knowledge is power. On-line 2 way communication allows parents, students, and teachers a constant free flow of information that each can use to make sure that learning isn’t left up to chance.
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