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Tool: Classroom curriculum orientation

Sometimes people think of an “orientation” as a one-way communication process. When one of your goals is promoting family involvement in students’ education, two-way communication becomes very important. The following are six tools for planning a curriculum orientation meeting to help parents understand your classroom curriculum and see how they play a role in it.

1 of 6. What questions do parents have about the curriculum?  Before planning an orientation event, it is helpful to identify the types of questions parents have about the curriculum. Perhaps they are curious about goals for the class, materials that will be used, how you will address the needs of a range of students or how homework factors into the situation. You could send home a survey and ask parents to respond in writing, or ask your students to interview their parents and record their responses to questions like those listed below. Adapt this form to your situation. You may need to have it translated for parents whose first language is not English.

Making connections: What are your questions about the curriculum?


Dear Parents,

     I am organizing a “Learning about the [subject matter] Curriculum Orientation” so we can talk about goals for the year, the types of things your student will be learning and how you can become involved in supporting that learning. To help me plan for this event, please respond to the following questions. I will be sending a [flier, newsletter] home soon with more information about the day and time so you can mark your calendar.

Thank you for taking the time to help make this event a success!
[your name and school phone number]

  • What questions do you have about the curriculum in [subject matter area]?
  • What questions do you have about your student and the curriculum?
  • What do you want to know about homework in this subject?
  • What else would be helpful information in supporting your student’s learning?
  • What is the best day/time to hold a curriculum orientation event?
  • Are you interested in helping with the event? If so, when/how may I contact you?



2 of 6.
What do I think parents need to know about the curriculum? Rather than trying to help parents understand all that you know about the subject area you want to address, think about a specific area or two that are especially important for them to learn more about. The following planning guide can help you establish priorities for meeting both your needs while also being responsive to parents' questions. After filling in column 2 with your ideas and using the parent survey to fill in column 3, rank order your priorities in column 1 regarding the areas that are most important to address.

Selecting a workshop focus

Possible target area

(rank order)

Key points I want parents to understand

Parent questions

___ What are my goals for the students and why are these important?

___ What types of tasks do I develop to help students reach the goals?

___ How do I assess student progress and evaluate their learning?

 

___ What types of homework assignments do I give?

 

___ What role(s) do I want parents to play in supporting their student’s learning?

 

___ How will parents stay informed about what is expected of them and maintain communication with me?

___ What are key challenges the parents and I will need to overcome and how will we work together to handle them (e.g., linguistic differences, students’ motivation, behavior issues)?

___ Other:

 



3 of 6. How do I engage parents in a fruitful discussion that is responsive to their questions?
  When parents make time to come to the school for the evening, keep in mind that they (like you) will already have spent a long day at work or home. So you want the evening to be informative and engaging. A first step is to help parents feel comfortable with you and with each other. A second step is to engage parents in a meaningful task, one that helps them experience the types of learning that typically take place in your classroom. A third step is debriefing the experience. The following planning guide may be useful in getting ready for your event:

Planning guide for classroom curriculum orientation


How will I help parents feel comfortable?  Suggestions:

  • Show and discuss a brief slide show of students interacting in the classroom
  • Ask parents to share something about their students
  • Provide a walking tour of the classroom that shows different materials and resources
  • Use an ice-breaker activity to help people relax

From what format will parents learn about the targeted area?  Suggestions:

  • Engage in tasks students complete (e.g., math problems, writing workshop, Book Club,  Literature Circles, science experiments, use of primary sources)
  • View videotapes of classroom approaches followed by discussion
  • Examine classroom materials (e.g., science kits, manipulatives, children’s literature)
  • Create materials that can be used with students at home
  • Examine assessments used in a subject-matter area
  • Discuss student work samples

How will we debrief the activity?  Suggestions:

  • Parents talk about their responses to the activity
  • Parents discuss what was hard/easy about the task
  • Parents ask questions about the task

How will I communicate information about the curriculum? Suggestions:

  • Provide a brief handout (translate if necessary)
  • Include drawings/graphics to illustrate main ideas and key connections
  • Use Power Point slides or video to illustrate your curriculum in action

How will I elicit and respond to parent questions? Suggestions:

  • Use questions collected from survey
  • Ask parents to write questions on 3 x 5 cards
  • Ask parents to meet in small groups and list key questions on poster board

How will our evening come to a close? Suggestions:

  • Ask parents what they would find useful as next steps
  • Ask parents talk about what they will try at home in the next few weeks
  • Ask parents to fill out a written evaluation


4 of 6. How will I get a good turnout for the event?
  Successful orientations require active promotion—to get the word out, to remind parents and to create a curiosity about the event.

A checklist for promoting good parent turnout

 

  • Publicize: Use simple, inviting language (and have it translated if necessary) to inform parents about the event and to provide reminders. 
    • Newsletters, fliers
    • School calendar
    • School or classroom website
  • Provide food: Food is a great way to get people together and create a relaxing atmosphere. Let people know ahead of time what type of food is available so they can plan their schedules around it.
    • Provide light snacks (juice, pretzels, apples)
    • Have parents sign up to purchase pizza or another type of food that could be their dinner if they’re coming from work
  • Get input from parents: Parents can help with making the event a success in a variety of ways.
    • Planning
    • Phone tree for publicity and reminders
    • Translator for written materials
    • Food
    • Child care
    • Transportation for families
  • Accommodate family fchedules: Use the information you gathered from parents to select the best day/time to gather people together.
  • Include ftudents: Students can become your best recruiters for your event.  They can:
    • Write hand-written invitations to parents
    • Remind parents of the upcoming event
    • Help plan which task(s) parents will complete during the event
    • Provide child care (secondary)
    • Be greeters or guides to the classroom
  • Provide fervices: Families have different needs and experience different challenges in being able to attend school events.  The following are examples of services that might assure good participation in your event:
    • Child care
    • Find other families who can provide transportation
    • Arrange translation services


5 of 6. What about parents who are not able to come?
By thinking in advance about this question, you may be able to find efficient ways to keep parents who were unable to attend your event filled in. The following checklist provides a guide for how to follow up:

Follow-up checklist

 

  • Have a sign-in sheet so you are clear about who was able to attend and who may need follow-up information.
  • Develop handouts for the event that make a good summary of ideas covered.
  • Plan for a way to keep a record of what happens during the event so you can provide for all parents a summary of questions raised and ideas shared.
    • Have a parent take notes
    • Have a student take notes (secondary)
    • Save artifacts from tasks completed
    • Audio tape the meeting (with participants’ permission)
  • Provide contact information and encourage parents to ask questions



6 of 6. How will I find the time to do all of this?
  At this point, you may be thinking that taking on the planning and development of an event like this is more than you can manage in your beginning years of teaching.  At the same time, you know that this is an important step in establishing good communication and helping families understand what you are trying to accomplish in your classroom. Here are some things to consider that may help you:


You are not alone! Find out…

  • What school-wide events and services are available that might support my planning and implementation of the event (also see Section VI: Understanding School-Wide Support)?
  • What have my colleagues done in the past and what resources have they used that would help me plan my event?
  • What colleague groups could I collaborate with to share ideas, resources and workload in planning and offering the event (e.g., grade-level teams, subject matter departments)?
  • How can I enlist parents to help plan and carry out the event?

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