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Promoting Family Literacy Through Connections, Context, and Curriculum

By Nicole Taylor
 | Jan 24, 2017

shutterstock_221160550_x300In considering ways to build children’s literacy through the home literacy environment and parent engagement, acknowledging that parents will have varying levels of literacy attainment and abilities is important. This acknowledgment is especially true for teachers working in classrooms with children representing diverse family backgrounds. Not assuming the literacy levels and engagement styles of parents is important.

There may be a difference between parents’ and children’s school experiences, where you may have parents with low literacy skills, extensive literacy skills, or limited literacy skills in the English language. Being aware of the possibility of the factors and, at the same time, considering that despite parents’ literacy abilities they may have goals for their children’s literacy beyond what they are able to do or beyond what they were able to experience is important.

Be mindful of having a deficit view of parents’ literacy and engagement. When someone has a deficit view, he or she may assume that something needs to be fixed or is lacking in certain families that represent a particular background. Therein lies the importance of being familial and culturally competent, understanding that there are different ways of knowing, and not automatically assuming that parents lack knowledge and skills that you must impart. Consider positive ways in which parents have already successfully educated their young children through different ways of knowing about the world and then consider ways to bridge these realities to what the child must learn in the classroom.

The three Cs

There are three essential ways to tend to the diverse literacy needs of young children representing diverse backgrounds. First, connect what is expected to be learned to everyday practice. Second, understand the context for the child’s home literacy environment and parent engagement. Third, transform or enhance the curriculum to meet the needs of diverse learners as necessary.

  • Connect: Focus on students identifying literacy practices in the home and community—real literacy concerns in everyday life. Trying to encourage practices that may fit into a family’s routine, especially for those representing cultural and linguistic diversity, is important.
  • Context: Foster understanding between home and school literacy experiences. Understanding wealth of knowledge parents provide to their children is important. Oftentimes, parent programs or engagement activities are created without an understanding of family background information.
  • Curriculum: Literacy learning involves key concepts and processes that include concepts of print, phonemic awareness, and oral vocabulary. Recognize there will be a wide range of experiences. Work to imbed literacy practices of everyday life. One way this can be accomplished is by having students keep a journal of the routines that occur in the home and identify which of the practices may be considered language and literacy processes to build upon (e.g., parent told child a story, parent read a story, parent and child sang a song or recited something).

Recognizing that children benefit from diverse forms of literacy and funds of knowledge beyond the classroom is important. Schools and teachers often determine what counts as important knowledge and interactions as related to literacy. However, as you seek to engage families in children’s literacy learning, considering the dynamics and uses of literacy as it varies by family is beneficial. Your task is to draw more deeply on resources such as family funds of knowledge not only to strengthen your teaching but also benefit children’s literacy learning. Finally, as you go about your practice, consider the following questions:

  • How do families perceive their contribution to their children’s literacy learning in the home?
  • How are you engaging your families in their child’s literacy development?
  • What impact does your teaching have on families’ engagement in their children’s literacy?

Considering these questions may hopefully guide you through the decision-making process for the most effective ways to teach literacy to young children, while promoting authentic connections, relevant contexts, and a dynamic curriculum.

nicole-taylor headshotNicole A. Taylor is an assistant professor in the education department at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.

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