The role of families in students' literacy development is crucial, and family involvement provides important support for both teachers and students. In Part 1 of this lesson, we will discuss some of the ways in which your campus-based leadership team can empower families and students to participate in literacy development.
The involvement of parents and other primary caregivers is central to academic achievement, and schools that empower parents to take on meaningful roles in their children’s learning not only have increased student achievement, school attendance, and graduation rates (August & Hakuta, 1997; Henderson & Berla, 1994), but also have students who are more engaged and motivated to learn (Lopez, 2001).
As children’s first teachers, parents and other primary caregivers are a strong influence on children’s language development and socialization into literacy. Although home literacy practices may look different from school literacy practices, with thoughtful planning and collaboration, the two can be mutually supportive. As leaders and teachers, it is important to be familiar with the language(s) and literacy practices that comprise your students’ home and community lives and to build on those practices when partnering with parents on literacy development (King, Artiles, & Kozleski, 2009). Your campus will need to consistently put forth the message that all parents or other primary caregivers can participate in their children’s literacy development. Several Implementation Indicators for Action Step E6 provide guidance in successfully supporting this message and creating active collaboration with families.
First, the home/school communication system of your campus should be accessible to all families, regardless of parents’ first language, educational background, literacy level, and socioeconomic status. As articulated in the Implementation Indicators, your team needs to inform staff of the expectations and resources for communicating with parents and families, including the use of translators for languages other than English. Written communication between home and school should be available in students’ home languages. Also, when planning family outreach events, staff should consider language differences and allocate available campus resources accordingly. Finally, print communication should include nonlinguistic elements (e.g., pictures, graphs, and other visuals that represent information) whenever possible to afford greater access to the information.
Second, your campus-based leadership team will need to identify strengths and needs for growth among the instructional staff, and then plan and engage in professional development that supports the staff’s capacity to empower families and students to participate in literacy development. Parent involvement in schools has traditionally dropped as students get older, with rates of involvement much lower at middle and high school than in elementary schools. You and your campus-based leadership team will need to discuss how to address and overcome the challenges of engaging the parents of secondary students. Professional development to support parent engagement might include training on meaningful home connections to schoolwork and assignments, and effective ways to communicate with families of teenagers. In addition, you will need to consider how to minimize any obstacles for collaborating with the families of students who are culturally and linguistically diverse. These barriers may include home/school language differences, parents’ unfamiliarity with the U.S. school systems, or staff’s unfamiliarity with cultural differences.
Finally, school-based literacy instruction and assignments need to incorporate home/community connections whenever possible. Effective literacy instruction in schools builds on students’ prior knowledge, experiences, and home literacy practices. Also, teachers’ partnerships with parents should include communication about the value of developing language and literacy in the student’s home language, as well as support in identifying resources for literacy and language development in the home, including home languages other than English. In the sections below, you will learn about more specific strategies and resources that your campus may want to make available to parents and families.
Areas in which home literacy practices can support classroom instruction
Students’ home literacy practices can support all of the basic literacy skills that are part of school-based instruction. Parents of secondary students can maintain a text-rich environment at home and engage students frequently in conversations about reading. Having books, magazines, and newspapers accessible in the home conveys the message that literacy is important, and parents can model good literacy behavior by reading. Parents of adolescents can also give their children books and other written materials on topics that interest them.
Vocabulary and comprehension are fundamental literacy skills, and there are several ways that home literacy practices can support their development, whether in English or the child’s home language. Also, these skills can be developed through activities around print and oral activities such as storytelling. You might provide parents with resources like this one, which explains several strategies for promoting literacy development at home. This example document is also available in Spanish. The activities listed can be used with students of all ages. When sharing the resource with families, it will be useful to demonstrate some examples of how to apply them with materials and topics that are likely to be engaging to teenagers.
One way schools can foster greater parent participation is by designing homework activities that require students to work together with a family partner. For example, teachers might assign literacy homework that requires students to interview family members as part of research for a writing project, or they might assign students to practice an oral presentation at home. When creating assignments involving family participation, teachers should consider alternate partnering opportunities for students without available family members (e.g., arranging for staff volunteers, encouraging students to work with mentors or older friends).
It takes a strong campus plan to effectively communicate strategies and disseminate appropriate resources to parents. Schools should ensure that parents receive information on the academic standards relevant to their child and on testing and graduation requirements. Parents can be involved in setting individualized literacy goals for students and in monitoring student progress toward these goals. Although teachers and specialists are key in empowering parents to participate in literacy development, other campus personnel, such as community liaisons and various support staff, should be kept informed about what strategies and resources are available for parents. Collaboration among all staff ensures that your campus will capitalize on all the possible avenues of disseminating effective strategies and resources to families.
Empowering secondary learners in their own literacy development
Your campus-based leadership team will want to consider ways to actively involve students in their literacy development process. Students can be involved in setting and tracking goals for literacy growth. Tier II and Tier III teachers, especially, can develop classroom routines that help students understand their individual learning needs and monitor their progress toward established goals. Progress monitoring assessment cycles provide regular opportunities for students to reflect on their challenges and successes and take an active role in their learning. Additionally, carefully structured homework activities, such as those discussed in “Areas in which home literacy practices can support classroom instruction” (above), can empower students to engage their families with their academic learning at home.
When your campus focuses on empowering parents and students to participate in literacy development, remember these key ideas: (1) support literacy development at home through a communication and collaboration system that is inclusive of, and accessible to, all families; (2) provide professional development to staff that supports the message of your campus about the value of family involvement and home language in literacy development; and (3) collaborate with campus staff who have different areas of expertise to identify, organize, and disseminate resources to families. As an important part of your response to intervention (RTI) framework, the efforts of your campus to empower and collaborate with parents should be integrated into your school-wide efforts and reflected in your data-informed plan for improving literacy instruction.
TO LEARN MORE: The resources below can help you learn more about building family-school partnerships within your RTI framework and effectively providing resources to families for literacy development.
“Building Collaborations Between Schools and Parents of English Language Learners: Transcending Barriers, Creating Opportunities” is a practitioner brief published on the National Center for Culturally Responsive Education Systems website. It provides concrete strategies for building a home/school partnership within linguistically and culturally diverse communities.
The Center for Public Education website contains a page devoted to research and resources on the topic of parent involvement and academic achievement. One notable resource is the TIPS homework example, which illustrates how interactive homework assignments can support an academic partnership between parents and classroom teachers to increase students’ success.