How the Web Keeps Parents 'In the Know'

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As parents today strive for balance between family and career, the Internet has emerged as one of the most effective and efficient ways for them to engage in their child's educational progress from the home or office. But, many parents are unaware of the tremendous value the Internet can offer in terms of the development of their child's education. Teachers and parents are recognizing the value of technology. They are also becoming more comfortable integrating the Internet and technology into classroom and home activities. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Commerce says that 90 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 now use computers at home and at school. However, teachers and parents are not using this medium to communicate with one another. According to the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, part of the Milken Family Foundation, only 12 percent of U.S. elementary and middle school teachers report using the World Wide Web to communicate with parents. As teachers and parents work together to assist students in their studies, the Web has emerged as a highly effective and informative communication tool to meet the needs of today's busy teachers and parents.

A technologically savvy parent is of great benefit to a teacher and can be a critical component to a child's educational success. Parental involvement in schools improves student achievement, school programs and the learning environment as a whole. According to a 2001 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, kids today are online more than ever, with 41 percent of online teens saying they use e-mail and instant messaging (IMing) to contact fellow classmates about schoolwork. There is no better way to encourage a child's growth and development than by parents and teachers working together to meet a student's educational needs. Together, teachers and parents can improve school-home communications by tracking a student's progress via the Internet. With the onset of technology, parents can occupy a virtual seat in the classroom to participate in their child's day-to-day education, which is a significant step toward achieving the aforementioned goals.

Wired Parents

Assume that your students' parents have varied skill levels. Some may have access to computers at home, the office or both, while others will have to use the resources at the local library or community center. For parents without Internet access, you should have a list of available computer resources on hand so they know where they can get online, preferably at no cost. The following tips have proven useful in helping to educate and inform parents on how to use the Internet:

- Ask your PTA to set up a "family night" on computers, technology and the Internet to help educate parents, and teach them how to use the Internet to become more involved with their child's studies.

- Encourage parents to look into sites that offer services for parents. For example, the Learning Network (www.learningnetwork.com) offers a "What Works" section on technology, discussions about Internet safety and guidelines for parents using the Internet as an educational source. This will allow those who are new to the Internet to learn basic skills, while allowing those tech-savvy parents to explore the latest in online education.

- Invite parents to participate in a technology-planning group at school. Get them involved in the planning and implementation of your technology plan. Allow parents to offer insight on how best to incorporate the Web into classrooms, and keep them posted on any upgrades or changes in the curriculum.

Power to the Parents

Once parents are brought up to speed, there are ways in which teachers can encourage parents to maximize their role in their child's education by using the Internet, including:

Supporting the use of e-mail and IMing as a means of communication. E-mail and IMing can provide teachers and parents with private, two-way messaging benefits similar to phone calls, but without the hassle of lost messages or leaving voice mail. Communication via e-mail and IMing enables teachers and parents to correspond anytime, day or night. E-mail listservs are an excellent way for teachers to keep parents "in the know" without having to send personalized e-mails to each parent. If your school d'es not provide you with an e-mail account or IMing capabilities, online learning programs such as AOL@SCHOOL offer free e-mail accounts for both teachers and students.

Creating a class or school Web site. A school Web site can keep parents up to date by posting everything from the school calendar to PTA meeting notes to classroom assignments. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report, 58 percent of online teens report using Web sites that were specifically set for their school or particular class. In addition, many students are building Web sites as class projects or group assignments. Clearly, individual school and class Web sites are catching on fast. So, why not get parents involved and include information specifically for them? Specialty areas could include faculty biographies, a "student of the week" section, athletic information, student artwork showcases and more. Through the school Web site, teachers and administrators can post school policies, grading information and learning goals, and any other important updates.

Scholastic (www.scholastic.com) provides free and simple services to create class Web sites. They also offer great resources to help build and maintain your Web site, including page-building instructions, extensive online help centers and step-by-step tutorials. Schoolnotes.com (www.schoolnotes.com) is another popular site that teachers can use to allow parents and students access to posted homework and class information.

Maintaining an online gradebook to give parents access to their child's status 24/7. Teachers are turning to online gradebooks for their convenience and ease of use. Sites like mygradebook.com (www.mygradebook.com) give parents and students the ability to login to a teacher's gradebook to check performance, attendance, upcoming assignments, as well as communicate with the teacher. ThinkWave.com offers teachers a customized handout to send along to parents with password information, which allows them access to the teacher's gradebook from home or the office.

Getting your students involved. The Milken Exchange recently reported that 75 percent of middle school students say they would like their parents to be more involved in school activities. In an age where kids are generally more tech savvy than their parents, encouraging your class to get their parents online can be a major source of motivation. Students will be excited to teach their parents new tricks, and parents will be encouraged by their child's interest in school. It is also important for parents to be aware of all of the educational opportunities the Web has to offer. Most teens say the Internet's ability to help them with schoolwork is one of its best features.

The Internet has the ability to bring us around the world and back again with just a few clicks of the mouse. As members of the educational community, we are still skimming the surface of what the Web can do for our classrooms and students. From several studies, we know that students want their parents to be more involved in their education, and that parent involvement can be, and often is, a significant factor in the success of a student throughout their academic career. Working together, parents and teachers can use the Internet to communicate, advise and inform, propelling student achievement to the next level.

Contact Information
AOL@School
Dulles, VA
(888) 468-3768
www.aolatschool.com

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.

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