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About Family Involvement Research Digests

Harvard Family Research Project's (HFRP) Family Involvement Research Digests summarize research written and published by non-HFRP authors and/or written by HFRP authors but published by organizations other than HFRP.  For help citing this article, click here.

Introduction

This study documented the implementation of a family involvement project in a Year 5 class in a semi-rural school in Cyprus. The project began after identifying a gap between the teacher's everyday classroom practice and parents' perceptions and involvement practices. The project was also founded on the belief that home-based instruction would be more culturally and experientially relevant to children and strengthen their learning.

Project Description

The project began with a teacher and his 24 pupils inviting parents to an evening meeting to discuss each party's contribution to children's everyday learning activities and co-developing a set of guidelines and activities to facilitate coordination of all parties' efforts. The meeting's participants created the following aims:

  • To establish a partnership between parents, children, and the teacher in the everyday school learning activities and broader educational activities of the class
  • To share experiences, roles, and responsibilities in the children's classroom among parents, children, and the teacher
  • To familiarize parents with their children's school work

At the meeting, parents and teachers created guidelines for parents' participation in the classroom:

  • Parents would meet with the teacher 10 minutes before each classroom session to: be oriented to the session's aims, content, and activities; determine roles and responsibilities; and prepare materials, visual aids, or other necessary pre-session preparations. In many cases, parents prepared their contribution at home.
  • Parents could choose an active role or could just be an observer in the classroom.
  • No child's achievement or behavior would be commented on or gossiped about inside or outside of the school.
  • All parents would associate with all pupils and not only their own child.

Within the first week of the project's implementation, parents completed a form indicating their preferred dates for visiting the classroom. At the end of each classroom visit, parents scheduled their next visit. Three to six parents were present in the classroom every day. Parents determined how long they stayed in the classroom on each visit, and were encouraged to participate in curriculum lessons at least once during these visits. On their arrival, parents met the teacher, reviewed the learning session to follow, and clarified roles and responsibilities. Extra effort was made for both parents to visit the classroom, with a goal of having the less involved parent (in most cases the father) visit the classroom at least once.

During the classroom sessions, parents participated in all educational activities including individual and group activities and one-on-one, group, and class discussions to which they could bring in their own experience and perspectives. Parent classroom roles included

  • Helping present class-related subjects and exhibitions, such as discussing the regions of Cyprus from which they originated and other countries they had visited during a geography lesson
  • Teaching entire sessions on areas in which they had expertise, such as English, science, and technology
  • Cooperating in class-management activities, such as the construction of the class's “constitution” through a democratic dialogue with pupils and the teacher, to establish class rules, rights, and responsibilities.
  • Checking exercise books as demonstrated by the teacher
  • Maintaining with pupils the classroom picture-board, materials, aids, etc.
  • Participating in classroom excursions, parties, and sports meetings
  • Organizing part or all of a class activity, such as arranging a classroom event or field trip related to a school subject.

Research Method

Data were collected from multiple informants and thematically analyzed. Specifically, the researcher administered surveys and conducted in-depth interviews with parents and pupils in the classroom. Moreover, the teacher recorded his observations in a diary in order to capture the overall class culture and the particular activities taking place daily. Parents and pupils' responses to the interviews were triangulated in order to complement and throw further light on evidence derived from the analysis of the statistical survey conducted at the end of the program. The observational field notes of the teacher were used as supplementary, multi-faced data to portray parents' and pupils' perceptions, attitudes, and reactions more clearly.

Research Findings

Findings indicated the enhancement of relationships among all participants, as well as the development of a “community” spirit of shared goals, aims, and concerns.

First, parents expressed gratitude for their new roles. They had the opportunity to live the realities of their child's day-to-day school life. They were provided all the necessary contextual information to draw their own conclusions about their children's school attainment and behavior.

Parents also experienced increased trust in the teacher's day-to-day work and professionalism. For children coming from deprived home environments, the parent-teacher relationship was particularly improved. Likewise, the teacher learned to value families' cultural models more and to use them in everyday teaching.

Moreover, specific school aims were facilitated by the partnership. The presence of a cooperating adult helped pupils fulfill the demands of assigned exercises and activities and to gain new skills. Similarly, curriculum was covered more quickly, and, above all, was enriched by innovative and multi-varied activities and ideas brought by parents.

Both the parents and teacher concluded that the project supported children's achievement. Parents' presence and participation in the classroom supported children's learning, as did the alignment of schoolwork done at home and at school. Parents' first-hand experience of their child's performance in school and how they were taught in class facilitated the process of enhancing their children's schoolwork at home.

Parents also became familiar with subject matter and how it was taught, further enhancing their assistance at home. This was particularly true for mathematics. One parent explained that she could not help her child previously because “the content is very high-level and very different from what we were taught at the same age.” Parents expressed relief in finally being able to help their child at home. A mother of a low-achieving pupil explains:

During the teacher's demonstration of a new concept, I could now learn myself. Thus, I knew better how the teacher worked, in order to help my child in a similar way at home. Before my involvement, I could not help my child, because I did not know the way. Moreover, I felt that I was using different approaches from the teacher, which resulted in more problems for my child.

The pupils enjoyed the new partnership and participated in school activities with more enthusiasm, as reported by parents, pupils, and the teacher. One pupil evaluated his participation this way:

When our teacher presented to us the whole idea of having our parents in the classroom with us during our sessions, we were worried. Soon, we realized what a good idea it was; our class work was supported by the help our parents [gave us]. More importantly, a strong and warm relationship between the parents and their own children and other children was created. Moreover, our parents could understand where the teacher wanted us to focus on and, thus, when we were doing our homework at home they knew what we should do and what to investigate more.

All participants pointed to improvements in pupils' perceptions about their schooling and school-related self-esteem. Low achievers in particular felt more confident to participate in class work.

In conclusion, this project was unique and innovative in the context of a centralized educational system in Cypress, and a cultural tradition of strict and confined relationships between home and school. The program established an everyday partnership between parents and teacher, drawing from each other's expertise, experience, and cultures. Parents were valued as co-educators with the teacher and as contributors to their children's school learning and self-esteem.

Implications for Teacher Preparation and Professional Development

The project offers lessons for how home and school can join together in an everyday partnership, and how schools can value the culture of children's families while accomplishing their major aims of improving children's performance and self-esteem. Specifically, preservice and in-service teachers will be well equipped to build everyday partnerships with families if they have solid communication skills, knowledge of potential roles parents can play in the classroom, and ideas for supporting parents' involvement in learning at home.

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