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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Dana McDermott
School for New Learning
DePaul University

Course Description

Note: This syllabus may be slightly altered the first week pending student input.

This course provides an opportunity for students to reflect on and answer some of the following question: Why do parents and teachers both feel frustrated and powerless to meet the needs of today's students? In this class we will consider the power inequities inherent in schools today. With fewer and fewer people who vote having school-age children, parents and teachers feel they have little voice in how national and local resources are allocated to education. We will focus not only on present problems in schools, but on reviewing innovative initiatives and models around the country that give a louder voice to teachers and parents on behalf of children. While many people blame children's problems on parents and/or teachers, few look at the system/society in which they function—teachers telling parents how to be involved in school without considering their backgrounds, culture, etcetera and school administrators telling teachers what to do and the government telling administrators what to do. This course will give students an opportunity to think about current school problems within a power framework and then design constructive ways to empower parents and teachers to be more effective in creating “schools our children deserve.”

Biographical Sketch

Dana McDermott, Ph.D., CFLE, is an assistant professor at the School for New Learning. She received her B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. from Loyola University of Chicago in Human Development and Social Psychology. She is also a nationally certified family life educator. She has worked for over two decades in the Chicago area, nationally, and internationally in the area of parent and family development. In Chicago she has been involved in minority parent leadership and in implementing parent education programs for children in schools from K–12 and for their parents. She serves on two national boards: the Parenting Project, dedicated to preparing tomorrow's parents today, and the National Parenting Education Network, dedicated to supporting parenting educators in their work. She consults with schools and parent groups in the areas of teaching caring, social and emotional development of children, and violence prevention. She is also a member of the National and Illinois Councils on Family Relations, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Character Education Partnership.

Students must have registered for one or two of the following competencies:

H2A – Can understand a social problem and can analyze the effectiveness of social institutions in addressing it.
H3G – Can analyze the impact of social institutions on individual human development.
H4 – Can analyze power relations among racial, social, cultural, or economic groups in the United States.
FX – Student designs on own. Can choose a description of competency above not registered for if applicable to student's focus area.

The Learning Experience

We will develop the competencies in this course through many methods including reading, discussion, reflection, collaborative learning exercises, role-playing, interviewing, storytelling, journal writing, case studies, and small group projects.

Learning by doing – Students will participate in a questionnaire and exercises to clarify their own beliefs and ideas regarding home school relations and parent-child-teacher relations.
Learning through reading/reflection/discussion – We will read a controversial book that challenges some of the traditional views on how schools and home function in terms of supporting student success and parent or teacher development. We will also read several interesting materials in brief articles, the instructor's book draft, and online resources.
Learning through writing – Therapists tell us today that journaling is one of the best and safest medicines of choice for improved physical and mental health. Putting your hopes, fears, plans, ideas, and/or questions down daily can be a huge source of help in the learning and growing. This journal is for your private use. You are not required to share it with the instructor or anyone in the course. It can be one way to prepare for completing your chosen competencies. There will be other writing opportunities as well.

Reading Materials

McDermott, D. (forthcoming in 2005). Nurturing caring relationships in home, school and community. Chapters available on Blackboard. (McDermott in syllabus) [Note to FINE users, please contact Dana McDermott directly at if you have any questions about her forthcoming book.]

DeCarvalho, M. (2001). Rethinking family-school relations: A critique of parent involvement in schooling. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. (Some chapters required, which are available on e-reserve.)

Class assignments, the syllabus, supplementary reading materials, and great external links are available on Blackboard and on e-reserve in the library.

Course Requirements for Each Competency

You will decide by the 2nd week how you plan to most effectively use this class to fulfill competencies and meet your own interests. Homework will not be accepted if it is more than 2 weeks late.

I. Participation in Learning (20%)
Every student is expected to attend every class (barring some serious reason for missing) and come on time, participate in large and small group activities including answering a cultural-context questionnaire and doing a parent-teacher-role exercise and parents-as-adult-learners exercise. Missing class obviously affects participation as does not entering into the Blackboard discussion at least three times over the 10-week quarter. On the Blackboard discussion group, students will have a chance to discuss the websites I have placed on external links which are addressing some of the problems raised in class. As a future teacher it is great to know that though the problems we read about are great, fellow parents and teachers are working on solutions. Please identify a class partner who will share materials and assignments if you cannot come to class and exchange contact information. Assignments will also be on Blackboard.

