Sharing research with parents

Maintaining strong links between families and schools is important to staff at Westgarth Primary School in Melbourne, which is why they work collaboratively with parents and carers in their community. Through their instructional YouTube videos, their parent/carer education evenings and their new approach to writing school reports, Westgarth Primary School is dedicated to sharing the latest evidenced-based approaches to teaching and learning. In today's Q&A we chat to Assistant Principal Donald Eddington about how it all began and the impact it is having on student learning.

What was your motivation behind starting your YouTube channel? How do you decide which topics or areas to cover in the videos?

The school had embarked on a two-year journey of maths professional development – the equivalent of 40 hours of professional learning in-school-time. The PD drew together evidenced-based, best practice for teaching mathematical concepts researched and synthesised by me. Part of the PD series involved demonstrations of various approaches and strategies for teaching concepts, for example, the four operations. We know from our experience that students learn in different ways and while an approach may work for one student it may not work for another. So the taped demonstrations were designed to build teachers' pedagogical content knowledge.

You have made all the videos publicly available so that parents and carers can better support their children at home. Why did you decide to do this and what has been the feedback from parents thus far?

Being aware of the professional learning that the school was doing, parents and carers wanted to know how they could help their children at home. The taped demonstrations were then repurposed and uploaded to YouTube so parents and carers could see and hear how maths was being taught in a step-by-step approach. While the demonstrations are low-tech, they are helpful due to their simplicity, repetitive format, setting out and consistent use of language. There are currently over 60 clips uploaded. Over time, more demonstrations will be added.

The feedback from parents and carers has been positive as they feel they have access to the approaches to teaching and learning being employed by the school. For many parents (and some teachers), they were taught a process for solving problems – often by rote – with little understanding when they were at school themselves. The approaches and strategies we promote, and have shared with parents and carers, emphasise student understanding.

Your school has also run several parent/carer education evenings – what are their purpose and what areas of the curriculum have been covered?

In 2016, the school ran three parent/carer-education sessions – one for Prep-Year 2, one for Year 3-4 and one for Years 5-6 – which were attended by over 150 parents and carers. These sessions were facilitated by Cath Pearn – a Senior Research Fellow working with the Assessment and Reporting team at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and grandparent at our school. Again, the sessions were a result of parents and carers wanting to know about current approaches to teaching and learning in mathematics (particularly around the four operations) and how they can assist their children at home. Over the years and across many school locations – parents and carers have reported their own levels of stress and/or anxiety about maths and these are often passed onto their own children. Building parent-carer knowledge and confidence in the area of mathematics was one of the aims for these sessions.

The sessions also focussed on using materials to build students' conceptual understanding. Conceptual understanding is about knowing more than isolated facts and methods. It is about being able to demonstrate and articulate mathematical ideas, having the ability to transfer knowledge into new situations and apply this knowledge to new contexts. Deep conceptual understanding is fundamental to the teaching and learning of mathematics at Westgarth Primary School.

In 2017, the school hosted a family maths night that focussed on problem solving – using materials, discussing maths strategies and finding multiple ways to solve problems. The night was successful with over 200 students and their parents and carers in attendance. The family maths night is scheduled to be an annual event.

Last year, the school revised its reporting format. You've said that the development of these reports were two years in the making, and involved teachers and parents working collaboratively. Why did you decide to do this and how did it work?

Feedback from parents and carers, over a number years, was that the student reports were generic and ‘jargonistic' and often left parents wondering ‘but where is my child actually at'? despite the amount of time teachers spent writing the reports.

In 2015, with the introduction of the Victorian Curriculum, teachers were released in teams and led, by me, through a process of ‘unpacking' the achievement standards. The unpacking process led to building teacher capacity and understanding, and the development of plain language statements that classroom teachers could use to make accurate, fair and consistent judgements about student progress and achievement within and across teams in the school.

In 2016, the plain language statements were reviewed in consultation with parents and carers – as part of Education sub-committee meetings – to ensure that the language used was parent/carer-friendly (that is, jargon-free) while clearly articulating a progression in students' knowledge and skills.

In 2017, together with teachers' general comments, the revised plain language statements were used as part of a new checklist-style reporting format. Feedback from parents was positive as it clearly identified their child's strengths and areas for future improvement and growth.

The key to successfully undertaking this process was to build teacher knowledge, capacity and confidence, and to actively engage the parent-carer body in the process as they are the audience of the student reports. This process takes time and involved authentic consultation with all stakeholders.

Why is it important that schools work collaboratively with parents and share educational research with them? And, in what ways does this strengthen relationships between schools and parents?

Research shows that families have the first and most significant influence on their children's learning and development. Parents and carers play a pivotal role in helping their children succeed at school and to be confident and articulate learners. Building and maintaining strong links between families and schools is therefore important in terms of establishing positive outcomes for students. Teachers at Westgarth Primary School believe that this can be achieved through working collaboratively with our parent and carers – and by sharing the latest evidenced-based approaches to teaching and learning.

Think about your own school community: in what ways do you work collaboratively with parents and carers? Do you share educational research with them? What impact does this have on the relationship between the school and the parent community?

When parents at Westgarth Primary School expressed their own levels of stress and anxiety about mathematics, the school ran sessions to build parent-carer knowledge and confidence in the subject. Is this something you do in your own school community? What impact does it have on student learning?