How to Increase Parent Engagement in School – During COVID -19 and After

The United States has witnessed an unprecedented disruption of education due to widespread school closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While most schools have elected to conduct online classes during this time, they must also take steps to ensure that parents remain as involved as ever in their child’s education. Educators have long been aware of the correlation between strong parental involvement and student success. And while schools cannot force parents to get involved in their child’s education, they can certainly encourage and facilitate it.

Parent Teacher Meeting

_D3N1034_fix_6x4_b” by Innovation_School is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Fortunately, we live in a digital age that offers a variety of tools to connect schools, parents and teachers, lockdown or no lockdown. Here are some innovative ways to spark (and maintain) parental involvement in school.

Embrace the internet

One of the best ways to promote parent engagement is to get parents to share their stories and experiences in a dedicated parent blog. This could be enhanced with social media presence and an event calendar that keeps busy parents in the loop. This encourages communication and forges connections between parents as they work with the school to create an online community. While Facebook groups are a popular social media platform for parent engagement, you could also try other outlets such as Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, basically whatever medium parents are most comfortable with.

Use social media to post links to your blog, calendar, announcements and other important information. Post pictures from your latest event (in a pre or post-COVID-19 world) on Instagram so parents can see what they missed and let them know how they can be more involved next time. With a large number of parents working from home during this time (and also spending time on social media sites), implementing a concerted social media outreach plan is bound to pay off. Remember – schools + online communication tools = greater parental involvement.

Another interesting (and underused) way of reaching out to parents is via online videos on your school website. Here, parents and teachers can exchange ideas, provide guidance and offer feedback about assignments or areas where a child may need extra help.

Parent Surveys

Parents are more likely to be involved in school if they feel their opinions are valued and their feedback can be surprisingly insightful. Send out parent surveys at regular intervals (beginning of the school year, after each quarter/semester). A good survey will generally contain a judicious mix of multiple-choice questions as well as free response questions that give parents the space to express their opinions. A short 5 or 6 question survey is enough to pique parents’ interest in important school decisions and spark a conversation in your online community. It could even make parents more involved in the outcome and prod them to attend meetings and be more involved in planning committees. Use services like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create and disseminate surveys; email, social media or the school website work well for outreach. Here are a few sample topics you can put in a parent survey: classroom goals/expectations, dates for school activities, methods of contact, volunteer opportunities for parents, concerns or suggestions, etc.

Do’s and Don’ts for Improving School-Parent Communication

  • Provide clear direction to teachers on which tools to and define protocols regarding communication with parents.
  • Keep communication brief but frequent to keep parents updated on a regular basis.
  • Offer parents the option to personalize the information they wish to receive as well as the method of delivery. This keeps all communication relevant and prevents information overload.
  • Provide actionable information that parents can use to support or prepare their child for class assignments, extra-curricular activities or special events.
  • Find opportunities to communicate positive news along with regular updates regarding homework assignments, daily schedules, upcoming events, etc.
  • Reach out to parents to share information about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, the kind of support system available to the child and any relevant information that may impact their behavior in the classroom.

To sum up, communication between schools and parents is the glue that helps bind (and nourish) a thriving school community, especially during these difficult times. While most schools in the U.S. had already embraced online methods of parental involvement (as opposed to twice-a-year PTA meetings), the current pandemic has forced schools to hastily adapt to the realities of social distancing and hand sanitizers.

How to Keep the Learning Going in the Midst of COVID-19 – Online Education Options for All Grades

Online Learning

Child on Tablet” by StockSnap is licensed under CC0

As COVID-19 spreads like wildfire within the United States and across the globe, normal life has nearly come to a standstill. Educational establishments, where the risk of spreading the coronavirus is very high, have been forced to go online at short notice. One of the top challenges faced by school district leaders in the U.S. is to find ways to make online learning accessible to all their students.

Parents certainly have their work cut out trying to cope with this unparalleled disruption of education and making sure their child does not miss out on learning. As someone who’s passionate about both education and technology, I have put together a (non-comprehensive) list of websites that offer useful (and free) learning resources for grades K-12.

Education.com (K-5)

This popular website has loads of printable worksheets, online games, guided lessons, hands-on activities, song videos lesson plans for 3-10-year olds and a lot of them are free. The layout is attractive and kid-friendly, while the material is designed by experienced educators and aligned with Common Core standards. A premium membership allows parents to track their kids’ progress with a report card and participate in their challenges and triumphs.

123 Homeschool 4 ME (K-8)

If you’re looking for free printables (games, worksheets, hands-on activities) to keep your child busy (and learning), this website has you covered. They have over a million pages featuring a wide range of subjects such as alphabet recognition, tracing uppercase and lowercase letters, phonemic awareness, math, English and language arts, history and geography. If COVID-19 has turned you into a reluctant homeschooling parent, the website has tons of great articles to help you get started on this new journey.

