14 SES 10 A, Parental Involvement. Commonalities and Differences across Europe (Part 1)
Symposium to be continued in 14 SES 11 A
For parental engagement work to be effective, schools need to engage a diverse range of parents (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). All forms of communication need to be understandable to parents with different levels of literacy, those with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and those with learning disabilities. Harris and Goodall (2007) found that parents-both with and without EAL reported both getting too much information from schools (“information overload”) and difficulties under-standing that information, because of the use of jargon and specialist professional terms (“teacher speak”). This paper will present results of a study exploring the content, readability, and emotional tone used in English primary school newsletters. Methods: 36 newsletters from 18 schools (two in each region of England), selected randomly, were obtained from school websites over a three month period. They were content analyzed for visual style, the types of information they contained, emotional tone and the use of specialist terms. In addition, we undertook quantitative analysis of their readability using four standardized measures of readability. These methods follow those used by Linse and Van Vlack (forthcoming), who analyzed written school communication from the Boston Public Schools in the USA. Linse and Van Vlack suggest that their study is the first to assess readability in written school communication. Results: The newsletters contained between three and 23 items of information (mean= 9). The majority of newsletters were readable at an average 13-15 year old level and many contained specialized terms that weren’t explained in the text. Some used text features such as bolding and bullets to make the information more readable. There was a wide variety of content and visual styles and a balance of positive and negative language. Some newsletters used authoritarian symbols and language, especially in items relating to parents’ behavior when entering and leaving the school. Conclusion: The majority of newsletters sampled would not be readable to a wide range of parents and many used specialist terms and jargon. Schools should be encouraged to review how they communicate via newsletters. Further experimental research is needed to explore the impacts of different styles of written communication on parent-school relationships.
Harris, A., & Goodall, J. (2007). Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement. Do Parents know they matter? DCSF report RW004. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families. Henderson, A., & Mapp, K. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin: Southwest Educational Development La-boratory. Linse, C., & Van Vlack, S. (forthcoming). Plain English: Applying Principles to Home School Written Communication Considering Diverse Families. International Journal of Applied Linguistics.
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