Let's face it — it's hard to communicate with teenagers. It's even harder to communicate when you try and chat them up about school, their grades and homework. The federal government even has an “Office of Adolescent Health” offering tips on how to communicate with teens!
Usually conversations go something like this:
Parent: “How was school?”
Parent: “Grades doing OK?”
Teen: “Sigh, yeah....”
Parent: “Any homework for tonight?”
Yes, the communication battle seems to hit new levels when our children reach middle school and high school. Luckily, we parents now have the tools to find out for ourselves what's going on in our child's educational world. We're e-empowered in this new world of technology!
With a son in 10th grade, a daughter in eighth and another daughter coming up in the ranks in fifth, I've learned a few lessons about how best to find out what is going on before the report card arrives. So, here's a tip list of “How to find out about the academic life of your teen”:
1. Email. I think there is a belief among some parents that they are harassing teachers if they email them on a regular basis. I've found the opposite to be true. Many middle school and high school teachers will make a point of distributing their email addresses on open house night; they want to open the channels of communication.
But, you have to be patient. Teachers may not respond right away, which is understandable. I tell my own college — students the same thing — teachers are busy people. Still, the longest I've had to wait for a response is a couple of days, and most teachers have been able to fill me in on the progress of my son and daughter. Most importantly, you're able to personalize the discussions and help the teacher see your child as more than just another grade in the ledger.
2. PowerSchool. Pearson School Systems describes PowerSchool as the “fastest-growing, most widely-used, web-based student information system, supporting 12 million students in all 50 states and over 65 countries.”
At the middle school and high school here in Amherst, Mass., school officials issue log-ons and passwords to parents at the open house within the first month of the start of school.
Access to the system allows both parents and students to check in and see how the student is doing in his or her classes. Most importantly, parents can see what assignments their child is missing. Missing assignments can often be the critical factor that brings a grade down, so being able to see and avoid missed deadlines is a huge plus for parents and students.
Seeing their grades can also act as a strong motivator for students — positive reinforcement when they are doing well and a kick in the butt when they are struggling. In many ways, PowerSchool allows for an electronic collaboration between student and teacher.
But, as with many tools, the system is only as good as the person using it. I've had several situations with my son where the teacher did not file grades in a timely manner — with the end result being that he was unpleasantly surprised come report card time when the teacher entered in all the grades at once.
3. Moodle. While PowerSchool provides an e-grading system, Moodle provides an electronic system for both parents and students to view assignments, test dates and other material off the formal class syllabus. Many colleges and universities use this course management system as well, because of its flexibility in allowing class discussions and other features.
Not all teachers put their class schedule and syllabi on Moodle, but for those who do, it gives parents an end-around to the “I don't know what the assignment is” conundrum often offered up by teenagers. Parents can also get a sense of the flow of the trimester and any additional teaching sections are being added or deleted.
At this year's open house for my son, his social studies teacher was very open about showing her Moodle site and going through what students will be learning this trimester.
In many ways, allowing access to a class Moodle site does away with the mystery of what our teens are doing after they get the bus in the morning. And all three keys here allow parents to grab the e-bull by the horns and get engaged in their child's learning.