Age of Learning (Preschool, pre-k, K-5)

Schools closed by the coronavirus pandemic can now get free home access to popular online education platforms ReadingIQ, ABCMouse and Adventure Academy, thanks to the Age of Learning School Continuity Initiative.  ABCMouse is a comprehensive online curriculum for pre-k and K-2 levels with thousands of activities covering math, reading, art, social studies, science and music. Adventure Academy is an educational massive multiplayer online (MMO) game for elementary and middle school kids. ReadingIQ is an online library and literacy platform for young children.

Big History Project (Grades 6-12)

If your child is in middle or high school, the Big History Project is a great way to invoke their curiosity and creativity with a comprehensive social studies curriculum that builds critical thinking and writing skills. This free online course encourages students to look beyond facts and draw connections between past, present and future, along with a greater understanding of history and the origins of mankind. All lessons on BHP are easily accessible and customizable and regularly evaluated and updated.

BlockCAD (Grades 9-12)

BlockCAD offers a specialized 3D computer-aided drafting (CAD) software for middle school and high school students to help build their math and computer skills. Students can build and manipulate 3D objects using their computational thinking and geometry skills on a block-based coding platform. The curriculum is comprehensive and offers detailed lesson plans. BlockCAD integrates well with Google Classroom and works with all devices.

Boardmaker (Special Needs children)

Boardmaker is one of the best online learning resources for visual learners or children with autism spectrum disorders, speech and language disorders, behavioural disorders or Downs syndrome. The website offers a large collection of standardized picture symbols and other social and emotional learning tools such as books, software and visual schedules. They also have a thematic series of activity units that are free to download, copy or print. The Boardmaker tools are designed to create a feeling of calmness and positivity.

How to Calm your Child’s Fears about COVID-19

 

The coronavirus

representation of the coronavirus” by Lucbyhet is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has upended people’s lives in myriad ways and families are scrambling to cope with the changes. The world has become a scary, unrecognizable place where school closures, telecommuting, social distancing and hoarding toilet paper have become the new normal. It’s a lot to navigate for anyone, especially kids who are likely to experience some amount of fear and anxiety as the adults around them struggle to cope with the coronavirus. As a parent and/or caregiver, one of the best things you can do is to ease children’s concerns with age-appropriate information and reassure them that they are safe. Here’s how you can do it.

  1. Prepare yourself
  • Knowledge is power. The best way to conquer your own stress is to stay updated with the latest information without being overwhelmed. Stick to reliable sources of information such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Facts are often helpful in quelling anxiety in adults as well as children.
  • An anxious child is unlikely to be calmed by an anxious parent. Kids are quick to pick up on the feelings and attitudes of their elders, so before talking with them, discuss your own fears and uncertainty with your therapist or other adults.
  1. Find out what they already know
  • Your child may have heard something about this new illness from their friends or teachers. Ask age-appropriate questions in a calm manner to learn how much they know about COVID-19 and to find out if they have been misinformed. If your kids are older, guide them to reliable online resources for information about the virus lest they fall prey to news sources that peddle incorrect or outdated data.
  • Some parents choose to follow the child’s lead. Your child may have a lot of questions and it’s important to address them. Other kids, particularly younger ones, may seem uninterested in the discussion and not show much curiosity. If so, it’s perfectly okay to discuss the basics and then let well enough alone. While answering their questions, don’t offer more detail than necessary. For instance, if your child asks why they can’t meet their friends, answer the question honestly but don’t raise the topic if it doesn’t come up.
  1. Be Positive – but Honest

As a parent, you should focus on making your child feel safe without compromising on the truth. Explain that most people who catch the virus feel like they have a cold or the flu but because the virus is highly contagious most people have to stay home to avoid passing it on to others. If your child has questions that you’re unable to answer, feel free to check the CDC website together for up-to-date information without encountering gory headlines about coronavirus deaths.

  1. Address their Anxiety
  • Let your child know that feeling stressed and fearful at times is okay, but emphasize that bad times pass and life eventually gets back to normal. This helps children build resilience and the confidence to face life’s challenges.
  • Very often, children worry more for their loved ones than for themselves. If your child hears that the coronavirus pandemic is more likely to affect elderly people, they might worry about their older relatives. Let them Skype or talk with Grandpa or Grandma so they can feel reassured about them.
  • Show your children that people are working hard to stop the pandemic and keep the world safe. Read together about how hospitals and doctors work to treat sick people and how scientists are working round the clock to develop vaccines and medications to combat the virus. Make them understand how soap/sanitizers kill the virus and why social distancing can actually prevent the pandemic from spreading. This helps your child feel in control.
  • The mainstream media is filled with stories of people dying of COVID-19. If your child has been worrying about this, it is important to put the news in context and also stringently filter what they see and hear. Explain that, despite what they have heard, the chance of people dying of the virus is very rare.
  1. Be a good role model

Eating healthy, exercising, getting lots of sleep, regular hand washing, keeping one’s surroundings clean and, above all, maintaining social distance can keep the coronavirus at bay. It is important for parents to model the good habits they want their children to adopt in order to beat the pandemic.

