'No Parent Left Behind' teaches critical thinking

Author: Renee Hochstetler, Office of Research

Literacy encompasses much more than reading and writing. It involves comprehension and analysis. It develops creative and critical thinking. In the K-12 environment, it requires collaboration between the school and the home.

No Parent Left Behind (NPLB) is a program that increases the connection between school and home by teaching parents strategies for reading with their kids. Parents attend a 12-week series of workshops to learn ideas for how to engage their elementary school children beyond surface-level plot.

Conducted by Stuart Greene, associate professor of English and Center for Social Concerns and director of Education, Schooling and Society, and Joyce Long, executive director for NPLB, the workshops demonstrate techniques that parents can use as they read with their kids.

For example, says Greene, readers expect stories that begin “once upon a time” to end with “happily ever after.” What happens in between depends on the story, and recognizing conventions and patterns teaches students to evaluate the text and predict next steps. The key for parents is to draw children in by reading with expression and asking questions like what the story is about, what problem a character faces and how they might solve it.

“Parents already have tremendous resources, and they’re doing smart, creative things with their kids,” says Greene. “Our hope is to build on those resources. We don’t see parents as having some sort of deficit that we need to fill as educators.”

What NPLB does see is a need to align school and home expectations and understandings. If the school’s goal for literacy is comprehension—understanding, analyzing and comparing—then the approach at home needs to address that, he says.

Greene and Long piloted NPLB four years ago at Perley Primary Fine Arts Academy, an elementary school in the South Bend Community School Corporation, where principal Darice Austin-Phillips sought to increase parent involvement in literacy.

Before implementing the program, Greene and Long interviewed parents whose students’ performance at school suggested that they needed additional attention to literacy at home. The results were not altogether surprising: “The parents were doing far more than expected, but that those things weren’t necessarily visible because they occurred in the context of home literacy,” says Greene. However, it turns out that home literacy best serves students at school when it incorporates strategies that teach critical thinking skills.

NPLB is now in 11 local elementary schools and includes an advanced workshop series for parents who want to lead the basic workshops. This advanced series and the focus on home literacy are what make NPLB unique, says Greene, and what support effective parent-teacher partnerships.

According to Greene, literacy for NPLB involves bringing families together and enables kids to experience reading and writing with forms of expression and associate them with the joy of being with family. NPLB is also a way to bring families together in the school setting. While parents attend workshops, students receive tutoring from Notre Dame and Holy Cross students.

“Networks of people and resources really help kids flourish,” he says. “When families get to know each other and develop a sense of community, they can rely on each other for support and ideas. They can rely on each other to address problems and become a learning community.”

Greene says it is significant that parents take leaderships roles and get other parents involved. “This was a research project initially, but it has become a way to empower parents to become more proactive in their children’s education and to make sure they have enough information to make informed decisions about their children’s work in school and perhaps access to resources outside of school,” he
says.

Above, Greene and Long at a NPLB workshop at Madison Elementary School in South Bend.