Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Connecting Communication to Student Learning Part 2

The research I have done in the past does not quantitatively on a large scale connect on-line communication to student achievement. However, there are plenty of other studies out there that connect what parents do to student achievement. There are plenty of others that look at what schools can do to help parents do those things that will help their kids learn. What I have attempted to do is make logical relations between these concepts.

This is my most "academic" post ever...

Relationships are the Key to Achievement

A classroom environment consists of an atmosphere shaped by relationships and instruction. Without one or the other the learning experience is incomplete. I believe that the two come together to create an environment where a student feels that they belong.

“To create schools that function as personalized communities of learning rather than anonymous institutions where some students feel they belong and others feel ignored, we must know our students-how they think, what they need, and what they want” (Hoffman and Levak 2003, p. 31)

The type of communication I was having with my students allowed me to hear their distinct voices. It showed my kids that I cared about each of them.

Caring connects us to one another through a sense of responsibility which is “sustained by a process of communication” (Gilligan 1982 p.32).

Continual on-line communication gave me the means to communicate, but what I did with it was the key. I used every bit on knowledge I got from each kid to tweak my relationship with them, to differentiate my instruction, and to better understand their perspective of our classroom.

As Ferguson (2002) puts it “when teachers have strong content knowledge and are willing to adapt their pedagogies to meet student needs, adding good teacher-student relationships and strong encouragement to the mix may be the key” (p. 3-4).

The result of all of this is a feeling of belongingness by the student where students try to maintain positive relationships (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Students that feel close to teachers through belongingness benefit from higher grade point averages, are more willing to ask for help, and enjoy a higher quality of education (Dornbush & Glasgow, 1996; Ferguson, 2002; Osterman, 2000).

What I was getting was better information which helped to build positive relationships. Research shows that this should lead to a better educational experience and higher achievement for students.


As I delved further into my research I was surprised to see a connection to the concept of efficacy. I wasn’t even very familiar with efficacy. For those of you that are now where I was – efficacy is when an individual believes that they have control over the events and changes in their life and that these things are not just left up to fate or out of their control. Self-efficacy is one of the strongest traits we can build within our students – and parents.

One of the greatest student traits that teachers can foster through positive teacher-students is a strong sense of self efficacy; which is “a set of beliefs regarding a person’s competence to formulate and carry out a particular course of action” (Jackson, 2002). Self-efficacy has a great impact on how students face failure, adversity, approach learning, solve problems, and directly affects their academic performance (Bandura et al., 1996; Jackson, 2002).

From this research it stands to reason that teachers whose classrooms make students feel like they belong increase the self-efficacy of students and will create learners that feel empowered to make changes in their lives and affect their own educational outcomes.

Teachers must find effective methods for communicating with students and parents and for infusing approaches in the home that will heighten student outcomes at school. Many studies show that parent encouragement and discussion at home is one of the greatest influences on student achievement

Self Efficacy - Being empowered to be in control and not leave it up to someone else

Expectations and Encouragement

In fact the effect of parents holding high aspirations and expectations for their students is such an influential factor that it can make differences in achievement great enough to offset some of the effects caused by differences in socioeconomic status (Fan, 2001; Griffith, 1996; Keith & Keith, 1993).

Some studies have shown that parental involvement occurs more often and is more beneficial in the elementary schools than in the upper levels (Griffith, 1996; Strom & Strom, 2003). Others dispute this through empirical evidence that finds that parental involvement in the higher grades is still important (Davis, 2000; Fan, 2001; Lee, 1994) and does not decrease, but rather, changes focus (Catsambis & Garland, 1997). There is a large amount of quantitative research that shows that adolescent students achieve at a higher level when parents are involved in their student’s education (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Catsambis, 1998; Fan, 2001; Fehrmann, Keith, & Reimers, 2001; Ferguson, 2002; Griffith, 1996; Ho & Willms, 1996; Keith & Keith, 1993; Lee, 1994; Singh et al., 1995; Trusty, 1999)

Encouraging students, having expectations, being involved in the student’s education, and helping students make academic achievements all have a positive effect on the achievement of high school students (Henderson & Mapp, 2002).

