Communication with parents doesn’t always have to be from the teacher or the administrator. There are some simple, yet effective, ways to prepare students to share what is happening in the classroom to promote language skills and to keep parents involved in the learning process. Children are notorious for giving their parents simple, one-word answers to the question, “How was your day?” With these tips, students will be prepared to elaborate on their simple answers, and teachers will have a free resource to provide parents to assist in the after-school communication doldrums.
Communication Skill: Active Listening
When broaching the subject of communication skills, the consensus is that it must begin with active listening. The goal of this article is to prepare students to talk to their parents about their day, but if they don’t know how to actively listen, they will not understand the importance of what is being said. Different job-search websites have career guides and active listening is at the top for most of them. Teaching this skill to children is a challenge, but you can begin the process by using my Cliffhanger Method.
Communication Skill: Cliffhanger Method
The Cliffhanger Method is when you tell a child the introduction to a great story and then stop. They will analyze what they heard and will recognize their interest in hearing more. This will prompt them to ask questions. Children will ask, “What happened next?” or “What did he do then?” Being engaged in what is being said is the main goal.
Asking the students to restate the directions you have given, or retell a short story are other ways to assist in attaining this skill. As students realize that they will be required to be active participants in the conversation, they will, in turn, become more active listeners. Teachers who repeat themselves inadvertently foster the exact opposite behavior to the one they want. The more a teacher repeats herself the less attention is given to what is said because the child learns that he or she will be addressed individually for any directions.
In this situation, it would be best practice to give directions, repeat the directions, have a student restate the directions, ask for questions, and provide the students with tools to find the directions on their own. Maybe the directions are in the book, on the board, or the students are instructed to ask a partner. All of these extra steps will discourage inattentiveness and make students more active listeners
Establishing Speaking and Listening Procedure
This step will take the most effort and will ultimately produce the most rewarding results. Children who do not speak in complete sentences regularly will have issues with communicating effectively. Understanding that communication is not a one-sided endeavor takes practice and patience. We have all been in those situations when we have asked a question in class and there is a child who is visually anxious to share. Their hands are raised and they are jumping out of their seats. But when they are called on to speak, they share information that is completely off-topic.
In every classroom and on every playground, taking turns is necessary. It is practiced multiple times a day and it applies to positive communication. This skill may be introduced very early by teaching children to raise their hands and wait to be called before speaking. Some teachers choose to use a “Speaking Stick” or some other object that the speaker must be holding before they can share. These are all effective ways to address taking turns, but when it comes to communication it does not stop there. Young children want to share facts or anecdotes freely. That is a great way to share information, but that kind of communication must be facilitated to keep it moving on to the next topic. As students mature in their thinking and interactions, they will then need to learn the art of asking questions.
Asking quality and relevant questions is a skill that is the culmination of all aspects of communication. This is best practiced in isolation and then mastered in conversation. Students who have mastered being an active listener AND can take turns are ready to move on to a true conversation. This skill can be fostered through the use of pictures. Most students are used to sharing facts about pictures. They are shown a picture and are asked to share what is happening in the picture. With this activity, the tables are turned. The teacher shows a picture and tells the students what is happening and then asks the students, “What questions could you ask about the picture?” Asking questions requires an analysis of the information, a connection to prior knowledge, and an understanding of the situation. Higher-order thinking like this takes more maturity and practice.
Being required to ask questions encourages students to think introspectively. Young students begin to learn where their feelings come from and have a better understanding of their feelings. Once armed with this knowledge, they can begin to understand how others feel and that will make a difference in the choices they make in what they say and how they say it.
The LATHER Method- Listen Actively, Think Hard, Engage Respectfully.
The LATHER Method is a speaking and listening procedure that breaks communication into 3 steps. The student must be an active listener first. Next, they must take the time to think about what was said so that they can respond appropriately. Finally, they give the appropriate response. The second step is the hardest hurdle to overcome. Inexperienced communicators fixate on the spark that a question or statement ignited in their mind and fail to truly listen to the content of the conversation.
Engaging respectfully will require the students to have empathy and the ability to read body language in some situations. To engage respectfully, the speaker must understand the purpose of the conversation and who the audience is. Discuss situations with your students that address these issues. Explain ways to ask questions without being rude or interrupting.
Communication Practice for Parents
To build communication skills most effectively, parents will have to continue their instruction at home. Most parents have never had instruction on the best ways to communicate and therefore will need guidance on best practices and ideas for engaging their children in meaningful conversations. Send home information on the LATHER Method and share with them some suggested questions.
Parents who ask, “How was your day?” understand that they are starting a conversation, but most children have a lack of maturity to sort through all of the events of the day and pinpoint what they want to talk about. By giving parents better questions to ask and an understanding of the procedures you are using in your classroom, they will encourage positive communication with their children.
Follow the link for a printable version of the top 20 Questions for Parents to ask their children when they get home from school. These questions are thought-provoking, specific, or open-ended.
20 Questions for Parents to Ask Children
- Did you learn any new words today?
- What is your least favorite part of the school building? Favorite?
- Teach me something that you learned today.
- If you could have changed one thing about your day, what would it be?
- Did you feel prepared for your (Fill in the subject area) test today?
- Tell me about something that challenged you today.
- What was the hardest rule to follow today?
- Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
- Did anyone get in trouble today?
- What did you read today?
- What is something you heard that surprised you?
- How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
- Did you help anyone today? Did anyone help you today?
- Who did you sit with at lunch today?
- Was anyone absent today?
- What was your least favorite part of today?
- What was something that made your teacher smile today?
- Was there an example of kindness in your classroom? Unkindness?
- Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh today?
- What is the most popular game during recess?
Communication is a skill that is important to every single person, young or old. Improving this ability will be beneficial to students in all aspects of life. By making a child’s home an extension of their classroom, their parents are able to reinforce their child’s communication skills while also learning more about them and their day. Another benefit to sending the suggested questions home is the ability to give focus to the conversation between the parent and the child.
If a teacher chooses to follow these suggestions, he or she can make practicing communication skills part of the regular communication between school and home. The number of positives that come from implementing these suggestions is numerous. Parents will feel well informed and more actively involved in their child’s school day. Teachers will have more support from parents and all of the positive communication will increase the positivity within the classroom. Positive communication can start as soon as a child enters school and will only improve as they progress through the grade levels. For more communication tips, check out my article Communicating with Stakeholders and my video Positive Communication Skills for your Kindergartner.