“We all want our children to get a good education,” says the facilitator in the Right Question Project’s two and a half-hour workshop to build parents’ skills in naming issues, framing questions, and making action plans about their children’s education. “But sometimes going to schools can be pretty intimidating, and knowing what to ask can be frustrating.” Rather than providing information or answers, this workshop coaches parents to learn from each other’s knowledge and experience, and develop the skills to ask different types of questions and analyze the answers they get. The workshop proceeds as follows:
Sharing Experiences. (20 minutes) In small groups, parents share with each other memorable experiences from when they were students; then each group chooses one to share with the larger group. The large group reflects on why such memories are important to the educational lives of their children.
Two Core Questions. (10 minutes) The group discusses what they mean by the phrase “to learn,” then talks about the difference between “What is my child learning?” and “What does my child need to learn?” They reflect on why looking at these questions might be important.
Your Child’s Learning. (20 minutes) The group offers ideas about what “curriculum” means to them, then reviews its dictionary definitions. Next the facilitator passes out cards on which are written the same four simple math problems (addition and subtraction of single-digit numbers). “Imagine that this is part of a first-grade math curriculum, the work your child is expected to do in math in first grade. What questions do you have?” After questions are recorded, a different color set of math cards are handed out with the same four problems. “Imagine that this is part of a twelfth-grade math curriculum, the work your child is expected to do in math in twelfth grade. What questions do you have now?” Last, simple “report cards” are handed out, with course grades of :”A” in English, math, social studies, science, and “other.” “Imagine that this is the report card your child brings home in twelfth grade. Keep in mind what we just showed you about what your child is learning in twelfth grade. What questions do you have now?” Finally the group offers answers to “How does the math and report-card activity relate to the questions “What is my child learning?” and “What does my child need to learn?” “The section concludes with a discussion of what participants have learned.
Questions As Key to Involvement. (20 minutes) Considering the previous activity, the facilitator asks, “What are some questions you could ask every year to make sure your child is learning what he or she needs to learn?” After recording these, parents form small groups to choose one question to ask more questions about-brainstorming for questions, prioritizing them, and branching out from them. After the large group discusses the value of that activity, small groups go on to review their questions and sort them -into those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” (close-ended questions) and those that cannot (open-ended questions). In the large group, they record some advantages and disadvantages of each kind of question, and discuss which may prove more useful in which kinds of situation. Then, in small groups, they practice changing their close-ended questions into open-ended questions. After reporting out two examples of this to the larger group, the whole group discusses why they have been focusing on asking questions, and what they have noticed about the process of doing so.
What’s a Parent to Do? (30 minutes) The group begins looking at the roles parents can play in their child’s education, first by looking at the words support, monitor, and advocate, giving their own definitions and relating them to dictionary definitions. Parents then offer some specific examples of ways that they can support their child’s learning to help ensure the child is learning what he needs to learn; ways to monitor that the child is making progress in his learning; and ways to advocate for their child’s educational needs. They talk about the differences between each of these forms of action. Then, in small groups, they come up with two questions they could ask to support their child’s education, to monitor the child’s progress, and to advocate for the child’s educational needs. After parents report back and discuss these, the facilitator says, “The role of supporter is one that parents often play. What happens to a child when no one is monitoring his or her progress? What happens to a child when no one is advocating for his or her educational needs?”
Taking Action. (25 minutes) Here parents come up with concrete ways to involve themselves in their child’s education. In small groups, they record on prepared newsprint one way that they will, this month, support their child’s education, monitor the child’s progress, and advocate for the child’s educational needs. On another prepared sheet of newsprint, they record one way that they plan, this year, to support their child’s education, monitor the child’s progress, and advocate for the child’s educational needs. In closing, the facilitator asks the group to list the activities they have done in the workshop then records their answers to the questions” What do you understand now that is different from before? and Based on that understanding, what are you capable of doing now that is different from before?
More complete materials on this and other Right Question Project workshops can be had form RQP at 218 Holland St. Somerville, MA 02144, (617)628-4070 (617)628-4070