Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 91: Partnering With Parents: Over Communicate

March 15, 2022 Pam Harris Episode 91
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 91: Partnering With Parents: Over Communicate
Show Notes Transcript

How can we proactively partner with and support parents? In this episode Pam and Kim discuss ways they over communicate to parents to keep parents involved and not confused. 
Talking Points: 

  • Newsletters: What is helpful information and tips for parents I can share?
  • Parent-teacher conferences: What can I share with parents about math other than just grades?
  • Homework assignments: I don't like drill and kill. What kinds of homework are helpful for students and parents? 
Pam Harris:

Hey fellow mathematicians. Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam.

Kim Montague:

And I'm Kim.

Pam Harris:

And we make the case that mathematizing is not about mimicking steps or rote memorizing facts. But it's about thinking and reasoning; about creating and using mental relationships. We take the strong stance that not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching, but that mimicking algorithms actually keep students from being the mathematicians they can be. We answer the question, if not algorithms and step by step procedures, then what? Y'all we're in the middle of a series of episodes about working with students' parents in the Math is Figure-Out-Able Movement, to help them understand what we're about, why we're teaching math the way that we are.

Kim Montague:

In the last episode, we chatted some about having open communication with parents and how important it is to listen without feeling the need to defend.

Pam Harris:

Absolutely so important to not have that defensive posture, to really listen to understand and communicate and really have a good conversation with them. Today, let's dive in to share some things that we found helpful about what to do with parents. How we can help them understand. Last time, we talked about two important things, we've got to hear parents and help them understand. We focused on hearing last time. Today, we want to really focus on what are some things that we can actively do to help students. So let's talk about communicating with parents.

Kim Montague:

So I'm going to actually tell you a story about one time. I got an email from a dad. And he said, "Hey, I know you know that Jodie, his wife, works on campus. And so you see her and talk to her all the time. But I'm the one that does like the school stuff with the kids." And so you know she's always up there, she does it all day long. So he said, "I'm the guy that does homework with my kids." And at the time, I had his son who was in fifth grade. And he said, "Listen, Kim, I just need some help." And I was like, "Okay, how can I help?" And he said, "I'm not really sure what you guys do, but I want to be supportive." And he's like, "I just, I'm not clear." He's like, "I want to be able to support my kid." And I said, "Okay." And he said, "Can I have like 15 minutes of your time?" I said, "Sure, no problem, come on up." And so we set an appointment, and he came up to school. And he said, "I would love for you to teach me a little bit about what you are teaching my son." And so he pulled out an assignment that he had seen come home, you know, it already had a grade on it or whatever. And he was like, "Help me make sense." And so that afternoon, we had like a little parent tutoring session. And I remember him because he was the first of several parents, but he was the very first one who said to me, "Hey, like, I want to understand, will you sit down with me?" And we sat down. And I helped him make sense of kind of the models that we use and kind of like what strategies were and kind of the difference between the two. And he said, "This is like the most helpful thing. I've been trying to make sense of what's going on. But sitting down with you is the most important thing that now I'm good. Now I can go home and I can like ask the questions that you're asking." And listen, he was sharp, and I gave him some tips and things. But it was just an opportunity for me to sit down and communicate with him about what is happening in my classroom and how you can support your son at home.

Pam Harris:

And do I remember correctly that he had asked you to kind of teach him the way he could teach his kid like, how would you teach it? Instead of like saying to him, hey, as a parent, as an adult, blah, blah, blah. But to actually kind of: here's what you would say to a student. Do I remember that correctly?

Kim Montague:

Yeah, absolutely. So he like picked a problem on the page. And he was like, "Okay, 25 times 18," or whatever it was. And I spoke to him in those moments, as he kind of said, "Well, here's what I know." And so like, I made the transition with him from like, "Okay, let me model what you're saying." And I literally walked through his thinking for that problem, and showed him how to represent his thinking and then he said, "Okay, let's do another one." So he, like we talked a little bit about the strategies that he was using. Yeah, very much like I would with a fifth grader that were my class.

Pam Harris:

So not only was he then clear about the math, but he was also a little bit more clear about the Math for Teaching. Like how you would work with a student with that material.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, absolutely.

Pam Harris:

Yeah. That's so interesting. So I mean, Kim, not every parent is going to request that. Not every parent is going to make, you know the time or has the time or even gets the idea to do that kind of thing. What are some other things that we can do with parents to help them understand why we are trying to teach math the way that we are? What's behind the scenes? What's going on? How can we help them understand?

Kim Montague:

Well, I'll tell you what, that experience with that dad really helped me clarify two ways that I could communicate with parents in a more helpful way. Right? Like, I feel like I was always good at 'communication', I'm air quoting. Like I sent newsletters and like I, you know, had parent teacher conferences. And those are my mind, because those are the two that I'm going to talk more specifically about. But I always did things to communicate. And like, of course, I would take their phone calls, and they have my number and those kinds of things, but I really put emphasis on the kinds of things that I did in newsletters and conferences, that was helpful to parents to then partner with me. And I think that was the goal, right? So the newsletter that I sent home, you know, long time ago might have just been like, Hey, here's some reminders. And here's some announcements. And here's whatever, like, this is what we're working on. One sentence blurb. We're writing about whatever topic. But after that experience with Alan, I really spent some time thinking about what would be useful in my blurb about what's happening in math class. And let's be real, like, I love math. And so like the math section was always, like, a little bit longer than the other areas. And you know what I find interesting is that -

Pam Harris:

I have no problem with that, by the way, I fully support that.

