Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Four Ingredients of Family Engagement: 4 simple steps to effective involvement

A while back I wrote about the four types of activities make up family involvement and engagement. These are often referred to as ingredients in the Hoover-Dempsey and Sadler Model of parental involvement. I just love the insight that this model has been able to provide me and I've done all I can to share this amazing information with other educators as well as apply it with parents. The way they refer to ingredients really got my mind wandering (don't wait up...who knows where my daydreams will take me). It kind of reminded me of Chopped...you know, from the Food Network. In this show they open up a basket of ingredients and you are forced to make due with what you've got. Actually just "making due" won't get you far at all. You need to produce something amazing! The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this show really is just like effective parent involvement.

The 4 Specific “Ingredients” Used by Families during Engagement Activities: Instruction, Reinforcement, Modeling, and Encouragement
These ingredients are how families influence the student attributes that form the backbone of school success. The beauty of this is that you don't need every ingredient. Through the use of any one of these four specific kinds of activities, your child can benefit immensely. It is important for parents to discover which of these “active ingredients” are their strengths and cultivate them at every opportunity!

Make the most of what you have and don’t get CHOPPED!
You may not have a choice regarding the ingredients available to you, in fact the show seems to take great pleasure in throwing the contestants curves at every opportunity. Who cares. It makes for great TV! The same holds true for our families and teachers, but something far more precious than ratings are at stake. We've got to make the most of what we are working with. You must make the most of what you have in your “basket” without lamenting the lack of other ingredients. Celebrate what you bring to the table and don't knock yourself for what you don't have. Work your strengths and squeeze every last drop out of them.

Specific Examples of Engagement in Action!
These first two are often perceived as the ideal and most effective forms of parental engagement. They represent what is traditionally expected from effectively parent involvement:

What is expected and coveted, sometimes to the exclusion of other valuable forms of family engagement: Instruction and Reinforcement

I. Instruction

  • Instruction applicable to the academic standards (delivered by the parent or another individual/entity, such as a tutor)
II. Reinforcement

  • Practice books/educational games
  • Online resources
  • Apps/Programs
  • Tutors

If we just play in this sandbox, we limit ourselves as parents. I'm saying NOT to do any of the above, but just remember that you can offer so much more today, tomorrow, and beyond! While not traditionally recognized as being as potent, these two forms provide equivalent results. Here are some great examples of what modeling and encouragement can look like and how it affects your learner:

Aniah said she wants to be President and Tristan said he'll be her "General Manager"

III. Modeling (directly or indirectly): Actions speak louder than words

  • Problem solving out loud when confronted with an appropriate situation
    • Cooking dinner using a recipe (math, science, reading: volume, elapsed time, sequence, etc.)
    • Creating a grocery list (writing, math: purposeful writing, estimation, addition, subtraction, etc.)
  • Discussing the importance of education 
    • Provides clear intent in regards to the “Big Picture” of education and the steps necessary to achieve success. 
    • Develop perseverance and discourages the natural instinct to quit during hardships
  • Serving as the “external” brain when students are problem solving themselves
    • Provides immediate feedback
    • Guides decision making practices
    • Reaffirms positive choices and reinforces the use of existing resources and practices (re-read your book, check your work, etc. and other self-regulatory skills)
    • Practice utilizing/seeking external resources to facilitate learning (similar to the practice of peer grouping and sharing that is already encouraged in the classroom)
  • Managing resources such as time and space
    • Adhering to a schedule
    • Working in the right environment (quiet, well lit, materials on hand, etc.)
    • Developing organizational skills (a neat and orderly desk almost always directly correlates to a neat and orderly room)
IV. Encouragement 
  • Discuss neuroplasticity (yes, really…just get your children to understand this concept. It's not a secret)
    • Intelligence is not static. The brain experiences physical/tangible/measurable growth with use. The harder you work, the smarter you get. Share this fact with your children. This is one of the most amazing discoveries in the last few decades in regards to the brain.
    • You cannot prevent yourself from learning as long as you continue moving forward.
  • Learning from mistakes
    • Getting children to view mistakes as evidence of learning
    • Looking for the positive lessons in every setback to maximize the learning experience.
    • Practice critical thinking and utilizing feedback to improve in all areas
  • Risk-taking
    • Offer the safety and security of knowing that they can take calculated and developmentally appropriate risks. This is a common deficit among very bright children because they avoid risk-taking since failure is interpreted as a blow against their self-image. 
    • Get them to try without fear of failure. If they do fail, that does not define them. They just need to try, try, and try again. Let perseverance define them.
  • Valuing effort, as well as outcome
    • We all want our children to succeed and to have that success be a measureable outcome. There is nothing wrong with that, but we must recognize the steps (sometimes many steps) along the way. The child with a grade of C in math and an “excellent” rating in effort WILL improve.
    • Celebrate every triumph on the path to success!
    • Get your children and their parents to relish hard work. 1+1= you learning nothing. Once the content starts to be a challenge, NOW you know that you are learning!!!

Tristan rocking the "Best Reader" award in 1st grade

It seems so simple right? But that is the point. Complicated never trumps consistent! My youngest son suffers from brain damage. By all accounts, he has a mental and emotional disability that should be a great hindrance to him. He just started the second grade, but has been reading on a third grade level since the previous school year. Was he always an advanced reader? Nope. This has been the growth he experienced since applying similar strategies to the ones listed above. Well what about reading materials and resources? Do you work with him constantly at reading? The answer again is that we do not do anything that differently than the average family. 

However, when it comes to modeling and encouragement, we go ALL OUT! From encouraging questioning (we are a talkative family) and friendly competitions, to always having a book in our own hands and always praising effort above all, we do model and encourage at every opportunity. I've had incredible success with this and considering that two youngest are adopted (different families) and suffer from the effects of brain damage, my oldest is my stepdaughter, and my oldest boy is my only bio child, I'm fairly certain that in regards to achievement, nurture has beaten the tar out of nature. =)

I shared this all with you because I want every parent to understand just how influence they possess. Be confident and do what you can. My mom had a kindergarten education and could not speak English, yet when I think of effective family engagement, I believe she set the gold standard! I believe the same is true for you! Go be awesome!