The role of families in children’s 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). In regard to literacy and language development, studies have identified that certain home literacy practices have greater impact on academic achievement than socioeconomic status (Purcell-Gates, 2000).
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 than 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, regardless of parent literacy levels or English language proficiency.
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. Professional development will likely include training on effective ways to communicate with families, including those who are culturally and linguistically diverse, to minimize barriers that may impede successful home/school collaboration. These barriers may include home/school language differences, parents’ unfamiliarity with the U.S. school systems, or school 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. It just takes a strong campus plan to effectively communicate strategies and disseminate appropriate resources to parents.
At the foundation of literacy development is basic print awareness, and parents and families can support early literacy development by drawing attention to all the ways that print is already used in their family’s daily lives (e.g., grocery lists, recipes, messages, texts, informational reading, etc.) and why print is important. They can also explicitly point out how print is organized in the environment (e.g., from left to right, top to bottom, etc.). Consult the To Learn More section for additional resources that can guide parents in supporting print awareness.
More specifically, parents can provide support in many of the basic literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness and fluency. Some strategies include engaging in rhymes with the child, talking about letters and sounds, or having the child read a favorite book repeatedly with the goal of becoming faster each time. Additional strategies for supporting these literacy skills are available in English and several additional languages through the Reading Rockets website. At each tier of instruction, instructional staff should communicate to parents the literacy skills they are focusing on and discuss ways that the skills can be extended through home practice.
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 oral activities such as storytelling and through activities around print. This document titled Nine Tips for Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader is an example of a resource that you might provide to parents to explain several strategies for promoting literacy development at home. The document is also available in Spanish.
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.
The scenario below illustrates how one elementary school teacher implemented a successful plan for connecting classroom and home literacy practices, collaborating with several campus personnel, and supporting families.
Scenario: Mr. Moreno is a second-grade teacher at Barbara Jordan Elementary School, and the majority of the students in his class are English learners (ELs). Upon regular review of student data, Mr. Moreno notices that many of his students are able to read fluently and accurately, but they struggle in comprehending the texts they read, most likely due to the large amount of unfamiliar English vocabulary. To enhance his students’ vocabulary development and comprehension, he decides to implement a daily read-aloud routine focused on evidence-based strategies for ELs’ vocabulary development. As part of his daily routine, Mr. Moreno chooses three to four vocabulary words from the part of the text he reads aloud to the class each day and incorporates specific strategies for English learners to teach and reinforce vocabulary throughout his read-aloud cycle.
Knowing that many of his students engage in oral storytelling traditions at home, Mr. Moreno decides that a simplified read-aloud routine may build on students’ home literacy practices if he asks parents to read aloud to their children and engage in real-life conversations about the stories. He also believes that parents might use story reading as a way to continue their children’s vocabulary development at home, in either English or Spanish. Mr. Moreno simplifies his classroom routine to identify a few major steps for parents to practice when reading to their children. His steps for parents are as follows:
Identify three to four vocabulary words that the child does not know and explain the meanings of the words before reading the book. (For parents who might need help with this step, Mr. Moreno provides preselected books and packages them with appropriate vocabulary cards that include visuals.)
Ask the child to listen for the target words and give the parent a signal when the child hears the words during the reading.
After reading, talk about the story (events, characters, problems) together and encourage the child to use the new vocabulary during the discussion.
Mr. Moreno creates a simple one-page guide that includes his key steps for parents to use when reading to their child. He includes a translation in Spanish on the back side of the document and asks a colleague who is fluent in Spanish to review his translation and make any necessary changes. He sends the guide home with children and also talks with the campus’s community liaison to discuss the possibility of using the guide during family literacy events.
As parent reception to Mr. Moreno’s home read-aloud increases, the community liaison decides to approach some parents about sharing their experiences with using the guide. Mr. Moreno incorporates some of the feedback from parents and students to modify his guide. Finally, he shares the guide with other teachers in his grade, as well as other grade levels, to use as a tool for parents. Eventually, the guide is included in the school newsletter that is periodically sent out to families.
The scenario is only one example of how parents and families can be supported through a strong home/school collaboration that is mutually informed by each other’s literacy practices. This resource describes another evidence-based read-aloud routine for parents (in both English and Spanish).
As part of a successful home/school partnership in literacy development, your campus will need to include a system for empowering students in their own literacy development. Again, parents are essential to this system because they play a key role in providing opportunities at home that help their children become more autonomous readers. Ways that students can become involved in their literacy development include setting and tracking goals for fluency and playing phonics games at home. Many resources found on the website of the Florida Center for Reading Research in the Student Center Activities support independent student practice of the basic literacy skills and are available for download.
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.
“Reading Tips for Parents (in 11 Languages),” published on the Reading Rockets website provides a one-page tip sheet in English and ten other languages for parents to help their children (birth to third grade) become successful readers.
“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.
“Putting Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read—A Parent Guide,” published by the Center on Instruction, provides information for parents on how to help their child become a reader.