Increasing Family Engagement Through Digital Portfolios
This summer I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone. In my own building, I worked as the Site Coordinator for summer school, my first time truly managing other staff and being in charge of a building. With my Masters program through SPU, I’ve submitted my first proposal to a conference. While this has been daunting, I have enjoyed both challenges. Having taught ELL for seven years, I’ve taught summer school, both initiated and led before and after school programs, and attended workshops, but have never sought out a leadership role. This summer has shifted my own perception of what I’m capable of and how I can contribute to others.
Trying New Strategies to Engage ELL Families
One of my greatest challenges as an educator and coach has been communication with families. Working in schools where the majority of the parents are not native English speakers, communication is often limited, lost in translation, and we frequently rely on students to be the translator to get messages through to families. Based on my own experience in Title 1 schools in two different states, ELL families are less likely to initiate communication with teachers and less likely to use email as a frequent communication tool. Numerous studies agree that in general, low-income and/or ethnic/racial minority families are less likely to participate in school events and certain aspects of the children’s education. (Dong-shin Shin and Wendy Seger 2016). Many of these same families have limited access to technology and less exposure to 21st century skills. Therefore, I feel it is important for teachers to not only introduce 21st century skills to students, but also help coach their families in how to use technology as a communication tool, professionally, and share their funds of knowledge.
What do we know about family involvement in Title 1 schools?
The most extensive research comes from the Hoover-Demspey and Sandler study known as the HDS Model. Their findings claim parent involvement is based on these key factors:
This chart supports evidence that parents who do not speak English or were not educated in the American education system are more likely to find it difficult to participate at the school site. Furthermore, these families may have varying cultural views on what parent involvement entails based on their own cultural experiences. Particularly in low-income/immigrant families, parents may be limited in time by constraints related to their occupation, caring for other family members, or cultural commitments. So how can I connect families to what’s happening in the classroom when they are unable to attend our events? How do we support our illiterate parents?
This past year I’ve been searching for digital tools that help connect with families and offer translation. Partially motivated by several great digital programs students have used for projects without a common way to share their work with families. I was fortunate enough to attend the International TESOL Convention to learn more about what other teachers are doing around the world and what I might be able to apply in my own building. These challenges inspired my quest for a better system to increase parent engagement, empower students, while still meeting performance standards.
My search led me to discovering digital portfolios. With the intention of supporting students and increasing family engagement, the platform I am most eager to explore at this time is Seesaw.
Digital Portfolios – Empower Students and Engage Families
Searching for conferences to submit proposals to was a foreign concept to me. After looking at larger conferences, I decided to do some google searching of my own and happened upon the WAESOL (Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages) website. I was so excited to see that they were accepting proposals for their 2017 conference to be held this upcoming October. My greatest challenge was the deadline to apply, in July. I had anticipated having all summer to explore apps, compare, and learn.
The 2017 WAESOL Conference will take place in October in Des Moines, WA. My proposal was for a Teacher Demonstration session which is 45 minutes. Knowing the conference targets ELL teachers, I feel I have a fair understanding of the participants who attend these workshops. Also, knowing the state standards we all address, I felt I could really streamline how digital portfolios can support teachers, students, and families.
How can I encourage others to buy in to using digital portfolios?
When thinking about how to get others excited, I thought back to various workshops I attended at the TESOL convention. How did speakers get and maintain my attention? Beyond teachers wanting to learn about the topic, I want them to understand I am like them. I am currently teaching, at times overwhelmed feeling I can’t take on anything else, yet wanting to serve our population and advocate for the ELL families in our state.
With attendees coming from around the state, we share the same teaching standards, evaluation systems, language barriers, gaps in formal education, as well as successes and challenges. Rather than simply digitizing portfolios, this platform allows us to record students speaking and reading which is critical in their language development. Students can monitor their own progress as well as have some control over the work they choose to publish. Parents will have the opportunity to become involved digitally without needing to come to the school.
In lieu of adding to the work day, digital portfolios can create a classroom system where students become more actively involved in their published work with the awareness of an authentic audience. Attendees will be able to make connections between digital tools and what they are already doing in the classroom. How can I achieve this in just 45 minutes?
Below is a mini-version of my slide presentation. Starting with questions to gauge the audience, I might modify the direction of the workshop. My intent is to truly highlight strengths of Seesaw and how it aligns well to tools and standards already utilised in K-12 classrooms. Again, by addressing the standards met and how teachers can use digital portfolios as evidence of their own professional growth, it is simply modifying how teachers capture the work already taking place.
After sharing how Seesaw can work for students, teachers, and parents, attendees will have the opportunity to explore Seesaw or another platform on a personal or shared device. Attendees will log in to a mock class as a student and be asked to upload photos, record audio, and take notes. The audio and note-taking questions will align with teacher background which in turn will give me a better understanding of the who’s in attendance. If teachers prefer another platform, I’d like to hear about it and why it works for them.
So Why Seesaw? Yes, there are other great platforms out there, however at this time, I am choosing to implement and promote Seesaw. As mentioned in previous posts, many of our ELL students come from high poverty families without internet access, consistent working phones, first generation to have formal education. Seesaw does not require an app like some other platforms. At this time, Seesaw allows teachers to assess reading, writing, and speaking, which all ELL teachers do anyway, now they can simply store data in one location. Seesaw offers voice messaging, which most platforms do not.
For example, we’ll look at one of my students from Guatemala. He speaks Spanish. Great! We have Spanish support in my building so easy solution is send home all information in Spanish. However, neither of his parents had more than 4 years of school. His mother struggles to read in Spanish and his dad works long hours. Who will translate? His mom does however have a phone and they frequently go to a coffee shop where she can access free wi-fi to chat with family back home. How can I utilize this knowledge to support the family? His mother can use the QR code to access Seesaw and look up his published work while she’s at the coffee shop and leave him voice messages.
How else can Seesaw help? Parents can give access to other family members. We have many students who go to outside agencies for after school tutoring. Those agencies then contact us wanting progress reports. To eliminate this step, we could simply give the access to Seesaw and they can log in on their own to see how the students are performing as well as give feedback. It’s another way to show students we all work as a team to support their academic growth and language development.
How does Seesaw support teachers in the classroom? In my limited experience (one month) Seesaw has great support for teachers using the platform. Through frequent email updates, I’ve learned about free webinars, updates to the system, Facebook groups to join that are grade level or content specific, and have joined a new group of educators who vary in experience. This is one of the driving reasons why I feel I can recommend Seesaw to others. I may not know the answer to a question, but I feel I now have a support network I can quickly turn to and be directed to the person who has the answer.
The Parent Institute (2012) Why is parent involvement important? Retrieved from https://www.parent-institute.com/pdf-samples/h-d-and-s-model.pdf
Park, S. S., & Holloway, S. D. (2012, November 30). No Parent Left Behind: Predicting Parental Involvement in Adolescents’ Education within a Sociodemographically Diverse Population. Retrieved August 13, 2017, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1012012
Shin, D., & Seger, W. (2016, January 13). Web 2.0 Technologies and Parent Involvement of ELL Students: An Ecological Perspective. Retrieved August 13, 2017, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1100691