How Can Elementary Teachers Collaborate More Effectively with Parents to Support Student Literacy Learning?

Article excerpt

Parental involvement (broadly defined as including both natural parents and other significant adults) has been consistently shown to produce positive results in students' literacy achievement, and there is widespread agreement about the value of parental involvement in education. However, educators do not routinely include parents in their children's education.

This article describes a qualitative study that engaged elementary teachers and parents from the author's school district in a semester-long Collégial Circle (a type of professional development offering). Within this professional learning community, parents and teachers engaged in readings and discussions to explore relevant literature findings, personal perceptions and biases, and alternative viewpoints about literacy learning and home-school partnerships, with the ultimate goal of initiating more effective collaboration between teachers and parents to support elementary students' literacy learning.

Introduction

As a veteran teacher, I have been involved in many school- wide projects designed to collaborate with families to support reading at home (for example, the PTA sponsored "Parents as Reading Partners"). Some classrooms were able to solicit 100% home participation while other classrooms had no family involvement. This inconsistency confused and concerned me. As a result, I decided to explore how elementary teachers could more effectively collaborate with parents to support student literacy learning.

Literature Review

Many studies show the positive connections between family (including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings) involvement and student outcomes (Epstein, Sanders, Simon, Salinas, Jansorn, & Van Voorhis, 2008; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2005). Most teachers, administrators, and parents believe that family involvement is important (Epstein, 2001), and educators who value parental involvement and actively seek to include parents create better school environments for students (Epstein et al., 2008). Furthermore, multiple studies support the need for strong parental involvement in fostering literacy and educational success (Caspe, 2003). When teachers assume a leadership role in increasing parent involvement, students' reading achievement is positively and significantly affected (Jeynes, 2005), and literacy programs involving home-school partnerships can provide essential support for students that eventually strengthens their literacy performance (Epstein, 2001).

A longitudinal study conducted by Dearing, Kreider, Simpkins, and Weiss (2006) presents strong evidence for the value of parental involvement on literacy performance. Following 281 low-income, ethnically diverse children from kindergarten to fifth grade, they found parent involvement related positively to student literacy achievement and that as parent involvement increased over time, so did student literacy achievement. Also, high levels of parental involvement appeared to be a more important factor than maternal level of education, and parent involvement increased children's positive feelings about literacy. The more parents were involved, the more students liked literacy and, therefore, performance improved. Finally, the study found that school context predicted parent involvement. This final finding has strong implications for practice because teachers can reach out to parents in ways that increase involvement and ultimately increase student literacy achievement.

Although evidence suggests parent-teacher collaborations can support student literacy learning, educators do not routinely include parents in literacy learning programs (Dealing, McCartney, Weiss, Kreider, & Simpkins, 2004). The literature demonstrates great value in partnering teachers and parents to support literacy and suggests more study is needed to explore how to improve collaboration among parents and teachers.

Specifics of the Study

Building on existing literature, I designed a study that engaged a mixed group of 10 elementary teachers and 10 parents in a Collégial Circle, a type of professional development in which participants have an equal voice in all group actions. …