Further quantitative research supports Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler’s research that close supervision or monitoring daily behaviors have negative outcomes on student performance (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Ho & Willms, 1996; Lee, 1994; Sanders, Epstein, & Connors-Tadros, 1999)

According to the research of Sanders et al (1999) high school teachers can help parents by encouraging a positive parent attitude towards high school, trying to get parents involved with the school, and by providing them with resources and strategies to help learning take place in the home. An empirical study performed by Swick and Hassell (1990) determined that interpersonal support of a child through parental efficacy supported development in children. Teachers can support parents’ efficacy through effective communication and by creating relationships with parents (Swick & Broadway, 1997).

Sanders et al (1999) explain that schools that employ these methods of high school parental involvement are thought of as better schools by the parents.

I believe that when teachers ask for parental involvement they are really looking for parental efficacy. Teachers want parents that have the means and will to create a difference in their child’s life. When we give parents information through websites or grade portals we are empowering them with the information they need to be involved in their child’s school life. They can be empowered to be part of the process – rather than an observer that just watches school happen.

Parental efficacy provides a reason for developing lines of communication that is timely and relative to classroom activity and student performance. When teachers provide knowledge to help parents build their efficacy skills it will pay dividends in their classroom.

What Parents Can Do

I wanted to be clear that this isn’t all up to the teacher and school. Parents play a huge part in this as well. David Boers (2002b) searched for the most common suggestions that teachers had for parents. He grouped the responses into nine groups defined by teacher actions:

1. Initiating Communication: Reach out to the teacher.

2. Monitoring Homework: Give attention to homework or follow it up.

3. Parenting and Study Skills: “Know your child” and “Create a work ethic”.

4. Getting Involved: Attend conferences and raise concerns.

5. Establishing Student Behavior: spend time with your child and model proper behaviors for them.

6. Responding to Teachers: Provide positive supporting feedback to teachers and support them at home.

7. Emphasizing Reading: Provide reading opportunities in the home and model it for students.

8. Responding to Communication: Reply to teachers.

9. Recognizing Health Factors: Provide a healthy diet and require proper sleeping habits (p. 52-53)

In the study seventy percent of the teachers responded that initiating communication is what they need from parents. Teachers want to see parents involved – even at the high school level.


As I mentioned above – parent expectations and involvement are the most powerful factors in student achievement. They are so powerful they can even control for socioeconomic status. Knowing that shouldn’t we be giving parents the tools to feel empowered to influence what happens with their child’s achievement. It is still true – knowledge is power. On-line 2 way communication allows parents, students, and teachers a constant free flow of information that each can use to make sure that learning isn’t left up to chance.


Astone, N. M., & McLanahan, S. S. (1991). Family structure, parental practices and high school completion. American Sociological Review, 56(3), 309-320.

Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Multifaceted impact of self-efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Development, 67, 1206-1222.

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3).

Boers, D. (2002a). Helping parents help their children succeed in school. Principal, 81(3), 52-53.

Catsambis, S., & Garland, J. E. (1997). Parental involvement in students' education during middle school and high school (No. 18). Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR) Johns Hopkins University.

Davis, D. (2000). Supporting parent, family, and community involvement in your school. Portland, OR: Morthwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Dornbush, S. M., & Glasgow, K. L. (1996). The structural context of family school relations. In A. Booth & J. F. Dunn (Eds.), Family-school links: How do they affect educational outcomes? (pp. 35-44). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.

Fan, X. (2001). Parental involvement and students' academic achievement: a growth modeling analysis. The Journal of Experimental Education, 70(1), 27-61.

Fehrmann, P. G., Keith, T. Z., & Reimers, T. M. (2001). Home influence on school learning: Direct and indirect effects of parentsl involvement on high school grades. Journal of Educational Research, 80(6), 330-337.

Ferguson, R. F. (2002). What doesn't meet the eye: Understanding and addressing racial disparities in high-achieving suburban schools. Retrieved 1/10, 2004, from http://www.ncrel.org/gap/ferg/

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Griffith, J. (1996). Relation of parental involvement, empowerment, and school traits to student academic performance. The Journal of Educational Research, 90(1).

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections of student achievement. Austin, TX: National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools Southwest Educational Development Library.

