Moving from Communication to Engagement: Unlocking the Potential of Underserved, Diverse Families
Learn how TalkingPoints, an educational technology nonprofit, is using AI as a strategic innovation for family engagement
Editor’s Note: In our challenge paper for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we wrote about the next generation of family engagement. In this article, we look at how the next generation is truly here! TalkingPoints is using advanced technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), to build capacity for families and teachers to have conversations around student learning in multiple languages.
Communication, conversation, and relationships are the underpinnings of strong family-school partnerships. Yet, with over 350 languages spoken in U.S. homes today, creating systemic ways for educators and families to communicate can often be overwhelming. TalkingPoints is an education technology nonprofit with the mission to drive student success—especially in underserved, diverse communities—by using accessible technology to open lines of communication between home and school.
The TalkingPoints multilingual family engagement platform allows teachers and school administrators to communicate directly with English-speaking and non-English-speaking parents through text messages or a mobile app. The program translates messages in over 25 languages, enabling parents and teachers to respond and initiate conversations in their home languages. TalkingPoints is not meant to replace in-person or phone conversations but rather to serve as a catalyst for easier ongoing and frequent dialogue in families’ home languages. To date, TalkingPoints has facilitated more than 10 million conversations impacting over 300,000 students and families, 60 percent of which were in a language other than English.
But how can we help teachers move from communicating information to students’ homes to seeing communication as a way to build meaningful engagement with their families? And how can we support families in becoming equal partners in their children’s education? At TalkingPoints, we see opportunities to build capacity on both sides and bridge knowledge gaps by providing personalized coaching and content to teachers and parents through the TalkingPoints platform.
Using Advanced Technology to Build Capacity for Family and Teacher Engagement
With a new Google AI Impact Challenge grant from Google.org, TalkingPoints is taking the interaction between teachers and families a step further by harnessing advanced technology, such as AI, to encourage more meaningful, ongoing home-school communication. We’re able to provide information to parents and teachers in a timely, relevant, and actionable way based on their profiles, feedback, and conversational data. For example, if there have been no parent-teacher messages within a two-week period, TalkingPoints will send a reminder to the parents to check in with the teacher and provide recommendations on what questions to ask. A parent might receive a simple message like, “It’s been a while since you checked in with Mrs. Jones. Ask how Maria is doing in class. Here is an example of how to word the message: ‘Hi, Mrs. Jones. How is Maria doing in class?’”
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI) exactly?
In the simplest terms, AI is when computer algorithms are used to help analyze data, predict patterns, and solve problems. Some examples of AI you might use in your daily life are voice-enabled assistants, chat bots, and in the future, even self-driving cars.
In the context of family engagement, AI can help parents and teachers communicate with one another based on previous conversational data. AI can also become the focus of family learning. For example, the AI Family Challenge, sponsored by Iridescent, invites families to learn about AI together and solve a problem in their communities using AI tools.
Similarly, the app will also prompt teachers to check in with parents, providing suggested topics and resources. Teachers often ask us about best practices regarding what, when, and how to communicate with parents and what types of messages other teachers are sending home. They want to learn how to better engage with parents aside from sending home general reminders and classroom announcements. Unfortunately, a “blueprint” for parent engagement is still lacking in many schools, and most teacher-preparation programs don’t provide training on how to engage with parents. Teachers are left to figure out this essential practice on their own. Our hope is that TalkingPoints will fill this important gap in a low-cost and convenient way as teachers have access to the tools that allow them to build meaningful partnerships.
As we grow, we hope to expand in a few different directions. We want to know how the TalkingPoints model leads to fostering student engagement needed for success in school. We also want to help take the conversation beyond a basic exchange of information, such as homework reminders or an invitation to a school event. TalkingPoints messages increasingly provide parents with tips on how to interact with their children at home and ways for extending learning time. We include explanations of key school-related terms for families who didn’t attend school in the United States that in the past may have created more distance between parents and teachers.
Measuring Impact: Engage parents at multiple levels
Since TalkingPoints was founded, we’ve worked to measure our impact and continuously improve in response to parent and teacher feedback. Here are some of the things we’ve learned:
- Through parent focus groups, parent surveys—using the app or a text—and online surveys with teachers, we’ve learned that 85 percent of parents who used TalkingPoints reported being more involved in their children’s education.
- In the same study, more than 90 percent of parents said they felt more welcomed by the school community and more informed about what was happening at their children’s school. They had access to information and were able to reach out to teachers in their home language if they had any questions or concerns, which wasn’t possible before.
- An independent evaluation by WestEd showed that 87 percent of parents reported being more involved in their children’s education and having more conversations about school with their children after engaging with teachers through the app. This was especially true for non-English-speaking families, with 100 percent reporting that they were more involved in their children’s education.
- We’ve also learned that although general group announcements are important, individual messages are the most powerful.
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About the Author:
Nancy Lee Bromberger is vice president of district partnerships at TalkingPoints.