(MA) DTLT: SLA – Week 28 – Theories of Parental Involvement 2

Defining PI

“Continuing research for my SLA project, I turn to a paper which gives a thorough review of the term Parental Involvement (PI) and the research undertaken to better understand and quantify it. The authors analyse twelve selected studies which use quantitative methods to measure PI. But with most studies producing differing outomces, it indidcates PI remaines a complex concept to define. For example, Desmoine (1999) defines PI as “a set of group-specific actions, beliefs and attitudes that serve as an operational factor in defining categorical differences among children and their parents from different racial-ethnic and economic backgrounds.” (p189). Although racial-ethnic factors may be of lesser concern here in China, economic advantage, or disadvantage, certainly is. So set-up and maintenance costs will be upmost in my mind as I consider the best way to facilitate parental involvement in my student’s language learning journey.

PI: One-Size-Fits All

“It is true, plicy makers and educators tend to present parental involvement as a panacea that will be helpful to overcome nearly all educational inequalities traditionally attributed to social class differences.” (p188). Indeed, another strong criticism the authors make of the PI literature, is that in looking for the ideal construct for PI, and taking what the parents of successful students do for direction, the customs of white, middle class parents have been imposed as a one-size-fits-all solution. Unfortunately, this neglects and undermines efforts that are not recognised as normative manifestations of positive parental behaviour which may lead to increased student motivation. In this way, and following on from the reflection I made above, what I would like to design is something ‘accessible-to-all’ that acknowledges and supports parental involvement in all its permutations.

Defining PI – Observable and Unobservable Behaviours

Fantuzzo, Davis and Ginsberg (1995) define PI as “a variety of parental behaviours that directly or indirectly influence children’s cognitive development and social achievement.” (p189) It seems here that involvement is directly related to the school and is very “visible”. It seems unfair to judge who is involved and who is not, especially when both observable and invisible behaviours should be considered. Home-based behaviours, for example, are often not considered in these studies. And, although the frequency of interactions are duly counted, the quality of interaction is rarely adequately documented.

Measuring PI

Another issue in understanding PI, is the measurement tools use to gauge it.  Most studies are conducted through questionnaires, where participants are relied on to not only recall past experiences, but to honestly explain their behaviour. In this way, a ratings bias may be expected, where one marks oneself more highly in order to give a better impression. Unable to rely solely on self-reports, some researchers have taken to using multiple informants, in order to correlate the validity of experiences between the student, parent and teacher. This has yielded better results in the sense that participants report more accurately when they know others are also reporting about the same experience. However, these reports are still restricted to perception of behaviour rather than actual behaviours. Systematic observation would be ideal, but such private, individual access would be difficult to organise. The authors suggest more qualitative measures such as interviewing parents in depth about the frequency of their involvement.

My Thoughts

It is true that I make a lot of inferences about parental behaviour based on my interactions with my students (who has done the homework, who has brought the textbook, who actively participates etc.). However, one of the most important things I have learnt here, is that just because I cannot ‘see’ parents being involved, that is not to say they are not. Perhaps I have been too quick to judge. What I really want to do to facilitate parental involvement is to have a sit down and a chat with the parents and make sure we are all on the same page. However, that throws up a number of profession-related questions: is that part of my role as a teacher? Would my school approve? Is that how things are done in China? Similarly, in terms of dialogue, if we did decide to have a meeting or conduct a workshop, how would we communicate? In English? Chinese? So cultural and linguistic factors come into play in my design of a ‘parental involvement facilitator’, and this will be the next area of research for me for this project.