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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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Randi B. Wolfe, Ph.D.
College of Education
Northern Illinois University

Course Description

Emphasis is on continuous family-school teamwork efforts. Attention is given to family background and social context. The course will cover effective family involvement programs/models and current research underscoring the dynamic interaction between families and schools on the academic success of pre-K through grade 8 students.

Course Objectives

On completion of the course, students will be able to

  1. Analyze parental impact on children's learning and academic success from pre-K through grade eight
  2. Critique the impact of culture, family structure, and socioeconomic status (SES) on parents' involvement in children's education and children's academic success trajectory
  3. Differentiate between forms of family involvement in schools and children's education
  4. Compare and contrast various approaches to family involvement in children's education
  5. Distinguish among different models of family support programs for school success
  6. Critique family involvement programs in terms of developmental appropriateness, cultural competence and awareness, sensitivity to family structure, and demographics
  7. Demonstrate the necessary skills, understanding, and sensitivity to communicate effectively with parents from different backgrounds and social contexts

Documented disabilities and academic accommodations: If students need accommodations for any sort of physical or learning disability, they should speak with me during the first week of class. All discussions will remain confidential.

Required Reading

de Carvalho, M. E. P. (2001). Rethinking family-school relations: A critique of parental involvement in schooling. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, family, and community partnerships: Preparing educators and improving schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wipfler, P. (1990). Listening to parents: Leading a parent resource group. Palo Alto, CA: Parents Leadership Institute.

Attendance and Grading
100 Total Points  
Class Participation (includes attendance) 10
Chapter Discussion Leader 25
Book Reports 15
Final Project 50
Grading Scale  
93 –100 A
85 – 92 B
77 – 84 C
69 –76 D
less than 68 F


Class Participation (10 pts.)
Students are expected to complete all reading assignments and contribute actively to class discussions. Given the limited duration of the class, students are expected to attend every class.

Chapter Discussion Leader (25 pts.)
Work with a partner to present an assigned reading. Distribute a one-page synopsis summarizing key concepts, implications for practice, questions for discussion, additional resources, etc. Plan a 15–20 minute presentation. You may approach your lesson in any way you and your partner choose—innovative methods are encouraged! Incorporate small-group activities and methods that encourage participation, interaction, and reflection. You don't have to confine yourself to the content of the article—feel free to bring in supplemental resources that augment the reading.

Book Reports (15 pts.)
Write up and present book reports on three children's books that explore some aspect of family life, family composition or structure, diversity, family relationships, culture, disability, lifestyle, etc. Format for write up will be distributed in class.

Final Project (50 pts.)
Students will given 10–12 minutes—including time for questions and discussion—to present the results of one of the following projects. Project theme must be proposed by May 24. Presentation should include a one-page handout that summarizes the findings.

Option 1: Interview 6–8 parents about a topic related to schools and families. Possible topics include (but are not limited to) involving parents in children's education, experiences with school-parent-community partnerships, methods of involving parents in classrooms, the challenge of working with diverse populations, parental attitudes and experiences with homework, parent-teacher conferences, transitioning from preschool to elementary school.

Option 2: Review the research about a particular group or category of parents, in terms of their experiences with schools, values and expectations regarding their children's education, successful models of parent involvement, or other information that would be useful for teachers to have in order to work effectively with families of this group. Possible groups include (but are not limited to) recent immigrants from a particular country (e.g., Mexico, Russia, Viet Nam), parents with limited English proficiency, single parents, fathers, gay and lesbian parents, mothers working outside of the home, African Americans, poor and/or working-class parents, parents in rural communities, foster parents, and parents of children with special needs and/or disabilities.

Weekly Schedule

Week 1: Monday, May 10

  • Introductions
  • Accessing Blackboard and changing personal information
  • Activity: What defines “family”?
  • Exercise: “Family of Origin,” Part 1

Week 2: Monday, May 17

  • Go over syllabus, assignments, sign up for article presentations
  • Exercise: “Family of Origin,” Part 2
  • Video: That's a Family!
  • Lecture: Appreciating the Context of Contemporary Parenting

Week 3: Monday, May 24

  • Exercise: “Family of Origin,” Part 3
  • Lecture: NCLB and Parent Involvement
  • Readings: Epstein 2.1, 2.2, 3.1

Week 4: Monday, June 7

  • Guest Speaker
  • Readings: Epstein 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5

Week 5: Monday, June 14

  • Video: Mothers and Daughters
  • Lecture: Leading Parent Groups
  • Readings: Epstein 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9

Week 6: Monday, June 21

  • Guest Speaker
  • Due: Book Reports
  • Readings: Epstein 5.1 and 6.1 & de Carvalho, Chapters 1–2

Week 7: Monday, June 28

  • Book Report presentations
  • Video: Fathers and Sons
  • Readings: de Carvalho, Chapters 3–4

Week 8: Monday, July 12

  • Final Project presentations

Week 9: Monday, July 19

  • Final Project presentations

NIU Conceptual Framework

This course ascribes to a conceptual framework for all courses offered by the College of Education and other programs at NIU that prepare professional educators. During the semester, you should be aware of what we do in this course that may reflect components of the following statement:

The NIU community of learners builds on knowledge, practice, and reflection to produce exemplary educators. The community encompasses scholars, education professionals, and preservice teachers in an interaction that develops the strengths that embody excellence in education. These strengths include creative and critical thinking, scholarship, and caring. Application of these strengths emerges through the collaborative efforts of a diverse community that supports lifelong learning.

NIU conceptual framework for courses

Free. Available online only.

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project