II. Reflective Analyses (30%)
In addition to your own experience of parent-school relations, which will be our starting point for learning, we will also have readings to help us better understand the subject of how we do and should relate to the institutions of home and school in an equitable and empowering way. I will provide reading assignments for each class. They will include readings and the McDermott book chapters. I ask you to think about all of them, but choose one to reflect on more critically each week identified as appropriate for each of the competencies for which you are registered. Please submit one response/competency in written form per session from sessions 2–9. On the syllabus timetable below you will see questions for each reading. Attached to this syllabus is a rubric for assessing your work

III. Project for Each Competency (25%)
Towards the end of the quarter you can review your weekly reading assignments, reflections, insights, and input from class discussions relevant to each competency and prepare a final paper demonstrating your achievement of the competency (3–4 pages in length). See FAL handbook for a description of the competencies. Half of this paper will be a summary of your understanding of issues relevant to the competency and the other half will include recommendations for taking action and making changes which you will have learned via the websites on external links and elsewhere. By week 5 I ask you to share a draft or outline of your thoughts/investigation/notes to that point. Failure to do so will result in a drop in grade for your final paper. Also, depending on what you decide for your competencies you need to include three references from readings to support your conclusions and a reference to at least two pertinent organizations working to affect change. You will turn in your final draft no later than week 11. Here are some examples of writing for each competency:

H2A – You will focus on how a societal problem, like unequal success for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, is addressed by a social institution. First, you will define what a social institution is in terms of what we are studying in this class. Thus you might answer the question, How is the social institution of home or school effective or not effective in solving the problem of unequal learning opportunities and success for poor and working class students?

H3G – Here students can decide to focus on school or home and find pertinent information from readings in the course or websites to better understand how these institutions do or do not enhance either the social, emotional, intellectual, or personal development of either students, parents, or teachers.

H4 – Here students focus on the readings and their own investigations and ideas that describe the unequal power relations between at least two groups in the U.S., e.g. racial, social, cultural, or economic groups as it relates to schools. Students can also discuss the historical dynamics involved. You can then answer the question, How do parents, students, and/or teachers gain voice in this society today within schools? or How have certain students, parents, or teachers been systematically denied economic, social, or political power in the school culture?

FX – Students can design their own competency related to their focus area or choose one from the three above in which they have not registered.

IV. Application (25%)
On the Family Involvement Network of Educators (FINE) website there are case studies describing classic issues faced by teachers and parents in schools today. I will give you a brief description of their focuses on night one. You will choose one and then lead the discussion on the case study and give your own view on the best way to handle the situation. We will present at least one of these each week and the rest that do not fit weekly topics on the 10th week. All of you will have read the assigned weekly case study but only one student has to give classmates a handout of answers to your chosen case study.

Criteria for Assessment

Students and the instructor will complete the SNL assessment form on themselves and their learning over the course. As you can see from the course requirements, you will be assessed on participation, reflection, writing on your competency(ies), and application of new learning. In addition to the competencies you will hopefully show that your questions and comments in class as well as your writing demonstrate engagement in the learning process for this course content. This will manifest itself in the following ways:

  • Through your class comments and questions you demonstrate that you read and understood the materials or if you did not understand them sought further clarification in class.
  • Through your questions and comments in large and small group discussions you not only demonstrated your interest in learning but your willingness to help classmates learn and understand more as well.
  • Through your written work you demonstrate an understanding of the materials and issues. This also involves how carefully and effectively you can write about what you read, discussed, and reflected on.

If you take the course on a pass/fail basis you must inform the instructor in writing before the 3rd class. If you choose the pass/fail option you cannot change back to the letter grade option. Please recall that if for some reason you must ask for an incomplete in this course you must get the instructor's approval. Please refer to the attached form on plagiarism and incompletes.

Class Calendar

(For each session I will highlight which readings relate the most to which competency. Students can then use those assignments in their final competency papers).

Session 1 – Welcome and Planning for the Course

  • Introductions – Teacher background, students' names, backgrounds, and why taking course
  • Agenda, syllabus, attachment on incompletes and plagiarism, purpose of course, expectations and guided worksheets to make certain expectations are clear
  • Definitions – Institutions, parent involvement, equity, power, adult learning and development
  • Exercise/activities

Homework Assignments for Session 2
Read McDermott introduction and chapter 1 (Try to think about all questions but turn in an answer to one question from each chapter relating to your chosen competencies. If registered for one competency answer one question per chapter to turn in and if registered for two competencies answer two per chapter. You will not always have chapters every week of class.)

