Article #36
Let's Talk To Parents!
Part I
Cheryl M. Sigmon

The beginning of school always means Open House and letters home to parents as we attempt to lay the groundwork for our partnership with parents for the coming year. We work hard to earn their confidence since we know they have entrusted in us their precious children. Parents, as we know, come in all shapes and sizes, all manners of disposition (we hope to at least get a balance of good and poor dispositions!), and from varied backgrounds. Our explanations must be planned for a multi-level audience--much like we deal with in our classes. We must think long and hard about how to inform them and educate them about what this year holds in store.

As you begin your year with 4-Blocks, you can assume that parents will be curious about many of the changes that will occur. The following might offer guidance in how and what parents might want and need to know:

Heralding the New Year

Consider a letter home from the principal in schools where 4-Blocks is being implementing or from the teacher in classrooms where the model is being piloted. Convey enthusiasm for this new approach! That alone could be contagious. Reassure parents that this classroom framework is based on research and has been proven successful and that their kids aren't the "guinea pigs" for this research.

The tri-fold flyer included in the appendix of The Teacher's Guide to Four Blocks might be used or might offer some ideas for your own personalized design of a flyer. A brief explanation of each block is included in layman's language.

Some schools promote the model by having a display in the lobby. You might cover large boxes in bright colors, place them one on top of the other, paste on pictures of what parents might expect to see in the room during each block (this would be difficult if your school hasn't already tried the model), and also a bit of description about the block and the purpose served by that block. Also, be sure that the hallways send a clear message about the emphasis on literacy and reading.

Allaying the Fears about Spelling

From the very first meeting with parents, assure them that spelling will be an important part of your curriculum. They need to know, however, that having kids learn HOW to spell versus learning WHAT to spell is the approach that you feel will be most successful in reaching your goals this year. During Open House, if time allows, demonstrate how kids' knowledge of a word with a familiar rime pattern will enable them to know many other words: "If your child knows the pattern est, then he will know best, west, chest, nest, crest, test, vest, rest, jest, pest, quest, and other words when he needs to spell them or when he reads them." In the past we had kids memorizing words for a spelling test each week. Our experience has taught us that kids didn't remember these words beyond Friday's test and then didn't have strategies to help them when they couldn't recall the spellings. We need to explain that now we will work each and every day on different words for different reasons:

  • high frequency words so that kids will develop automaticity with them (as sight words),
  • pattern words so that kids will learn to apply their knowledge of how these words help them in real reading and writing,
  • big words that have parts (prefixes, roots, and suffixes) that will help kids figure out their meanings,
  • words that help kids learn how to apply their knowledge of contest clues--"What makes sense here?"
  • words that teach kids how to get started by sounding out beginning "chunks,"
  • words that sound alike but are spelled differently,
  • words that are spelled alike but have different meanings,
Oh! So many words for so many reasons!

Another explanation is in order for the spelling that occurs during the Writing Block. Parents need to know why we will accept misspellings on kids' rough drafts. Yes, we do want kids to become fluent writers, but there is another reason we don't spell for kids during this time or worry about correctness with our emergent writers. We want to give kids ample opportunity to apply their phonetic understanding. If we spell for them, we only "show off" our phonetic skills--and it's not supposed to be about us! Kids must think about the relationships between what they hear, the sounds and symbols, what they wish to communicate, and then must put it on paper. This is why writing is one of the four blocks--it truly is reading from the inside out (Donald Graves' words, I believe).

We reassure parents that we will be helping kids to carefully revise and edit final drafts, which are the special pieces among the many that they will write, to publish. Those are pieces that will be displayed, sent home, or shared in a special place in the library.

If time permits during Open House, try demonstrating a quick round of Guess the Covered Word, using sentences about the beginning of school and your partnership with parents.

Saving the Trees

During our introduction with parents, we should also tell them that they may not see as many worksheets coming home as they once saw. No cause for alarm! We must assure them that we are still teaching most of those same skills and strategies but now in a much more engaging way. The work kids will do is now more mentally demanding. We will give kids worksheets when we feel they need just a bit more practice in a skill we've taught them. Our teaching and learning in the classroom will be far more actively engaging than in the days of skill and drill worksheets. That does not mean that we're no longer teaching grammar, usage, punctuation, parts of speech, cause and effect, etc. We are teaching those things, but now are having kids actually apply what they've learned. If their application--or lack of--reveals that they need some additional practice, that's when the worksheets will be worthwhile. Some may be done in class and some may come home. What is likely to come home are assignments that have kids reading and writing--the real stuff!

If time permits during Open House, demonstrate some of the activities that you'll be using this year as alternatives to worksheets--the Beach Ball, a graphic organizer, a model writing lesson, sticky note reading. Parents will surely get the point about engagement and learning!

To Be Continued Next Week - There's more we need to share with parents!

4 Blocks Goodies