Action Step and Orientation
E6. Empower families and students to participate in the literacy development process.
In this lesson, you will explore how to empower parents, families, and students to support literacy development.
In Part 1, you will learn how to develop a plan to empower families and students to participate in literacy development.
In Part 2, you will learn how to develop a plan that helps families understand the RTI process.
To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.
Part 1—Empowering Families and Students to Participate in Literacy Development
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.
Part 2—Empowering Families to Understand the RTI Framework
In the Leadership component of the Texas State Literacy Plan (TSLP), Action Step L6 asks schools to facilitate communication between school and community to support literacy. (See Lesson L6—Communication with home & community.) The current Action Step E6 also directs you to create systems for communicating with families.
As you implement RTI at your school, you will need to ensure that your students’ families understand the RTI framework, how it supports all students, and how their individual children may be served within this framework.
Just as RTI implementation is ongoing, your communication with parents should be ongoing, too. Your team may want to plan information sessions for parents early in the year to explain the RTI framework. This initial information should include the key components of RTI: effective instruction for all students at Tier I, universal screening assessments to identify students at risk for academic difficulty, targeted interventions based on data, and progress monitoring to measure students’ response to the intervention and inform the next steps in instructional support.
You can use a variety of multimedia formats to convey a deeper understanding of the RTI process, including digital slide presentations, display boards, videos, and parent booklets and brochures. For example, you can provide general information about RTI by sharing booklets and brochures prepared by research organizations for parents and families, such as those from the Center on Response to Intervention or The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin (in English and Spanish).
The TSLP directs schools to inform families of literacy goals, services, and programs at your campus. Your campus-based leadership team may consider incorporating this information into the context of the RTI framework overview. With an understanding of the RTI framework, parents will expect their children to participate in screening and other assessments. Explaining assessments and results as they occur throughout the year will help parents to see the RTI framework at work and will connect it directly to their children’s instructional progress and needs.
Here is a sample plan that connects to each tier of the RTI framework and shows the ways a school might empower parents and families to participate in the literacy development process of their children. Notice that as instruction and intervention become more intense (Tier I ⇒ Tier II ⇒ Tier III), there’s a greater frequency of communication, as well as joint problem solving among families and educators. According to Burns and Gibbons (2012) “. . . interventions are most successful when parents are involved early and often in the process” (p. 71).
Best practice suggests that parental permission is not necessary to administer screening and progress monitoring assessments or to provide students with small-group Tier II or III intervention instruction (Burns & Gibbons, 2012; Hall, 2011). However, if RTI data indicate that a change in instruction is warranted, you might immediately notify parents or family members and invite them to participate in meetings to problem solve and discuss the student’s data and the school’s available options to help accelerate learning. If the parents are responsive and get involved, this can be an opportunity to begin or further develop the home/school relationship with this student’s family. Consistent collaboration with parents makes it more likely that literacy skills will be reinforced at home (Burns & Gibbons, 2012).
If families and parents are unable to attend meetings to discuss instructional changes in the RTI process, you should contact them immediately after and share all data-based decisions, such as providing a student with small-group intervention or making a change in instructional intensity (e.g., shifting from Tier II to Tier III intervention).
Note: If you’re considering referring a student for a special education evaluation, all established protocols must be followed, such as obtaining parent permission for a comprehensive evaluation (Burns & Gibbons, 2012; Hall, 2011).
The data from screening and progress monitoring assessments should be shared at regularly scheduled parent-teacher conferences. Sharing students’ progress monitoring graphs with families allows you to concretely show student progress, such as where students need to be to reach grade-level targets, what the school is doing to help them, and when they are expected to reach goals (Hall, 2008). In addition, you may gain insight into a child’s strengths and needs from a family member’s perspective. You will find resources regarding how to share student data with families in the To Learn More section below.
“Hearing and seeing the assessment data that is collected to pinpoint skill deficits and learning about the focused instruction that is being provided to their child to address deficits allays parents’ concerns” (Hall, 2011, p. 124).
Note: Action Step E6 calls your attention to connecting with parents and families as your school implements the RTI framework to support literacy achievement for all students. This Action Step is a key example of how all the Action Steps of Effective Instructional Framework interrelate. Rather than implementing it in isolation, your team may consider how to combine a focus on Action Step E6 and one or more other Action Steps in this component.
TO LEARN MORE: Use the resources below to learn more about empowering families to understand the Response to Intervention framework.
The Harvard Family Research Project “Tips for Administrators, Teachers and Families: How to Share Data Effectively” contains multiple links to information about sharing data with families, as well as Parent Meeting Tip Sheets for administrators, teachers, and parents (provided in English and Spanish).
“Parent Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Response to Intervention,” published by the Center on Response to Intervention, presents pertinent information about RTI in a question-answer format, including links to websites that offer information about more about specific issues.
The parent advocacy brief A Parent’s Guide to Response to Intervention (RTI), an e-book from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, provides parent-friendly information about RTI, including tiered instruction and progress monitoring, and a snapshot of how a school might implement RTI for two different students.
The National Center on Response to Intervention’s “Progress Monitoring Briefs Series: Brief #4: Common Progress Monitoring Omissions: Reporting Information to Parents” focuses on the importance of sharing progress monitoring data and graphs with parents and students.
“Resources for Parents and Families,” published on the RTI Action Network website, provides a variety of information about RTI, tiered instruction, progress monitoring, screening, and family involvement.
NEXT STEPS: Depending upon your progress supporting families and students in literacy development within your RTI framework, you may want to consider some of the following next steps:
- Begin establishing communication guidelines (e.g., sample letters) for communicating with parents about your RTI framework and decisions about students within your RTI framework.
- Identify areas of need for staff professional development related to communicating with families and empowering families to participate in literacy development.
- Assess campus resources for communications support (e.g., translators, community liaison[s], established mediums for disseminating information such as campus newsletters, etc.)
- Identify possible instructional resources to provide to families who participate in literacy development and develop a plan for filling gaps in those resources.
- Evaluate systems that may already be in place for involving students in setting and tracking their own literacy goals and develop a plan for increasing student involvement.
E6. Empower families and students to participate in the literacy development process.
With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E6 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.
In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:
- Refer to Part 1 for developing a plan to empower families and students to participate in literacy development.
- Refer to Part 2 for developing a plan that empowers families to understand the RTI process.
Next Steps also contains suggestions that your campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.
To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.
Follow instructions from your school or district.
August, D., & Hakuta, K. (1997). Improving schools for language minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Burns, M. K., & Gibbons, K. (2012). Implementing response-to-intervention in elementary and secondary schools: Procedures to ensure scientific-based practices (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Hall, S. L. (2008). Implementing response to intervention: A principal’s guide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Hall, S. L. (2011). Jumpstart RTI: Using RTI in your elementary school right now. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (1994). (Eds.). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Columbia, MD: National Committee for Citizens in Education.
King, K. A., Artiles, A. J., & Kozleski, E. B. (2009). Professional learning for culturally responsive teaching. Arizona State University. Retrieved from https://www.charterschoolcenter.org/resource/professional-learning-culturally-responsive-teaching-equity-action-brief
Lopez, G. (2001). The value of hard work: Lessons on parent involvement from an (im)migrant household. Harvard Education Review, 71(3), 416–437.