Read case study: Mayer, E. (2001). What's going on with Tomasito? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From the McDermott introduction think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. Describe your experience of parent involvement when you were a student. How did it affect your family? What would you like to see remain the same? What might you like to see change? H3G, H2A
  2. As a professional what are your hopes and fears regarding your relationships with parents? H3G
  3. Interview a veteran teacher and new teacher in a school and ask them how they would like to see parents involved in their schools. FX, H2A
  4. How do you respond to the suggestion that schools as they are designed now advantage middle class families more than others? H4

From McDermott chapter 1 think about all but answer one question/competency :

  1. When you were in school what theory of parenting do you think professionals held? How did they view ideal parent-child relationships? Think about this also in terms of power in parent-child relationships. H4
  2. What theory(ies) of parenting make(s) the most sense for you in your current or future work with parents? FX
  3. What resources (e.g., see Belsky) do you draw upon to be sensitive to a student's developing abilities and communications within your institution (home, agency, or school)? Did you learn these skills in school? H3G
  4. Ask a parent you know how they have adapted to their changing roles and times as parents. Did they have any support in doing this? How do they deal with the new emphasis on families as democracies? H2A

Session 2 – The Parent Role: An Historical Perspective

  • Update, agenda overview
  • Discussion of McDermott Introduction and chapter 1 readings and homework questions/reflections
  • Class exercises/activities

Homework Assignments for Session 3
Read McDermott chapter 2

Read case study: Santos, M. G. (2001). Friction at Madison Family Literacy Program. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

Read Hoover-Dempsey article – Blackboard

Read Caspe, M. (2003). Family literacy: A review of programs and critical perspectives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From chapter 2 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. Describe some of the thinking styles of parents as they are related to power. H4
  2. Examine the chart in the chapter and identify 10 characteristics that will make you a good teacher—one who helps children grow and develop. FX
  3. What do parents need from society to be able to do their job with confidence and competence? H2A
  4. Show the chart to a parent you know. Ask them which characteristics are or were most important in their parenting for healthy child development. For which would they have liked more information/support? H3G
  5. Can you relate what Hoover-Dempsey reports to the McDermott chapter and your own understanding of parent-school relations to this point? Any competency

Session Three – The Adults in Children's Lives Have Different Experiences, Resources, and Needs

  • Update, agenda overview
  • Review of chapter 2 from McDermott and Hoover-Dempsey
  • Discussion of homework reflection questions and case study
  • Exercises/activities

Homework Assignments for Session 4
Read McDermott chapter 3 and deCarvahlo chapter 1 (e-reserve)

Read case study: Caspe, M. (2002). Bilingual voices and parent classroom choices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From McDermott chapter 3 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. Take a look at the list of ways to facilitate adult learning. Can you identify which you have been able to use in your own current adult educational experience and how that has impacted your learning? H3G
  2. Complete the exercise on parent and teacher roles in the appendix for chapter 1 and give it to another school parent or teacher you know. What did you learn? FX, H4
  3. Think about sharing some of the parent involvement workshop with a small group of parents, teachers, or school administrators. What did or might you learn? H2A

From deCarvahlo chapter 1 think about all but answer one/competency:

  1. What does the author say are the current problems related to how schools involve parents? Describe these problems as she sees them. Do you see them as problems? Do you think most schools do? H2A
  2. How does the author use history to demonstrate the current inequities in home-school relations? How do certain groups suffer more than others? What are the three issues underlying these problems? H4
  3. How does the author think students, parents, or teachers suffer personally from current school policies? H3G
  4. If you had to summarize the author's thesis to a fellow teacher or future teacher what would you say? FX

Session 4 – The Adults in Children's Lives Are Still Growing and Learning

  • Update, agenda overview
  • Discuss reflection questions from McDermott chapter 3 and deCarvahlo 1 and case study
  • Class activities

Homework Assignments for Session 5
Read McDermott chapter 4

Read Cross and Heath handouts

Read case studies:
Sensiper, S. (1999). Suspension at Aurora Middle School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
Moss, M. K. (2002). Culture clash at Intermediate School #91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From McDermott chapter 4 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. In looking at the questions in chapter 4 what are some specifically related to power? H4
  2. What are some questions that if answered would help teachers understand why parents do not attend PTA meetings? FX
  3. In looking at the questions posed cite how you would like parents to answer some so as to demonstrate beliefs consistent with current theories of children's development? H3G
  4. What information in this chapter brings to mind school problems you have encountered? H2A
  5. What in Cross and Heath do you want to take away with you as important to how you deal with culturally diverse parents? Any competency

Session 5 – Seeing Parent-School Relations Through a Lens of Power and Culture and Thinking About Your Own Values and Beliefs Before Working With Parents

  • Update, agenda overview, bring in outline of competency projects
  • Discuss reflections on assigned readings McDermott chapter 4, Cross and Heath
  • Answer questions in beliefs questionnaire in assignments section
  • Case studies

Homework Assignments for Session 6
Read McDermott chapter 5, McDermott 1997 (handout)

Read case study: Caspe, H., & Kreider, H. (2002). Defining "fine": Communicating academic progress to parents. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From chapter 5 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. How could a teacher use this model to establish a classroom discipline policy? H4
  2. How could a teacher use this model in planning to meet parents to discuss a child's bad report card? Or how could a teacher use it to discuss a student's falling grades in the middle of the grading period? H3G
  3. How might a teacher use this model when senior citizens in the neighborhood complain that children are swearing loudly on the way to school and leaving cans and empty chip bags on their property? H2A
  4. What aspects of this model support best practices in adult learning? FX