Kim Montague:

Well, and I found it interesting that - maybe this is a poor assumption on my part. But parents can identify with the kinds of things that I was saying in reading and writing, science and social studies. But in math, if I had said not enough, I felt like that was the area that I wanted to communicate a little bit more clearly about. And so anyway, in those sections, in that blurb, where I talked about here's what we're working on in math, it wasn't just like, "Oh, we're working on three by two digit multiplication."

Pam Harris:

Or standard 4.5. "The student is expected to..." Yeah.

Kim Montague:

I've gotten some of those. So in those, I would say things like about what they're going to see coming home. I would say things like, we are working on this particular strategy. And I would give like an example. And I would represent an example. And then I kind of like walked through, your student might be saying this, here are a few sentences that you could say back to them, not because I expected the parent to like do the thing, like be the guide at home necessarily. But if they wanted to, if that's the role that they wanted to take on, I felt like it was really important to give them some prompts to say. You know, I talked a little bit about, it's okay to pause and ask your students like, what were they thinking and like, give them some wait time of approximately this long. So I just gave them some parent tips about working with their students in a math situation, that a lot of parents came back to me and said, "Oh, my gosh, that was super helpful." And so it was kind of general tips, but then some specific tips based on the topic, or the area of mathematics that we were working on at the time.

Pam Harris:

And some of that had something to do with, like, we're just introducing this, so don't expect mastery, you know, like, your student's gonna be thinking about this and kind of chugging - chugging isn't the right word- grappling with it a

little bit. Versus:

hey, we've been doing this for a while. So this is when you can, you know, you could work with your student on this to get some mastery. You could expect less struggle. I'm not saying this well. But clueing the parents into whether it's a brand new thing, or whether this is something that yeah, we've been doing for a while. That could be helpful.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. And there might have been parts where I would have said something like, "You might be used to thinking about it this way." Or you might be used to seeing blank. And not just an algorithm, but like, you might be used to a teacher saying this, these are the kinds of responses that you're going to hear me say to your student, happy to talk about it, you know, whatever. And you can see why my math sections were a little bit longer.

Pam Harris:

I mean, I can tell you I really do approve of that. When my kids would come home from school and I would say, "Hey, how was school?" What I really meant was, "Hey, how was math?"

Kim Montague:

Yeah, yeah, I'm guilty. So the other thing that I like took away from that experience with that dad was

that:

parent teacher conferences. It might be true for many teachers, a lot of times you're told, like, here's parent conference day. And you get like, you know, when you have 30 parents, you get like 10 to 15 minutes per parent, whether they show up or not, or whatever. And what I found was that parents were used to hearing about diagnostic assessments in reading, right? They were used to, like we're doing this testing, and we did this testing in this, like, whatever different screeners that you did. But at the time, there weren't a lot of assessments in math. It was like, "Oh, and here's their grade, they're doing fine." Or here's a grade they do whatever practice facts or whatever. And so because I didn't have a lot of time, and I honestly didn't find a lot of assessments that I loved, what I did was describe mathematical behaviors I saw with their student. And what they were being asked for in that grade level. And so rather than saying, like, "Oh, they have a 92." I would say things like, "I see your student really persevering in solving problems." Or I see your student, whatever asset focused type of thing. So it helped them to understand the kinds of behaviors that we were looking for in a math class. And if I were in the classroom today, I would summarize the Development of Mathematical Reasoning. So that hadn't been fully kind of developed. But I also described things that we're looking for, you know, "I see your student when they're solving something that's an additive reasoning type of problem, I see them using a counting strategy. And so that's something we're going to work on to help them move from a counting strategy to an additive strategy." And, you know, if I were in the classroom today, I would love to have a copy of the DMR right there. And I would kind of quickly describe each of those bullets. Again, I probably talked about math more than I would the other subjects. And I would give them a tool to say this is where I'm going to nudge your student next. Not like they don't have this, and they do have this. But this is where I'm going to nudge your student next, and then try to give them the kind of little update along the way.

Pam Harris:

These are the experiences we're about to have. I'm aware that this is what your student can do. So an asset perspective, describe the qualities and the characteristics and the problem solving abilities that you see the student using. And this is where we're going next. Yeah, really helpful perspective, I think to think about. It's nice.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. So another thing that I really tried to be very choosy about was homework, because it's basically the first window that parents get to see to your math classroom. Right, like -

Pam Harris:

Yeah, and I'm gonna interrupt you really quickly. Because y'all, Kim was my parents teacher.

Kim Montague:

Your kids' teacher, yeah.

Pam Harris:

Oh, yeah. My kids teacher, what was I thinking? We're talking about parents. And so I would see, like, talk about a window into what was happening in the classroom. Like, I saw what she sent home.

