Getting Your Math Message Out to Parents: A K–6 Resource


Tackle the tricky issue of bridging the communication gap between teachers, students, and their parents. This unique resource explores the various channels—newsletters, back-to-school-night presentations, homework, and more—through which teachers can communicate with parents about their children’s math education.

Nancy Litton
152 Pages

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Getting Your Math Message Out to Parents
by Nancy Litton

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Review by Gregg McMann, PhD, mathematics consultant, Oakland Schools Intermediate School District, Waterford, Michigan. From the April 2000 issue of Intersection, a newsletter of the ExxonMobil Corporation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2000.

Litton’s premise for writing this book is that since good math teaching today looks much different than what parents know and did in school, parent education is vital as part of one's teaching practice. The book gives ideas and examples of several strategies that can be used to communicate with parents.

The book is divided into six sections, each of which focuses on a specific strategy for communicating with parents. Each section has both an informative narrative and is supported by numerous samples from Litton’s classroom. The first section is about newsletters. Examples are given from throughout the school year in order to get a sense of how the information in a newsletter might change over the course of a year as parents become more familiar with what good math teaching looks like. Ideas that are given include revising a newsletter that a publishing company includes with their materials, sharing classroom vignettes based on actual classroom activities, and once or twice a year discussing mathematical pedagogy.

The next chapter deals with back-to-school nights. Giving demonstrations of manipulative usage and sharing examples of previous years' lessons that develop big concepts and ideas are two ideas mentioned. Litton has also had students write letters to their parents explaining what they do in math class. Litton also realistically discusses how to deal with parents who still have concerns after attending a back-to-school night. She suggests scheduling a private appointment with them and finding out all their concerns prior to the meeting in order to be ready to address all their concerns.

The section on parent conferences includes many, many examples of student work that could be shared with parents. Litton stresses the need to make parents active participants in conferences. One of her strategies for doing this is sending home a letter before the conference in order to give the parents time to reflect and write down questions.

She also discusses scheduling conferences and the type of preparation teachers might consider for conferencing. During the conference she recommends the following schedule. First she begins on a positive note about the student and then finds out what parent information and concerns need to be dealt with. She then shares samples of student work that may highlight issues the teacher has with the student. Finally, if she has done an individual assessment with the student, she will share that with the parents. Another interesting conferencing strategy she shares is to encourage student-parent conferences, which do not necessarily have to occur at school.

Litton next deals with subject of homework by acknowledging that parents have many different expectations in this area. All classroom teachers know that the same group of parents will include some who feel there is not enough homework and some who wish for more. Her most important strategy for homework is to have students prepared to do the assignment and to be in charge of the assignment at home. She also suggests sending home newsletters on the topic of homework in general or a specific series of assignments. This helps prepare parents for what to expect in the way of assignments and may include strategies to help the student.

Litton also has used a homework diary where students, parents, and the teacher can keep an ongoing written dialog going about homework assignments, struggles and successes. The single most important thing a teacher can do to make homework successful is to follow up on the assignment in class. If students see that all that comes of homework is a checkmark in a gradebook, they have little incentive to invest effort in an assignment. Litton suggests following up a homework assignment in class by discussing the work in small groups, using the work (such as gathering data) in a classroom lesson the next day, or having students present their work to peers.

The section on parents volunteering in the classroom has many good ideas for teachers. The most important use of parent volunteers is not to provide help for the teacher but to provide modeling for parents on appropriate instructional interaction with children. Many parents do not know how to discuss mathematics with their children nor how to question them effectively to get at their thinking and understanding. When parents are in the classroom, they are able to see this. Litton suggests using parents to assist in learning centers and small groups. She provides a lesson plan for each group and encourages parents to come early to become familiar with the activity. She also asks parents to stay after the time with students in order to debrief them on what they noticed and how students did with the lesson.

The final section on Family Math gives extensive credit to the program designed by EQUALS at UC Berkeley. Litton’s suggestions include using these materials and not feeling obliged to do a Family Math night in any one way. These evenings can be structured or open depending on the parent population and aims of the teacher. She does mention the importance of taking time to process with parents the mathematics that is being used and how the activity helps children's understanding of mathematics.

In her realistic closing, Litton acknowledges how hard it would be to implement all these strategies in one year and how important it is to be realistic in one's expectation of personal time and professional work. This dilemma of all thoughtful teachers is nicely addressed. At the end of the book is a thorough annotated bibliography of related materials for teachers to use.

This informative and easy-to-read book contains a wealth of information and strategies for elementary teachers to inform and communicate with parents. Many of the ideas could easily be transferred to middle school and high school educators as well. For a teacher looking for ways to communicate with classroom parents, this book will prove an excellent resource.

Review by Dr. Tim Martin, endowed chair of mathematics, El Dorado Public Schools and El Dorado Education Foundation (joint responsibility) El Dorado, Arkansas. From the April 2000 issue of Intersection, a newsletter of the ExxonMobil Foundation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Reprinted with permission from Intersection, © 2000.

Getting Your Math Message Out to Parents: A K–6 Resource (Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions Publications, 1998) is an excellent guide for new teachers, as well as for seasoned veterans, on methods to bring parents more into the fold of educating children in the learning of mathematics. Litton provides five chapters of templates and ideas that could be adapted for any grade level. By clearly making parents players in the educational process from day one, she demonstrates simple and practical techniques to help parents understand the learning process of mathematics. For instance, in the appendix to chapter one, she gives examples of the many different methods for discovering how to understand division. In chapters two and three, she offers suggestions and ideas to be used during a parent conference and during a Family Math night. Chapter four pertains to homework and how to keep parents informed on homework and its purpose. Through letters, she not only informs parents about homework, but attempts to help parents to be more prepared to aid their students. With an established line of communication between parents and the educational process at hand, parents will feel more empowered to help their students when homework time comes. Chapter five addresses the issue of volunteers in the classroom and ways to enable them to become an integral part of education. Overall, the book is quite informative and useful. It would be excellent reading for educators and parents alike, to help raise awareness that the learning of mathematics is a complicated process. However, this process can become less stressful for all by establishing clear and open lines of communication among teachers, students, and parents.

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