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How-To: Work with Students' Families

Getting Parents Involved in Your Program Cynthia Carbone Ward
Check out Cynthia’s Book, How Writers Grow: A Guide for Middle School Teachers,
published by Heinemann.

When a new teacher asked me if I could suggest ways that he might interest and involve parents in his 8th grade social studies curriculum, I suggested that he start with a basic weekly update to the parents. A short bulletin should let them know what interesting aspects of history are being covered, the kinds of activities the kids will be doing, and ways that parents can support the educational process at home. The bulletin might include a weekly challenge question regarding a historical character or event - preferably something colorful or amusing. Variations of all of these ideas can be applied to almost any subject.

Another great way to involve parents is by requiring your students to interview them. The topic, of course, depends upon the unit you are currently teaching. If it's about immigration, have them find out about their own family roots, who made the journey to this country, and stories that have been passed along. Perhaps one of their parents IS an immigrant and still remembers life in another country and the migration here. If you are teaching about the Constitution and the founding of the nation, have kids interview their parents about their understanding of what it means to be a citizen, or their recollection of the civil rights movement. This is just the tip of the iceberg -- with a little creativity, you can think of a provocative line of questioning which relates to just about any topic in the curriculum.

I often try to weave themes of tolerance and understanding throughout social studies curricula at the middle school level -- this lends itself to many interesting discussions and activities which might be enlightening to parents as well as students. Or how about having the kids create and enact skits of scenes in history and perform these for the parents? Or maybe famous debates or speeches, depending on the abilities and propensities of your students. Parents are always eager to see their kids perform. When I taught 8th grade, we enacted a mock trial, complete with lawyers, juries, and a presiding judge. It was quite a show, and very educational for the kids. Perhaps you could have the students work on dioramas or other projects relevant to the unit of study, and then these could be on display for the folks.

You probably have some parents in your community with special skills or knowledge to share -- you could coordinate a sort of speakers' bureau; this diminishes the barrier between the parent community and the classroom. Or maybe you could orchestrate a colonial-style potluck, or an ethnic festival to celebrate the "e pluribus unum" nature of our country? Invite the parents! They will love it.

Even at the middle school level, you are on the right track if you are inclusive of parents: keep them informed, and get them actively involved and interested. The benefits to your students will be significant.


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