21 September 2015

Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning Book Review


I don't know about you, but I'm one of those parents who has been reading books for every stage of my children's development. It started with The Birth Book and then The Baby Book both by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears, R.N., and then The Successful Child: What Parents Can Do to Help Kids Turn Out Well by the same authors, and then The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and then Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.

From the time my children were born, I relied not only on intuition but also on books and blogs written by other parents. When my sons started school, there were no books to help me understand how to parent school aged children in public schools. I was a teacher and so was my husband. Surely, we had this covered. Not so fast. Parenting school aged children and teaching teens are two different things and when your personal views on education conflict with the current status quo, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated with the school system. Thankfully, we can turn to one another for advice and encouragement, and we can share our ideas via blogs and other social media.

Even more incredible, now we have a new book written by parents available to us. Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning by Bonnie Lathram, Carri Schneider, and Tom Vander Ark, provides tips, resources, and encouragement for parents like you and me who want to be involved in our children's learning. The book isn't only for parents--it's for anyone who wants schools to recognize children as unique individuals with individual learning needs.

The authors snagged my attention as early as the preface when they wrote about schools preparing our children for the future in a world of expanding innovations of the Digital Era. The focus on student-centered learning further pulled me in as I continued reading about how I, as a parent, can be informed, inspirational, intentional and involved in advocating for my children. As an educator, I'm an advocate for student choice in learning, and as a parent I want the same for my children.

Personally, I'd also add empowered because that's how I felt when I read this quote about valuing the uniqueness and unique smarts of each and every child.
"We must expect and require our school systems to figure out how to help each child use his/her smarts to live a happy life and achieve at the highest levels possible (p.46)."
The focus on helping our children learn at high levels and be happy runs throughout the text in both informative and inspiring segments. Various frameworks link out to other resources and stories relevant to topics such as social and emotional learning, deeper learning, and growth mindset.

"In front of our children, how we model our own ability to persevere, set goals, work through challenges and continue to try, despite failure or success, proves critical (p.46)."
Key ideas early in the book include inspirational and informative thoughts about smart parents and smart students. You'll find school spotlights from schools in California to schools in Kentucky and parent perspectives along with links to the parent toolkit, which makes up the entirety of part 2 of the book.

While I'm a huge fan of student choice in learning and intentional personalized learning, my biggest questions arose in chapter two of the book with all the talk about digital personalized learning. Don't get me wrong here, I believe in student-centered learning focused on interests and needs of students, and I think when intentionally and carefully pursued, our students have the best chance possible to succeed in school when offered choices about how they learn. The authors answered my questions about personalized learning not being a "put a student in front of a computer and walk away" approach when they wrote--
"students become actively involved in designing their own process and take responsibility for how they learn. They also have authentic choices about what they learn (p. 72)."
In fact, as described by the authors, an individualized learning plan provides students more than another task to mark off in the computer lab before they graduate from high school. It's actually a learning plan created by the students together with their parents and teachers and includes a vision statement, goals list, specific projects list, and tasks. Personalized learning is not one size fits all. It's blended and includes providing students a chance to learn at their own pace as they achieve competencies in skills and subjects.

We also learn in Smart Parents that students can learn anytime, anywhere. Using ideas from mobile learning apps, maker clubs, blogging, and mobile maker apps, parents can even take their children on the road without worrying about required "seat time." Imagine the opportunities to travel and vacation at times of the year when it's off season and less expensive and not interrupt learning for our sons and daughters!

If you want to feel empowered as a parent to create a demand for change in our schools or if you are an educator wanting to understand how to encourage parents to be involved in powerful ways, read Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning.

***Note: All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone but I'm thankful to Getting Smart for providing me with an e-book version of the book to review***



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