Family Message Journals: A Tool for Writing Instruction Combined With Parental Involvement

Sandi Michele McCann, Walden University

This journey is dedicated to those who love and support me the most. All of you, in your own way, helped make my dream come true. Ryan, I’ll never view eggs in the same way again. I share this honor with you just as I give you my heart. You deserve this degree and the title that accompanies it as much as I do. I owe you for your countless hours (literally) of holding down the fort singlehandedly while I “Waldened” away my days and nights. This entire experience would not be possible without your dedication, support, and unending love. You will never know how much it means to me that you believed in my dream just as much as I did. It was only with your loving encouragement (and eggs) that I was able to hang in there. I love you so much. You ARE my heart and soul and I cannot imagine why I am so blessed to be your wife, but I thank God every day that I am. Colton, this new degree will pad my retirement so maybe I won’t have to move in with you, your wife, and your children in my old age! Collin, you can play your video games in the study as loud as you want to now! Chason, thank you for your genuine and sincere interest in what I was doing, and understanding why I was doing it. Thank you for being proud of me. Morgan, no more watching Annalise while I work on my papers! Thank you so much for all your help. Chandler, next time you ask, “Mommy, do you have work to do?” I am going to say, “No! None!” And Chandler, I will always remember my “breakfast at computer.” Annalise, remind me when you are older to tell you the story of changing your diaper on the floor of our study while I was in the middle of a teleconference! vii I love all of you so much and am grateful for your understanding these last three years. I never wanted to sacrifice any time with any of you, but dreams take hard work and time that must come from somewhere. Someday, when you grow up with dreams of your own, I pray that you will remember this time and understand the effort and dedication that makes dreams come true. I pray that maybe I can be an inspiration to your own dreams. I look forward to watching your dreams come true, too! Mama, thank you for your encouragement. You are my inspiration for strength, tenacity, spirituality, humor, and grace. I thank God I was blessed with such a role model for life. When people tell me I am just like my Mama, inside and out, I cannot think of a more beautiful compliment. Maida, thank you for making the beginning of this journey so much easier for me. You not only opened your home to our entire family, you allowed me to turn your dining room into my office. I love you! Deron, I will never, never be able to take on the ice cream machine. You, on the other hand, are one of smartest people I know. I am so proud of you and the man, the husband, daddy, and businessman that you have become. I am so blessed you are my brother and I love you more than you will ever know. Charity, my sister, thank you for your loving support.

I am grateful for this opportunity to thank several individuals who have contributed to the completion of this doctoral study. First and foremost, thank you to Dr. Casey Reason for agreeing to be my doctoral study chair. Your honesty and sense of humor were a breath of fresh air. Thank you to Dr. Paul Nelson, for your support and genuine encouragement. Thank you also for your thoughtful suggestions as you introduced me to new and very important sources. I especially appreciate your innovative ideas such as using first person in my narrative and using a reflective journal. Martha King, dissertation editing goddess, you are my new best friend. Thanks to the tireless support of my peer editor, Merryl Polak. Through this process I met “the best friend I have never met!” Without you, Merryl, I would never have gotten over the horrendous roadblocks that turned up at each turn. Thank you to my superintendent Dr. Susan Andrews and my principal Mr. Jeff Branham for allowing me to conduct this study and supporting my efforts. I would like to thank my third grade class of 2007–2008 and their parents for being my participants and for helping me through such an important journey. You have helped ensure that your children will value writing and value the power of their voices. I offer a special thank you to my colleague and treasured friend, Linda Brown. If it were not for you, my dream would not have come to fruition. I would not have had the courage to take on such a challenge without a friend who is more courageous. Finally, thank you to my beloved team of third grade colleagues – Susan, Tricia, Joy, Erin, and Melinda. I felt your prayers were always with me.


Mandates on reading and math achievement in elementary education in rural Georgia have led to a decline in writing proficiency as the subject becomes increasingly neglected. At the same time, schools strive to increase parental involvement programs. Consequently, there is a need for more research on the impact of parental involvement on student writing proficiency. Accordingly, this qualitative case study examined the impact of Family Message Journals (FMJ) and parent participation on teaching writing across the curriculum. Participants included 6 third-graders and their parents. Students wrote in journals 4 days per week across the 4 months of the study, and parents provided parallel responses each night. Student entries were examined and coded by academic subject and the 4 domains of the Georgia Writing Assessment Rubric to document students’ growth in specific writing skills; parental responses were coded according to the type of response. Inductive analysis was used to analyze and interpret structured interview data to document emergent themes and search for patterns of meaning. All FMJ data were triangulated in a data source matrix with interviews of parents and students to explore linkages across sources. Findings revealed that (a) using FMJ increased students’ writing ability, (b) teaching writing across the curriculum provided time for writing instruction, (c) comprehension was enhanced in subject content areas, and (d) parents felt more informed and appreciated. This study will prove beneficial for educators desiring to include writing without compromising time in currently mandated content areas, and also for parents who want to be informed, involved, and empowered. Teachers using FMJ can initiate social change by preparing more proficient students with a positive attitude for writing. Ideally, these attributes will build and follow these students into the workforce.