How to Speak Like a Native – A Brief Guide to English Pronunciation

ESL

“Group Effort” by Dennis S. Hurd is licensed under CC0 1.0 

As an ESL teacher, I’ve encountered hundreds of students who mispronounced common English words despite having an extensive vocabulary and near-perfect grammar. That’s not really surprising, considering that English happens to be their second (or even third) language; what IS surprising is how many of them were completely unaware of the fact, despite being fluent English speakers and prolific writers. I’ve come to the conclusion that learning correct pronunciation is one of the toughest things about learning English as a second language. The good news is, you can teach yourself to speak like a native English speaker in ways that are efficient as well as budget-friendly. The not-so-good news is that it takes tons of time, patience and perseverance; there are no shortcuts to perfection. But as I always tell my students, there’s more in you than you think there is, so hang on long enough and you’ll get there sure enough. 

Tip No. 1 – Listen

If you want to achieve native proficiency in English without actually moving to England or the United States, you can do what so many actors do when a role demands fluency in a foreign language – listen carefully to recordings of native speakers, record your own imitation and compare both versions. Record yourself speaking sentences or reading paragraphs. Repeat this exercise, correcting your mistakes each time, until you’re able to imitate the original pronunciation and accent flawlessly. If possible, have a native speaker listen to your recordings to help you figure out the finer points of pronunciation. 

Listening to podcasts may be helpful here because you can listen to people speaking clearly and casually, just like they would in an everyday conversation. Add YouTube videos and free pronunciation apps for variety. Read a transcript of the podcast or video as you listen – this will help you connect the sounds to the letters. 

Tip No 2 – Write

And how exactly might writing help you improve your pronunciation? In my high school French classes, we had to take dictation; the teacher spoke for fifteen minutes and we had to listen carefully and write down exactly what she said. Trying to decipher her accent wasn’t easy but we wrote down what we thought we heard – this process helped me understand French spelling and pronunciation so much better. My ESL students say they used to be terrified of dictation but it has worked wonders for their language learning skills. 

Keep a notebook handy to write any English pronunciation problems you might have. Write out difficult words phonetically (by their sounds). If in doubt, ask others how they would say it. Make a list of words you have problems with and cross out the ones you’ve conquered. This will show you how much you’ve progressed with your pronunciation and is especially useful for visual learners. 

Make flashcards if you can. Write a word on one side and its phonetic spelling on the other. Underlining the stressed syllable(s) will be helpful here since English is a highly stressed language and learning the rules for stress is incredibly important for correct pronunciation.

Tip No. 3 – Speak

Practice your English in front of the mirror, speak to yourself at home, cultivate a language buddy, record your voice – in a nutshell, find ways to get over your nerves so you feel comfortable while speaking English with others. In my experience, nerves often lead to mispronunciation, undoing all the hard work you’ve put into learning the language. Practise speaking slowly and clearly for a few minutes everyday until you get accustomed to hearing yourself speak English. 

When it comes to learning a second language, pronunciation is as important as grammar and vocabulary. With diligent practice, the above tips will soon have you speaking English like a native!

Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal Verbs

I found this great post about alternate ways to teach phrasal verbs that build connections upon the meanings of the phrases. This is an awesome and effective way to teach phrasal verbs, which can already be quite confusing to ESL/EFL students. The best part about this post is that it lists great resources as well. While many of us already use some of these techniques of teaching phrasal verbs, this post is a comprehensive list of both alternative teaching ideas as well as resources.

Check it out! Useful Tips and Resources for Teaching Phrasal Verbs

Intensive Reading for ESL Students

I absolutely must share this post about an ESL technique an Indonesian teacher writes about. This can be a great reading activity for ESL students everywhere!

Reading in English as a second or foreign language can become a daunting task for language learners. In fact, they need to deal with a bundle of complex linguistic resources such as lexicogrammar which is different from their mother tongue to enable them to make meaning of the texts they read. In addition to this, teachers need to consider suitable pedagogical approach particularly in an intensive reading program that works best to help develop the ability of the learners to construe meaning, identify text organization and function, and draw inference. To fill the void, I employ collaborative text – based teaching in my intensive reading class to engage the first-year undergraduate students in a university in Indonesia in meaningful reading activities. The course requires students to develop their reading comprehension in Islamic contemporary issues related topics. Pedagogically speaking, text-based teaching begins with observing and understanding texts, responding to the texts, analyzing the texts, and ends with composing the texts (Mickan, 2017).

Read the complete article here: Engaging Students in an Intensive Reading Class

EdTech as a Disruptor in ELT

I recently came across a blog entry about ELT from a couple of years ago that made me step back and take a look at the changes in the industry. “Edtech” certainly has become the buzzword, and ELT is no exception. While the tech wizards are furiously working on AI to algorithmize everything, can they one day really replace teachers? We already know of many apps that aid and even attempt to teach language, altogether removing the middleman, i.e., us teachers. Is that where ELT is headed?

Here’s the blog entry that brought on all these questions: Is this the End? Disruption in ELT

What do you think? How far away are we from being replaced? Can we be completely replaced?