President Linda M. Gojak
NCTM Summing Up, September 5, 2013
often when a student struggles with mathematics, a parent comments, “I was
never very good at math either.” While that may be true, the need for our
students to be successful in mathematics is more urgent than at any time in
recent history. In this era of focus on college, career, and life readiness,
engaging parents is critical to the success of students from prekindergarten
through high school. Although parent involvement is an important part of any
student’s academic experience, enlisting parent support in mathematics may
present a greater challenge and a more conscientious effort on our part. Studies
show that many parents are intimidated by coming into schools and meeting
teachers—especially mathematics teachers. Think about how you can work directly
with parents so that the school-to-home connection becomes a collaborative experience.
beginning of the school year offers unique opportunities to connect directly
with parents and help them to become engaged in their child’s mathematics
education. Students, teachers, and parents are excited, ready, and eager for a
new beginning. Whether it is open house, a phone call, or a letter home, contact
at the start of school gives parents their first impression of you and of the
mathematics their children will be learning.
some possible messages to share with parents.
- Summarize the big
mathematical ideas that the class will be exploring in the coming year. Be
sure to put them in family-friendly language. If possible include
practical examples to emphasize real-world applications of the concepts—especially
in higher-level courses.
- Inform parents that today’s
mathematics content and instruction should look different from the
mathematics they had in school. Research and experience demonstrate that
high-quality mathematics instruction involves students in making sense of
the mathematics they are doing, working together to solve challenging
problems, using technology when appropriate, and communicating about their
thinking. This explanation will offset any misguided notions that could undermine
our work with students.
- Provide good resources that
parents can explore with their children, such as activities on the Illuminations website. Share some good
apps that students might use on their tablets or smartphones. If you have
a personal Web page for parents to access, include specific websites and
apps throughout the year. Consider a “Parent Partners” tab on your home page.
Share ideas with other teachers about what to include.
- At open house, present a
traditional mathematics exercise or assignment along with a contrasting
activity that promotes deeper understanding. For example, in the elementary
grades I have displayed a typical worksheet with 20–25 addition exercises and
afterward engage parents in playing a quick round of “Close to 1000.” I
ask parents which task they think their child would prefer. The unanimous
response has always been “Close to 1000!” Spend some time talking about
the mathematics in the activity so that the focus on depth of
understanding becomes transparent to parents. Talk about the relevance of
games and rich tasks in building mathematical competence.
- Take time to be reflective
about homework you assign to students. Be clear on the purpose of your
assignments and the role of parents in supporting their children at home. This
is an area of great frustration for many parents. Homework assignments will
probably not look like mathematics homework from parents’ school
experience. Provide ideas about how they can support their children in
doing homework, especially when struggle is likely. In addition to setting
aside time and a place to do homework, how should parents respond to
students struggling to complete an assignment?
- Remind parents that their
role is not to be the teacher at home. You do not expect them to reteach
or explain concepts that may not be totally clear to a student. Whether
you suggest a quick call, an e-mail, or a note from the parents when their
child has moved beyond productive struggle, the importance of
communication cannot be overestimated. When parents do take the time to
contact you, be sure to respond in a timely manner.
- While “Math-for-Parents
Night” is a common event in elementary schools, extending these
opportunities to middle and high school pushes us to think harder about
connecting the mathematics that we are teaching to real-world applications
and helping parents to become more comfortable and positive about their
children’s mathematics education. It also opens the door for additional
communication between the parent and the school.
- Consider sending home a rich
task for families to complete together. It can be related to an event in
your school’s community, something that connects mathematics to real life,
or simply a task that the family can explore together, is motivational,
and gets parents and students working together. An added benefit is
developing positive attitudes toward mathematics.
- Enlist your principal or other
administrator in the partnership that you’re establishing with parents. Inform
him or her of what is happening in your classroom and suggest ways to
support your work and encourage parents to become more involved.
list above includes some practical starters for developing a constructive relationship
between parents and the school. It encourages positive attitudes toward
mathematics. Just as we plan daily instruction for our students, a specific yearlong
plan to get parents involved and supportive of their children will positively
influence our work and can only lead to increased student success. Fall is an
exciting time of the year for teachers, students, and parents. Have the best
school year ever!