Parents as Tutors reduces family tension

iStock_000021514404SmallParents report having a better working relationship with their children and an improved understanding of their children’s stresses and frustrations in becoming better readers as a result of participating in the Parents as Tutors program, according to a recent article in the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.

“It made me realize how stressful the situation had become for my child,” one parent wrote “I was able to better recognize some of the protective behaviors my child had developed i.e., not wanting to go to school on Mondays (spelling test day); and not letting anyone see his writing; not taking an interest in writing.”

“Beverly Axford of the University of Canberra reports on the results of a survey of parents who participated in the Australian program in 2004. The program is demanding for both students and parents as the course runs for 18 weeks, she notes. The adults must attend 28 hours of class time –16 hours of seminars and 12 hours of tutorials. “Tutorials are held during school hours, so parents must collect their child from school, attend the university for the tutorial, and return the child to school,” Axford writes.

“The program draws on the Scaffolding Literacy teaching method developed under a project funded by the Australian Department of Education, Science and Training, which was aimed at improving literacy for indigenous students. Three times as many boys as girls are referred to the program. Some 88 families participated in the program in 2004, with 51 responding to a survey.

“Under the Scaffolding Literacy technique, the researcher writes, parent-child teams work on scaffolded reading, detailed language work including spelling and then scaffolded writing. An important first step is selection of an age-appropriate text with literate writing similar to a text that would be read by the child’s peers. The parent takes the lead in providing an orientation to the text and reading the text aloud to prepare the child for successful and fluent reading. The adult also draws the child’s attention to the language choices by the author.

“These strategies provide the children with a great deal of knowledge about the text before they are asked to read,” Axford notes.

“Writing leads the student back into further reading. The child’s own attempts to write promotes a more sophisticated comprehension of the structure of the text. The Parents as Tutors program also devotes a good deal of time to looking at the author’s intentionality, Axford says.

Increased awareness of child’s struggles

“As well as giving parents instructional tools and skills, Parents as Tutors also increases parents’ awareness of their children’s emotional and psychological struggles. Parents are educated about the “fight or flight” response and on the mental overload of trying to read. Children who are struggling readers may reject the task as boring or avoid the task and feel the need to save face. Parents also may not understand the mental overload from the sheer complexity of the reading task.

“We were not aware about how stressful it was for a child to learn to read and try to work out each word,” writes another parent. “It was very beneficial for us when we were put in a similar situation (through the exercises used in the seminar).”

The program addresses both the adult’s needs for more knowledge about how to support their children and students’ needs for clear, structured, instructional guidance, Axford writes. Some 90% of parents indicated that they and their children were still using the strategies taught in the program. One of the criticisms of such intervention programs is that while they result in significant short-term gains for students, they are not sustained over time, Axford says. Parent survey responses indicated that there were long-term benefits for the families. A high number of parents reported that the strategies taught were practical and useful and helped reduce family tensions around homework, she reports. Some volunteered that they were using the tools with siblings.

“The program, Axford concludes, “has effectively taught the adults strategies that provide new ways for the adult and learner to engage with each other and to work together in more productive and constructive ways.”

“Parents and their children working together: A Scaffolding Literacy case study”, by Beverly Axford, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Volume 30, Number 1, 2007 pp. 21-39.

Published in ERN February 2007 Volume 20 Number 2

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