Ho, E. S.-C., & Willms, D. (1996). Effects of parental achievement of eighth-grade achievement. Sociology of Education, 69(2), 126-141.

Hoffman, D., & Levak, B. A. (2003). Personalizing schools. Educational Leadership, 61(1), 30-34.

Jackson, J. W. (2002). Enhancing self-efficacy and learning performance. Journal of Experimental Education, 70(3), 243-254.

Keith, T. Z., & Keith, P. B. (1993). Does parental involvement affect eighth-grade student achievement? Structural analysis of national data. School Psychology Review, 22(3)

Lee, S. (1994). Family-school connections and student's education: Continuity and change of family involvement from the middle grades to high school. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students' need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323-367.

Sanders, M. G., Epstein, J. L., & Connors-Tadros, L. (1999). Family partnerships with high schools: the parents' perspective. Johs Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

Singh, K., Bickley, P. G., Keith, T. Z., Keith, P. B., Trivette, P., & Anderson, E. (1995). The effects of four components of parental involvement on eighth-grade student achievement: Structural analysis of NELS-88 data. School Psychology Review, 24(2), 299-318.

Strom, P. S., & Strom, R. D. (2003). Uniting adolescent support systems for safe learning environments. The Educational Forum, 67(2), 164-173.

Swick, K. J., & Hassell, T. (1990). Parental efficacy and the development of social competence in young children. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 17(1), 24-33.

Trusty, J. (1999). Effects of eighth-grade parental involvement on late adolescents' educational experiences. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 32(4), 224-233.

Image: "Self Efficacy" from http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3029/2299974021_f82dd98259.jpg?v=1204313100

Monday, March 17, 2008

Connecting Communication to Student Learning Part 1

I am preparing a presentation for the AzTEA conference on May 3rd. I will be presenting on the connection between communicating among students, parents, and teachers and the impact on student achievement.

Well it appears that for once I was ahead of my time. I did this little thing called a dissertation back in 2003-2004 when I was still in the science classroom. At the time nobody thought much of my topic. Probably because it was geeky and nobody really cares about dissertations.

What I looked at was how communication with parents and students through my website impacted instruction.

Big deal right?

Here is the big deal (and I am still beginning to truly understand pieces of this myself) I was using Web 2.0 technologies from 2001-2004. OK I know according to Wikipedia web 2.0 didn't get coined until 2004. Yet check this out as I go back and look at my dissertation I was writing in it about the 2-way communication I was having with my students through my website.

Get it - 2-way = 2.0

I have been talking about web 2.0 for 2 years now and didn't make the connection that I was doing it with my kids 6 years ago. Why didn't I connect it? Because it didn't look and feel like it does now. It was pretty clunky but here is what was going on:

From 2001-2002 I started using web based forms created, through all things, using frontpage. I would collect student reflections (journal entries) through a web form - export it to an excel spreadsheet - and type responses to each student. I would then hand out the papers to my students. This evolved into an actual on-line database where I was able to do all of this through the web. I guess it was Twitter before twitter - or something like that.

This video explains what I did and how it worked.


A version of it is still up (Thanks 211 and Conant High School!) and running at this link. You can work your way through it - just pick a unique username and password. Let me know if you post something and I will respond.

Over the next few days I am going to write about what I learned through this practice. Now that there is some interest in this type of thing maybe what I learned will be of use.

Monday, March 10, 2008

District 207 Institute Finalized - Want to Come?

Just finished the announcement for our district wide institute focusing on technology. It is the same day as tech forum Chicago, but let me know if you would like to attend.

Maine 207 District Wide Institute

“Using Technology to Improve Teaching and Learning”

April 25th 2008 – Maine South High School

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keynote Speakers

David Thornburg:

David is an award-winning futurist, author and consultant whose clients range across the public and private sector, both in the United States and in Brazil. His razor-sharp focus on the fast-paced world of modern computing and communication media, project-based learning, 21st century skills, and open source software has placed him in constant demand as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for schools, foundations, and governments.

As the founder and Director of Global Operations for the Thornburg Center he conducts research and provides staff development in several areas. He helps clients to think intelligently about the future and is active in exploring ways that telecommunications and multimedia will change the face of learning, both at home and in the classroom.