Session 6 – A Caring Model for Parent, Teacher, and Student Planning

  • Update, agenda overview
  • Discussions of chapter 5, McDermott article, and case study

Homework Assignment for Session 7
Read McDermott chapters 6 and 7

Read the case study: Sensiper, S., & Caspe, M. (2002). Setting standards at Porter Road School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

Read Hurtig, J. (2004). Parents write their worlds: A parent involvement program bridging urban schools and families. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From McDermott chapter 6 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. What basic assumptions about learning form the foundation of this model? H3G
  2. Ask two parents today what kind of relationship they would like to have with teachers. Ask two teachers what kind of a relationship they would like to have with parents. Does your data support, challenge, or add to what has been presented in this chapter? H2A, H4
  3. If you were a teacher of teens and read the focus group of parents of teens how would that inform your practice? Can you think of a meeting you might want to have with these parents? What topic would be most important for you to discuss with them that would have direct impact on your work with the students? H2A
  4. Having just taken a workshop on feminist teaching you really want your school parents to be equal to you in a partnership you are planning with them to address the topic of bullies. You are teaching in a school that has primarily professional parents, many of whom are new to this country. Having read this chapter what might you need to consider in planning this project? FX, H4

From McDermott chapter 7 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. What goals of the teachers in their reflection groups are similar to what you'd like to see parents doing to be grow in their roles? H3G
  2. Make a case to your principal for why she should make time for teachers to reflect on their teaching. FX
  3. How does the PEI solve societal problems in families and schools? H2A
  4. Why are some teachers and students afraid of parents talking to each other too much? H4
  5. How does Hurtig help you visualize an ideal parent-teacher relationship? Any competency

Session 7 – Individual Development for Parents, Teachers, and Students—What Stands in the Way?

  • Update and agenda overview
  • Discussion of McDermott chapters 6 and 7, case study, Hurtig
  • Class activities

Homework Assignment for Session 8
Read deCarvahlo chapter 4 (e-reserve)

Read Kohn notes (Blackboard) and other select handouts from instructor

Read Lareau (Blackboard)

Read case study: McCarthy, B. S. (2004). “Daddy says this new math is crazy”. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From deCarvahlo chapter 4 think about all but answer one question/competency:

  1. Discuss the author's idea that grading homework is really grading family status, which often is very unequal in terms of resources. H4
  2. How does homework impact the personal development of students or parents? H3G
  3. Discuss the meaning to parents, teachers, and yourself of statements like “homework is the natural way to relate to parents” and “parents and teachers are natural enemies.” How can schools solve some of the current problems embedded in these kinds of statements? H2A
  4. As a teacher or future teacher how do you or will you use homework? Where do you stand in terms of the author's somewhat harsh assessment of homework? FX
  5. What critical arguments of Kohn's do you support? Any competency
  6. Critique Lareau's hypothesis as it might relate to homework. H4

Session 8 – Looking at Homework From Diverse Perspectives

  • Update and agenda overview
  • Discussion of deCarvahlo chapter 4, Lareau and Kohn
  • Class activities

Homework Assignment for Session 9
Read McDermott chapter 9, Comer (External Links)

Read case study: Balle, K. (1999). Erik Greer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

From Chapter 9 think about all but answer one question/chapter:

  1. How can parenting classes for children and youth counteract some of the power discrepancies between students doing well academically and students placed at risk? H4
  2. How might parenting education classes for children and youth make their future children more likely to succeed in school? H3G
  3. How can parenting education in schools solve societal problems? H2A
  4. Do you think all future teachers or just parent educators should (a) understand the benefits of parenting education for students and/or (b) learn methods of teaching parenting education to students in schools? FX

Session 9 – Some Concrete Solutions to Home-School Relations Now and in Future Generations

  • Update and agenda overview
  • Discuss McDermott chapters 9
  • Class activities

Homework Assignment for Session 10
Work on competency papers and finding two website examples (see External Links) of organizations solving problems raised in course. Prepare to discuss what you learned by reviewing all your work.

Read McDermott chapter 10 notes if finished – instructor will provide

Read case studies:
Vaughan, P. (2003). Can we talk about family? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
Vaughan, P. (2002). A special education plan for Anabela: Does supporting her needs mean holding her back? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. 

Session 10 – Applying New Learning

  • Update, agenda, and overview
  • Discussion and presentation of case studies, chapter 10 and review of all readings
  • Final conclusions – some thoughts on lessons learned regarding competencies and concrete solutions

Last day to turn in materials. (Depending on work accomplished we may meet for class presentations, if we did not finish on the 10th week. Competency papers can be sent by email up until the 11th week.)

Free. Available online only.

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