Home school communication can cause many frustrations. This is particularly true for students with autism or related special learning and communication needs.
Parents want to know what their children are doing all day. Did he have a good day at school? Did she eat her lunch? Did my child complain about a stomach ache?
The problem is most prevalent with students who don’t talk or who have very little language ability. But unfortunately, even those who are older or those who have more language ability may not be very good at communicating important information about their school day.
Most parents desire more information than they get. The more
difficulty a student has in his ability to communicate, the greater the
vacuum that exists about a large part of his life while he is away from
It’s all about how much time it takes for home school communication
Teachers face a different dilemma. It‘s time consuming and inconvenient to communicate by writing or telephoning with enough regularity to share all the details.
There may be important information to share, but how much time does each note to parents take to write? Just imagine a 5-minute note times 5 students or 8 or 10.
I remember talking to one Mom who shared that her son’s teacher opted to send home a weekly note. So, Mom found out on Friday that her son saw a lion at the zoo on Monday. Mom felt that she missed an opportunity with her son because of the time lag before getting the information.
Good intentions can miss what’s most important.
Why is school-home communication important?
That home-school connection is critical for building a strong relationship between parents and school staff. When parents know what is happening with their child, they can reinforce it at home. That’s how students benefit the most.
The problem is that the student gets left out of the system
The problem with most Home-School Communication notes or newsletters is that the student is not part of the communication system. The typical notes and checklists are adult to adult communication tools.
What should the real goal be?
The student should be given the responsibility for sharing more information about himself. Then he learns more about sharing, telling, asking for information, and remembering things he needs to be responsible for. He learns to take more initiative for social conversation and social interactions.
A system to help this occur can help increase vocabulary, spoken and written language, reading skills and much more. Today at School is a Home-School Communication System that has helped develop communication across environments for students of all skill levels and ages.
There are many different ways this system can be implemented. The real bottom line to remember is that it’s a student focused activity. The student prepares it. The student takes it home. Then parents receive the information from the student.
One activity can match different levels of ability
The idea is that the student reviews what occurred during the day and puts that information in a visual form to take home. If the student cannot recall from memory, he can go back to the schedule and use it as a guide to prepare his “Today at School.”
The specific format varies, depending on the educational level of the
student. Activities include a range of levels such as these examples:
Or in this era of technology and cell phones, they can:
The ultimate goal is to provide more opportunities for the student to engage in communication and conversation about his personal experiences and provide the information that parents desire.
The Today at School activities are an excellent tool to help students engage in conversation about their personal experiences. When reading and writing activities focus on personal experiences, comprehension increases.
Suggestions to achieve success
- 1Just like other times we use pictures with students, use visual symbols that are easily recognized by the student. Their use is for the purpose of supporting interaction, not specific reading instruction. If created in a form that is too difficult for students to interpret, spontaneity will be reduced.
- 2Pictures used for the daily schedule can become an important part of the Today at School activity.
- 3Students who have more literacy ability may not need to use pictures, but they may like to use them as a part of their communication project. Be sure the pictures you use also include the words that you use with those pictures. That will ensure that families will understand everything.
- 4Remember that pictures are “bilingual.” Since many children come from homes where English is not the primary language, picture communication can help cross that barrier.
- 5Make the student as much a part of the preparation as possible
The more a student actively participates in this activity, the more he
will take ownership of the product and the more he will learn.
Many skills necessary to accomplish this information exchange fit with
the student’s other objectives (deciding what to share, dictation,
discussion, typing, writing, using the photocopier, cutting, gluing,
Sharing information between environments should be a student centered activity. The goal is to give the student visual supports to assist in communicating the information he needs or wants to share.
One more thing . . .
Be sure to allow enough time in the schedule to accomplish the activity. Preparing home communications just before going home
creates a perfect opportunity to review and summarize the day’s
But if enough time is not allotted, it can turn into a meaningless ritual to rush through before it is time to leave school.
Keep in mind that timing is important. I remember one Mom who requested a daily home communication sheet. There was a reason for that request.
The previous week, her son had a special activity on Monday, but she didn't find out until he brought home is weekly communication sheet on Friday. Mom felt, and rightly so, that that the delay in receiving information destroyed her opportunity to meaningful communicate about it with her son on the day of his special activity.
The Point Is:
This activity can give the student the responsibility of sharing information about himself. At the same time, it can reduce the amount of teacher-parent communication necessary.
The student becomes an active participant in home school communication.
Last Night at Home is a variation of this Home-School Communication system. Chapter 5 in the book Visual Strategies for Improving Communication shares lots of details about Home School Communication and shows a lot more examples of various levels and designs.
We bundled the book Visual Strategies for Improving Communication with the Visual Strategies Workshop DVD program. This combo includes all the essentials to have a strong visual system for your students.
We're calling it the Beginner Bundle.