Among all the other beginning-of-the-year events, September usually means parent nights. The parent nights at my school are open ended in topic. I often have students more than one year, so I vary some of the topics presented. Sometimes I’ve talked about time management, sometimes about a coming class overnight trip, but the main point of my time with parents is to help them enjoy the time learning what their children are doing in the classroom, to ask questions for understanding, and to get to know each other. Always students put out some work at their desks to show the latest accomplishments, and they write a letter to their parents that the parents reply to. One successful idea I have used is when I held a mini writer’s workshop for the parents to show them what their children were experiencing.
After the initial welcome and getting-to-know-you time, I gave a mini-lesson about grabbing memories, looking back in time to when they were their children’s ages. I didn’t feel I had time to read a book for inspiration, but I did pinpoint certain areas that might help them remember. I asked questions like: Who was your best friend? What was the most fun time you ever had together? What was an embarrassing moment you remember when you were in middle school? Do you remember arguing with your parents? Over what did you have conflicts? And so on.
Then, I asked the parents to write! I gave out notebook paper, provided plenty of pencils and pens, and gave them this prompt. Write about when you were the age of your child. The title, or first line, could be “When I was twelve, or thirteen, or …” They could ask me questions quietly, just as the students do, and they did. I gave them support through commenting when needed, sometimes even a pat on the arm! They had 25-30 minutes, and those who wanted more time could take them home and send them in the next day, or type and e-mail to me. Some were reluctant, taking a long time to start. Some immediately began, and commented later about how much they’d written. The behaviors were quite similar to their children’s. Eventually, I received something from everyone, and typed the pieces to get ready for sharing. I had told them that I would be using their writing in a book that we would create at school, along with their children’s writing.
At school, students were given almost the same assignment, except theirs was a time travel one, and they had to imagine being their parents’ ages, but also reminiscing about their early adolescent years. They too had to begin with “When I was twelve, or thirteen, or …”
When all the pieces were typed and edited, a book was made for each family, and sent home as a gift and a thank you for the memories, the title of the book. At school, we had a celebration of the writing, and first, each child read what his or her parents had written.
This was a long process, but it was such an important one to tell the students, along with their parents, that writing itself, along with everyone’s memories and the recording of them are important enough to be honored with time and commitment.
FOOTNOTE: I realize that some of this might not fit the needs of others for a parent night. Sometimes I’ve had students interview their parents at home with the same questions: What was it like when you were my age? And then students write about their parents, and contrast the parent stories with their own stories.