TPS4: How can parents help with learning and revision?

#4 in the Teaching Problem –> Solution Series.

The Problem:

What do I tell parents so they can support students with learning and revision at home? As teachers, we want parents to help our students with their learning – supporting them without trying to do it for them! But what can they actually do? A good place to look for a detailed examination of this is Patrice Bain’s excellent book A Parent’s Guide to Powerful Teaching – get one for your school and promote the ideas.

Here are some of my suggestions:

Solutions:

The solutions here are linked to the factors that support students to learn themselves:

Studying successfully: motivation + strategy + habit

At home we’re in the midst of another exam window. My son has an AS and several internal Y12 exams to prepare for. As I documented last year during his GCSEs, I feel that it’s generally a positive process for him. He works hard and learns a lot in the process. I think there are…

Habits and Motivation:

Before we get into the strategies, it’s worth stressing that parents play a key role in making learning at home a normal, routine part of life. The motivation to study can be linked to longer term life goals – an ambition to succeed in the long run – as well as shorter-term goals – the need to get work done before doing other recreational activities, for example. Clearly parents can help in both areas. However, probably the most important thing is around habit forming. Study time shouldn’t be a giant big deal that students make a big decision about week to week – it should just be something they always do without question; without thinking too hard about it. Parents can definitely help here.

One way to do this is to assume homework is set and that there is always something to study. So a good routine question might be: ‘What homework have you got this week; let’s take a look’. This assumes homework is there to be done; it’s just a question of details – rather than asking ‘have you got any homework?’ to which the safe answer is ‘no’! Parents can then help students to plan when they do their homework in the week and, at times, ask to see it – taking an interest, not necessarily scrutinising.

When we get into revision, seeing revision timetables pinned on the wall and giving a place for students to revise that isn’t behind a closed door can help. Establish that protocol. The kitchen table or a bedroom with door open allows passive supervision and supportive checking in. It’s about making it a normal routine, a little every day.

Strategies.

The key to how parents can help is for them to get information of two types: a) what their children need to learn and b) specific activities they can do that help them learn it. A good question to ask yourself is whether a parent keen to support your student/their child at home could actually do it? Do they know what the curriculum content is? And what activities can they support with? Here’s what can help:

  • Provide parents with access to study material: curriculum overviews, knowledge organisers, word lists and let them know where these things reside online and which resources their children will have been provided with.
  • Try to make your parents’ information as curriculum specific as possible. Generic study tips are much less useful than specific tips on studying maths, French, science, history and spellings.
  • Make resources that are highly quizzable by a non-expert. I always say that a good knowledge organiser is one you can give to your mum or your brother or a friend and they can quiz you on things you’re meant to know: dates, definitions, bullet point summaries; equations; quotes; sequences of procedures or events; labels for diagrams…. so many things!
  • Provide guidance about doing the quizzing. Ask a small set of questions; give your child time to think and say or write the answers; then show them or tell them the correct answers. Then discuss any they got wrong.
  • Provide questions and separate answers. Tell parents – your child should be able to answer these questions. Ask them. Then provide the answers. If there are any queries, provide a means for parents to ask you or suggest resources or links for them to look at. Here, parents don’t even need to provide answers – they just have to ensure their child follows the routine. Test – check- evaluate. Repeat.
  • Mix up the type of quiz questions that you invite parents to use: simple factual recall; lists; multiple choice; ‘tell me as much as you can about….’; ‘summarise the main points about….’
  • Set practice tasks that parents can supervise: eg piano scales; hand-writing practice; drawing/sketching exercises; times tables practice; French phrase practice. Parents don’t need to do more than establish what the practice task is and ensure their child does it with sufficient repetition and intensity to make an improvement.

Another range of strategies surrounds reading curriculum materials :

  • Parents can read the set material to their children; they can do this and then ask them questions provided, to check for understanding. (ie ‘Read these passages to your child; then ask them these questions to see how well they understood).
  • Parents can support accountable independent reading: (Ask your child to read these passages independently; then ask them these questions to see how well they understood. )

For some specific subjects, you can only get parents to help if the tasks are easily followed and need supervision rather than direct engagement. Practical activities or extended pieces of writing are difficult to engage with without expertise and these are best avoided as part of a parent-support repertoire. Keep to things that non-experts can check if given the appropriate resources. You might find it useful to tell parents a little about spaced practice – so that they see the value in testing their child’s knowledge in short chunks, repeated over time – rather than doing giant one-off drilling sessions!

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