His educational philosophy is based on the idea that students learn best when they are constructors of their own knowledge. He also believes that students who are taught in ways that honor their learning styles and dominant intelligences retain the native engagement with learning with which they entered school. A central theme of his work is that we must prepare students for their future, not for our past.

In addition to his work at the state and local level, he is also involved at the Federal level in helping to shape telecommunications and education policy for the benefit of all learners. David has shared his perspectives with policy makers in several countries.

He has written numerous books. His latest book, “When the Best is Free,” explores the world of free open source software in education, with special emphasis on tools for use by students. Reviewers have declared this to be the definitive book on the topic.

In addition to his consulting, speaking, and writing, David also has served on several non-profit boards. Dr. Thornburg is the recipient of several awards for product design and is the recipient of both the Golden and Platinum Disk awards from CUE (Computer Using Educators, Inc.) for his contributions to the advancement of learning and learning technologies. In 1999 he was selected as one of twenty "pioneers" in the field of educational technology by ISTE, the premiere organization devoted to the advancement of technology in learning, and was named by Technology and Learning magazine as one of the top ten most influential people in the field of educational technology in the past twenty years.

He has been the subject of numerous magazine articles and has appeared on radio and television throughout North America. According to the magazine, Electronic Learning, he is one of the six most popular speakers in the area of educational technology.

David splits his time between the United States and Brazil. His work in Brazil also is focused on education, and he has consulted for the Federal Secretary of Education as well as for firms and educational institutions throughout that country.

Chris Dede:

Chris Dede's fundamental interest is the expanded human capabilities for knowledge creation, sharing, and mastery that emerging technologies enable. His teaching models the use of information technology to distribute and orchestrate learning across space, time, and multiple interactive media. His research spans emerging technologies for learning, infusing technology into large-scale educational improvement initiatives, policy formulation and analysis, and leadership in educational innovation. He is currently conducting funded studies to develop and assess learning environments based on modeling and visualization, online teacher professional development, wireless mobile devices for ubiquitous computing, and multiuser virtual environments. Dede also is active in policy initiatives, including creating a widely used State Policy Framework for Assessing Educational Technology Implementation and studying the potential of developing a scalability index for educational innovations. From 2001 to 2004, he served as chair of the Learning & Teaching area at HGSE.

His research interests span technology forecasting and assessment, emerging technologies for learning, and leadership in educational innovation. He was the Editor of the 1998 Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Yearbook, Learning with Technology. He has had grants from the National Science Foundation to develop educational environments based on virtual reality technology, from the Joyce Foundation to aid urban school districts in using technology, and from the U.S. Department of Education to create and assess technology-based science education materials for learning disabled secondary students.

Chris has served as a Senior Program Director at the National Science Foundation. He has also been a Visiting Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at NASA's Johnson Space Center. His prior funded research includes work for the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, NASA, and Apple Computer. He is on the International Steering Committee for the Second International Technology in Education Study spanning approximately thirty countries.


· 7:00 – 7:45 – Breakfast in Student cafĂ©

· 8:00 – 9:30 – Keynote: David Thornburg – in auditorium

· 9:40 – 10:30 – Break Out Technology Sessions I

· 10:40 – 11:30 – Break Out Technology Sessions II

· 11:30 – 12:20 – Lunch in Student Cafe

· 12:30 – 1:30 – Second Keynote: Chris Dede – in auditorium

· 1:30 – Faculty work ends

Break Out Sessions

1. David Thornburg will discuss the impact of open source software on computing and learning. Topics covered will include worldwide 1-1 computing initiatives, the role of the Linux operating system, and how the growing amount of open source products will drive technology.

2. Chris Dede will discuss learning inside and outside of school using new interactive media. Topic covered will include new instructional models, current educational trends, and new learning environments impacting education.

3. American Eagle will present the current progress of the new web environment. Topics covered will include the scope, current progress, and future goals of the project.

4. 21st century classroom overview – technology staff members and experts in the field of technology hardware will demonstrate some of the tools that are changing the 21st century classroom.

5. Adobe Software will be demonstrating the power of the software contained in the Adobe Master Collection, which was purchased this year by Maine 207. Topics covered include an overview of Adobe Photoshop, Premire, and Soundbooth.