To develop more effective family literacy programs, particularly with low-income or undereducated families, educators need to broaden their view of literacy to include a whole host of activities in the home and community, according to two professors at California State University, Fullerton.
At a basic level, literacy is associated with the ability to read and write. But Robert W.Ortiz and Rosario Ordonez-Jasis argue that educators often think of literacy only in the context of school-like interactions when they should usea socio-cultural framework for viewing literacy.
What is literacy
“Literacy can be viewed in a broader sense, that is as the ability to think and reason within a particular society,” they say. The researchers believe that to engage parents in reading and writing activities of their children–which has been linked to academic achievement for students–schools need to recognize and “tap into the wealth of information, skills, and knowledge parents may hold in the area of literacy.”
This is especially important with non-English-speaking parents. When these parents are unable to assist their children with home-work, home-school relations begin to weaken and family dynamics are disrupted. Literacy activities that parents and children could integrate into their home and community life might include reading baseball scores of a favorite team, reading an article about the political turmoil in their homeland and making a grocery list.
Educators should strive to view families from the perspective of strengths rather than deficits. To help involve parents in their children’s learning and establish home-school-relationships based on mutual respect and trust, schools first need to honestly examine their current attitudes toward parent involvement at the district, school and classroom levels. Schools can obtain background information from both parents through parent surveys, individual inter-views, focus groups and home observations to help develop family literacy curricula. They should also use multicultural materials in their programs.
Parents can play important role
Parents who cannot read or write fluently in their primary language or English can still play a critical role. They should be encouraged to engage in dialogue, language play and story-telling with their children or even be invited to class to share their stories. Educators should model how parents can share wordless picture books with their children.
Many parents may not have had positive educational experiences or may be unfamiliar with the U.S. school system and do not involve themselves in their children’s schooling. Educators should attempt a variety of approaches to connect with parents. If possible, materials and invitations to events should be translated. Some parents feel overwhelmed by paperwork from school, and phone calls, scheduled home visits or personal invitations can be positive additions to outreach efforts.
“The potential and promise of active parental involvement in children’s early literacy development requires that educators connect with and expand the wealth of home-based knowledge to school-based practices in order to build a foundation for students’ success,” the article concludes.
“Leyendo juntos (reading together): New directions for Latino parents early literacy involvement” The Reading Teacher Volume 59, Number 2, October 2005 pp. 110-120.
Published in ERN November/December 2005 Volume 18 Number 9