A Valuable Parent Engagement Strategy for Schools Using Six Words

7th period.

Elizabeth Kennedy, a seventh grade teacher at Riverwatch Middle School in Suwanee, GA, first introduced Six-Word Memoirs as an activity for her Academic Enrichment class. The course focuses on honing each student’s critical thinking skills through investigative research and writing. Elizabeth believes that these skills are best nurtured by exploring and calling upon one’s own experiences. Elizabeth also liked the potential Six-Words produced for answering the question of how to increase parent involvement in schools and as a tool and strategy for encouraging parental involvement in learning.

“The Six-Word Memoir is the perfect instrument for students to exercise their self-awareness in meaningful ways,” says Elizabeth. “Having this type of personal success on the first assignment of the school year sets the tone of the year on a positive and productive path.” She also noted, in her experience, that if students start on a positive note, parent engagement in schools also increases.

(R) 1st period.                                              (L) 6th period.

When Elizabeth’s students first heard the two words, “writing assignment,” many expressed looks of concern, others displayed hints of disdain, with a few giving cheers of glee articulating a love of writing. To cater to each of these reactions, she told her class not to worry: this particular assignment called for only six words.Elizabeth enjoys the yearly writing assignment as it brings both her and the students joy to see how each person interpreted the assignment. 

After the students’ Six-Word Memoirs were written, they were compiled into a short video, built specifically as a parent engagement strategy. Every year, the very first audience for the video is the students’ parents, when they attend Curriculum Night. Even as her students were writing, the parent engagement idea was in the back of Elizabeth’s mind. She even warned her students: “I plan to see your parents cry.”

And her parent engagement program idea did not let her down. Before the premiere, Riverwatch’s principal popped into the classroom to see the rough draft and now, subsequently, wants all the teaching staff to do a Six-Word Memoir project as a family engagement strategy for teachers.

(R) 4th period.                                        (L) 5th period.

Some of the memoirs in the video were touching (“In the darkness, find the light” – Wes); others discuss busy culture (“Sports, school, friends, on my hands” – Jalyn). Students wrote about optimism and wanderlust (“Traveling the world is my getaway” – Abby J.) and some reflected on the way we recycle our days (Some days repeating, but I change.” – Justin L.). Each six-word offering is a longer personal story waiting to be told.

Two students went above and beyond the assignment: one student creating multiple additional memoirs - both funny and touching - and another delivering multiple new memoirs to Elizabeth after her fall break.

“Initially, assigning Six-Word Memoirs was to reinforce the steps of the writing process with my class,” says Elizabeth. But as the assignment evolved over time, she says, the benefits of parental involvement became crucial and Six-Words came to mean something more. “Six Words in my classroom is the type of lesson that makes everything invaluable to me as an educator,” says Elizabeth. “It’s special.”

Riverwatch Middle School -  Ms. Kennedy's Classes: Six Word Memoirs 2019-20