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Parents helping with virtual and f2f school

Schools do well to access parents as intellectual and motivational resources for their children’s mathematics learning. Yet, a tension has arisen when parents help in unexpected or inappropriate ways, especially when virtual class is in session. Of course, for virtual instruction to take place at all, parents are needed to set up the computer, assist with logging in, and gathering materials and supplies. But once class begins, parents at times are listening in on the sidelines. A unique opportunity exists for teachers to learn about familial contexts that would benefit teaching and learning. How might schools tap the resources of parental guests in their classrooms?

Research has shown that appropriate parent involvement increases student achievement. This is great news for children and schools in this time when parents have been called on to assist with various new modes of instruction, especially virtual instruction. Unfortunately, some schools have taken an adversarial stance towards families in actively hiding interactions from parents through chat boxes, forbidding recording of sessions, or making judgements about the contents of childrens’ bedrooms. And at times, parents have acted unwisely on the sidelines by criticizing teachers, interrupting, or prodding their children by whispering answers to questions.

Schools and parents should come together in open dialogue about types of parent involvement that strengthen the learning process. Specifically, Mathematical Knowledge for Parent Involvement includes the following dimensions (Knapp, Landers, Jefferson, & Liang, 2017).

  • Content knowledge

  • Valuing students’ own strategies (ie on homework)

  • Listening to students’ explanations

  • Knowing that there is more than one way to solve a problem `

  • Knowing to use manipulatives versus solely pencil and paper to solve problems

  • Knowing how to use manipulatives to model problems

  • Knowing appropriate games and skill reinforcers

  • Knowing how to support the learning process. Do not immediately give the answer. Work within a child’s Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky 1978).

Virtual instruction provides a unique opportunity to strengthen and foster these domains. First, parents may wish to listen in to mathematics lessons to strengthen their own content knowledge. This knowledge empowers parents to assist with homework later and boosts their confidence in discussing mathematical content at home. Secondly, parents can learn to value their children’s own strategies and multiple solution strategies as they observe the teacher listening to multiple strategies from various students. Often parents are unaware of their own children’s abilities until they see them interacting with a teacher and their peers on interactive tasks. Teachers can politely encourage parents to hold back from immediately sharing answers so that children have time to think.

Next, parents may be unaware of hands-on or virtual manipulatives that support the learning process. Parents may have legitimate questions about how to get the applets to work or how they relate to mathematics. Teachers should overtly plan to address these questions by providing parents the timeframe in the lesson when guest questions would be welcome. It may seem cumbersome for teachers to include parents in their planning, but it will pay off in the long run as parents and children potentially continue the learning community when class is over. Parents who feel shut out of the learning process should politely persist and ask the teacher when the appropriate time would be for them to ask questions, sharing willingness to assist without distractions. For example, perhaps the parent could also be provided the link to the classroom, and could ask questions in their own chat box without interrupting the teacher. Flexibility and willingness to work together and make changes are important.

Finally, parents can learn that if they supply students with answers, teachers will have an incorrect view of what the children know and will be disadvantaged in planning lessons to help the children past their misconceptions. Thus, as in face-to-face school, parents doing homework for children is counterproductive. Undue homework burden should be addressed in direct communication with the teacher. As parents see that teachers are working hard to help the children learn, and as teachers notice parents desire to help, mutual trust and respect can grow.

The end goal in strengthening mathematical knowledge for parent involvement, is not homework completion, but rather to boost parents’ confidence in interacting with their children about mathematics in everyday life. As parents learn to bring mathematics home on topics that arise within the family, children’s motivation to learn the subject grows. Likewise, as teachers incorporate family contexts in mathematics instruction, prior knowledge may be activated to enhance learning. Thus, appropriately including parents in virtual mathematics instruction is a win-win for schools and families. Let’s use this time of educational transformation to all of our advantage!

Recommendations in Review:

  • Invite parents to listen in to virtual classes to strengthen their content knowledge.

  • Make use of chat boxes for parental participation and input without distracting class.

  • Provide guidelines for appropriate virtual parent involvement.

  • Incorporate children’s home environment in classroom contexts.

  • Help parents amplify the mathematics of daily life (See

  • Discourage too much homework.

  • Discourage parents from doing homework for their children.

  • Value dialogue between parents and teachers so models may be tweaked and improved.

  • Make schools resource centers for families, and access parents as intellectual resources for schools.

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