Kim Montague:

Talk about stress.

Pam Harris:

Well, it was actually kind of funny, because the longer I worked in the district, the more and more my kids got the most confident teachers. Because when it came time to put kids in classrooms, teachers knew me, and they're like, she's gonna be in my business. And so only like, the real confident teachers would say, "Okay, okay, I'll take Pam's kids, because I can handle her like diving in and, you know, like, knowing what's happening and stuff." But what was fascinating to me, was you had Matthew fairly early in my working with other elementary teachers. And so I would see what you sent home. I will admit, there were some knee jerk reactions where I would be like, "What? A worksheet?" And then Matt would say, "Oh, but let me tell you the instructions." And so Kim, like, you changed instructions on worksheets. And tell us about that.

Kim Montague:

Well, so we all have a whole bunch of worksheets and resources, like there's a ton, right. But what I found was that rather than recreate a bunch of stuff on the fly, like, all the time, I really thought about the kinds of things that we were doing in class, and I would alter the instructions for what made sense for what we were doing. So like, you know, I can't think of an example off the top of my head, maybe you remember some, but it was really important for me at the time to communicate, we're not about doing 30 problems a night. And we're not about practice everything until it's kill and drill, and you got it down. And so I communicated that with my students well. And I was trying in a newsletter to communicate that but as we all know, that not every parent reads every newsletter. And so a lot of times there was just an alteration of the homework.

Pam Harris:

So for example, one came home that was like, I don't know, 20 problems on the page, and the instructions were to solve their favorite five. But they had to tell why. And then I don't remember exactly, but something like that. And then what were the two they didn't want to solve and why. And I think what was interesting to me was my first response was a little bit like, "Who changed this?" Like, "Is this my kid being lazy not solving them all?" And so part of what was helpful for me as a parent, was that you were clear with me, "No, no, I'm gonna send home homework that the instructions will change. So believe your kid. Don't just whatever you might think when you see these altered instructions, or whatever, but I may send home a worksheet that says, solve just these particular problems that are circled." I think one time you sent something home where some problems were circled. And the instruction was, how are these all related? And how do you know. And how might one help you solve the other. And so these little tweaks in assignments turned into, not this crazy, like, let me just do a million problems of the same type over and over and over. But they were like, I'm gonna ask you to think about, we're still solving problems. And in some cases, they were solving a lot of problems. But it was far more interesting, it really was more open access, kids could just solve the problems. But kids could also strategize. And they could actually like think and reason and come up with ways to decide which problems they're going to solve when and how they were related, you know, etc. You helped me as a parent, understand your thinking behind that.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. And I tried really hard to send homework home that didn't have a drastically different look than what parents were used to. It's not that I wouldn't invite questions. You know, I'm all for the conversation. But I didn't try to send things home that I knew parents, were gonna say, "I have no idea what you're talking about. And my student is not at a place where they're capable of doing this on their own. And so you're forcing me into the situation of helping them and I feel ill equipped to help them."

Pam Harris:

Well, or even worse, what I hear you saying is that you didn't send home new material and expect the parent to become the teacher. To be the expert of I'm now about to teach you new math that you've never seen before. And you should have the Math for Teaching knowledge to do that. You didn't do that. You sent home stuff, that the - correct me if I'm wrong - but the students were fairly capable of doing that they'd had enough experience, you'd been there as the more knowledgeable other to help them progress and develop so that they had some confidence, and now you could send that thing home and the student wouldn't be so frustrated that the parent, you know, had to dive in in order to like teach new stuff or really save. I mean, they could, they could join in. Some of it was interesting enough that that could happen. But it wasn't about expecting the parent to be the teacher of new material.

Kim Montague:

Yeah, absolutely. I can't think of a time where I would ever have taught something that day for the first time, introduced a new idea, and then said, "Oh, now go home and work on that tonight by yourself or with your mom and dad, like whoever."

Pam Harris:

Yeah, that puts parents in an interesting position, and can cause a lot of confusion and frustration that then you have to sort of undo. And instead we're sort of proactively suggesting that we're really not only thoughtful and purposeful about what you send home, but also how you communicate about what you're sending home.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. So and not just communicate, but over communicate as much as you possibly can. Right? So this is what we did. This is what you're going to see. Explain it ahead of time, so that you then don't have to be on the defense.

Pam Harris:

Yeah, nice. Alright. So some major ideas so far in our series on working with parents, not against parents, but with parents. Listen to understand - that was in our last episode, if you didn't listen to it, check that out.

And today:

over communicate.

Kim Montague:

Yeah. And I'll pipe in that we're going to ask you to be really choosy about the homework that you send home so that it doesn't create a divide between students and parents.

Pam Harris:

And parents and teachers.

Kim Montague:

Yeah.

Pam Harris:

Excellent. Alright. In the next episode, you are going to love that we are going to tackle parent nights: how to make the most of them, how to create a parent night that is really going to be helpful for everybody involved.

Kim Montague:

You are not going to miss that one.

Pam Harris:

Bam! So if you want to learn more mathematics and refine your math teaching so that you and students are mathematizing more and more, then join the Math is Figure-Out-Able Movement and help us spread the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able!