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Tuesday / May 24

3 Tips to Enhance Communication with Families About Their Child’s Math Before Year’s End

Welcome back from hopefully the most restful, relaxing, and rejuvenating break you’ve ever had as an educator. You deserve it! These past two years have truly been some of the most challenging in my professional career and I assume yours, too. One bright spot I have noticed though is that communication between educators and families has become more valued.

Communication has always been an important component of the school-home partnership, yet competing initiatives and lack of time have often pushed it to the backburner, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even more so when it comes to talking specifically about math learning.

As you think ahead to the rest of this school year and what you want your students to accomplish, here are a few tips for how to enhance your communication with families around their children’s mathematics learning:

Tip #1: Give Families a Way to Feel Helpful

Families want to be able to help their children at home, but often don’t know how. Some will try to do the math for their children, using methods that are more procedural or don’t align to how the children are learning it. Others feel helpless because they don’t want to push their methods onto their children but don’t know what else to do when they see their child struggling.

Suggestions:

  • Provide families with specific questions during each unit that they should ask their children at home. Also provide suggested or sample student responses so they know if their child is on track.
  • Let families know that it is more helpful for you to see what students don’t know or struggle with than for families to sit and do the math with their kids. Offer families to help their children write a note to the teacher about which problems of homework or classwork they are struggling with so the teacher knows where to provide more support.

Tip #2: Provide Families with Resources to Feel Knowledgeable and Familiar

Families also want to feel like they speak the same language as their children when talking about what their children learned in school. Many parents don’t understand why the way we teach math has changed since they were kids and as a result can have a fixed mindset.

Suggestions:

  • Communicate why math instruction has changed since they were students. Use examples they can relate to, such as the evolution of the telephone, so they can see that many things we had as kids are different today as a result of technology and better understanding of needs. Mathematics instruction is no different.
  • Remind families that mathematics is not a gene we are born with and that their language at home matters. Tell families that if they had poor schooling experiences or struggled or hated math growing up that those experiences are not built into their child’s genetic code. Their children can have different outcomes and experiences and it’s important to let them form a positive relationship with the subject.
  • Send home unit overviews that inform families about the math their children will be learning and be sure to include examples of how it relates to the way most adults learned. San Francisco Unified School District has example family letters you can use as your model.

Tip #3: Help Your Families Feel Confident That Their Child Will Succeed

Families look at their children as an extension of them. Thus, if their child isn’t doing well, they often reflect that on their parenting or sometimes even their genetics. When teachers provide families only negative progress updates on students, families can shut down. Whether your students are meeting expectations, progressing, or not quite there yet, all learners are succeeding in some way. It’s up to you to find out what that is and communicate it.

Suggestions:

  • You’ve likely already had parent teacher conferences this school year and some of you may even have another opportunity to meet with families before the year’s end, and if not, may conduct family phone calls. At these meetings and on calls, be sure to communicate from a strengths-based perspective rather than telling families about what their children can’t yet do or aren’t doing mathematically, and don’t forget to be specific. Giving specific strengths-based feedback will help families feel more confident and will let them know areas to further support. Take a look at this example.
Strengths-Based and Specific Deficit-Based and Not Specific
[Name of Child] is doing a great job in multiplication using the basic fact fluency they know from memory, such as the 0s, 1,s, 2s, 5s, and 10s, (e.g. 0x1, 2×0, 2×5, 10×2, 5×10). Today we played a game that will help them strengthen their memory with the 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s (e.g. 6×8, 9×7, 8×8). When you play this game at home, notice how they strategically use their 5s fact fluency to help them figure out their 6s, 7s, and 8s! [Name of Child] is struggling with remembering their multiplication facts. This is impacting their ability to multiply double-digit numbers. Please spend some time at home reviewing their basic facts.

(Source: Kreisberg, H. & Beyranevand, M. L. (2021). Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders)

  • Remind families of the role they play in their child’s mathematics experience. This will likely reassure them that they are doing all they need to do, and if not, it will help them know what they need to do to feel more confident that they are doing what is needed for their child.
  • Offer some activities or games families can play at home with their children that you have introduced in class, such as Four Fours, so that families can hear explicit math language directly from their youngsters and see them playing a game successfully.

Want to learn more about how to partner with families in math teaching and learning, and receive access to editable letters, templates, surveys, and more? Check out Dr. Kreisberg’s new book, Partnering with Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders.

Written by

Dr. Hilary Kreisberg is the Director of the Center for Mathematics Achievement and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is co-author with Dr. Matthew Beyranevand of the books Partnering With Parents in Elementary School Math: A Guide for Teachers and Leaders (Corwin, 2021) and Adding Parents to the Equation: Understanding Your Child’s Elementary School Math (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). She is also co-author with Kit Norris of the curricular resource Let’s Talk Math: Engaging Students as Mathematical Thinkers (Teacher Created Materials, 2021). Hilary is a frequent national, regional, and local speaker and has been featured on NPR Boston (WBUR) Radio and CBS Boston (WBZ) news and in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Education Weekly, Boston Magazine, and the Lowell Sun.

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