Monday, January 21, 2013

Parent Assistance in Student Projects

This school year, in addition to a library period and collaborative ICT time-slot for every class in the school, I also teach dance-drama to a group of Grade 1-2 students and media literacy to everyone from JK-Grade 4. Inspired by a student who eagerly brought in a bottle of shampoo for me to see, we created a big assignment for the Grade 1-4 students to complete: create a media tie-in product. I created an initial draft description of the task and tried it out on one of the classes; they gave me some good descriptive feedback (essentially stating that I was using too many big words and I was not clear in outlining the steps they had to take to proceed) so I re-wrote the description and shared it (and the rewritten rubric) with the students. I asked them to take the sheet home to show their parents so that their families were aware of the project. To my delight, several parents approached me in the school yard to ask some clarification questions. A parent that I see often in the yard and like a lot asked a great question: is it okay for parents to help their child/children with the project? Let me answer that question with a picture.

Here is a photo of me when I was in elementary school during a science fair. My project was on Fungus. My parents helped me with my science project - they framed my writing with yellow paper to make it stand out, and they let me keep disgusting things that I allowed to grow mold.

I don't remember much about my childhood (I have huge gaps in my memory and I'm not sure why) but I have vague recollections of spreading papers out together in the living room to get it organized and pretending they were the judges so I could describe my experiment to an audience.

I think there is some merit to giving parents a chance to work with their offspring on school assignments. As long as the parents don't totally take over the project and it's a collaborative effort, it's a chance for families to create something as a team and understand what's being taught in school. For me as a teacher who has to mark these projects, the trick is to design the rubric so that students who do not have parents that are able to be as involved are not penalized and that students have a way to demonstrate that they understand the ideas and concepts behind the project and prove that students learned something from the task, not just Mom or Dad or older sibling. As part of this media tie-in, the students have to complete an "explanation sheet" - this sheet will not be sent home and completed individually by each student during class time. (Of course, there will be modifications for our ESL and special education students.) This sheet will be given equal weight to the actual product and package (and in fact, students are not required to create the actual product - the package itself would do). If you'd like to look at the assignment itself, it can be found on my wiki - I'd love to receive some "grown-up" feedback on it. The rubric is still a bit wordy for my liking. Unfortunately, I'm past the age where my parents can help me with my projects - and that's too bad; it'd give us a reason to lengthen our conversations. 

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