Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Family Literacy: Parental Involvement, Part 3

This week, we've been focusing on the role of  parental involvement in children's literacy , presenting ideas for Family Literacy Workshop activities, taken from  Family Literacy Workshops   for Preschool through Grade 6: A Research Based Approach . In Tuesday's post, we looked at the structure of a workshop and why such workshops are important. You can read that post and download the in-workshop activity  here . In Wednesday's post, we went over a sample agenda for what should happen in the first family literacy workshop you hold, and we also provided a free download of two take-home activities to hand out at that workshop.

Today, we will look at what it takes to create an exemplary literacy program, and talk a bit about the parent-teacher and parent-school connection. You will be able to read excerpts on this topic from  Family Literacy Workshops   for Preschool through Grade 6: A Research Based Approach   and download the remaining two take-home activities for the first workshop:

Envelope Stories
This activity addresses Reading Comprehension, and Writing Strategies by using periodicals to find pictures to construct a story around.

Reporting Live from…
This activity addresses Writing Strategies, Writing Applications, Written and Oral English Language Conventions, and Listening and Speaking Strategies as children form questions, take notes and develop a news article that celebrates good news.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Developing An Exemplary Family Literacy Program

Guiding Principles of Program Development
There are a number of important considerations that create a foundation for developing a family literacy program. These elements are assumed and built into the family literacy workshops in the book.

You must believe.

Do you believe that parent support is important and are you willing to do what is necessary to build that support?

We all believe the first part of this question to be true.  We know that parents talking to their children, reading to and with their children, providing books in the home, and making sure their children have the experiences that develop background knowledge, can make a difference in how well a child does in school.  We know that parents who support school and the value of education influence their children to have the same attitude.  We all know and accept the value of engaged and supportive parents.  This is the easy part.

The hard part is, are we willing to take on the effort necessary to develop strong family support?  Teachers already work hard, in frequently difficult circumstances, and taking on one more thing could seem impossible to many.  But the case can be made, and it is a strong case, that the impact of positive family involvement will make our work as teachers both easier and more effective.  In other words, the work involved in a family literacy program is more than worth the effort.

Parents must believe.

Parents need to understand how important their active support is to the success of their child.

Parents want to help.  The real issue is, do they know how to help? Parents want their children to be successful.  But many are unsure about what they might do that would make a difference. Without a systematic program of parent involvement, ensuring the support of parents will be random at best.

Perhaps the attitude by some parents that teaching is the job of the school is one for which our profession must take the blame.  So, in many cases, we are playing catch up.  Parents need to understand their role as fundamental not supplemental.  We need a true partnership with parents where the support they provide is of equal importance to the instruction we provide.  We begin all of our work with the important assumption that what happens outside of school is as critical as what happens in school.  If we are going to enlist the support and active engagement of parents in a family literacy program, it must be clear to them that we really want and value their support.  

Parents need to feel welcome and comfortable at school.

We need to overcome many negative attitudes that parents have about schools.

Regardless of the experience some parents or families have had with schools, we want to set a positive climate, where parents feel welcome and consider themselves part of the overall school program.  Consider your own school.  How would you feel as a parent coming to your school?  Is there parking available?  How are they greeted?  Do you consider your school to have an overall welcoming effect on parents?

Many different ideas have been considered in some schools about how to make parents more comfortable.  Perhaps the most important step is to create a clear protocol for parents to follow when they visit.  One of the purposes of the first workshop in this book is to establish guidelines for parents to follow.  This important consideration should include all school personnel, office workers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and playground supervisors, everyone with whom parents will come in contact.  The message we want parents to receive is, we welcome you in our school, we value your presence, and we want you to think of this as your school, not just your child’s school.

Parents need to know that reading is the key to success.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of becoming a reader.

Of course, we do many things in school.  We are responsible for math and content areas.  But all of our work depends on children having reading levels that help them access and participate in classroom instruction.  All achievement depends on reading level and this is why it is our highest priority.  Parents need to understand this relationship as well and that they can help in a wide variety of ways.  Even parents with low literacy, or those that speak a language other than English, need to see a way that they can support and assist their children.

We don’t want parents to feel that because school was difficult for them, that this same expectation can be established for their children.  The support we arrange and the training we provide need to take into account various levels and abilities among our parents.  The success of a family literacy program is directly affected by how much parents think they can do to help their child be a better reader.

Workshops need to have high levels of participation.

Most of us learn best by doing, and our work with parents needs to be activity based.

The last thing most parents want is to attend a school function and be lectured to.  This approach communicates that school personnel are the experts and parents are the ones that need to be taught something.
A more effective model is one where parents are actively engaged with their own children in the kinds of activities that we want them to repeat at home and make part of their family life.  To accomplish this, workshops that show parents good ways to support their children in a nonjudgmental environment, where they feel supported, is necessary.  

School practices need to be consistent.

Inconsistent school and classroom rules and expectations are a source of parent confusion.

Does your school have classroom rules that are consistent across grades?  Are classroom rules similar to and supportive of the overall school rules?  Are students familiar with all of the rules?  Are parents?

Most teachers will tell you that they have classroom rules that are necessary for them to teach and for students to learn.  However, in some schools there are considerable differences in these rules from classroom to classroom.  This makes parent support of behavior standards much more difficult to develop.  Imagine the parent with children in more than one grade or classrooms where the rules are different.  What kind of support can be reasonably expected from them?  

School resources should be accessed

If families have scarce resources, what better way to use school resources than to allow families to use them?

Libraries are considered by many to be the depositories of human knowledge; a storehouse, if you will, of much that is valuable in our society.  It might also be said that this is also the major problem with libraries, and that is that books are stored there rather then being in the hands of children who need them or parents who could use them to support children’s learning.  It is not uncommon in many libraries to get the impression that there is considerable discomfort with the idea that the books will actually go out the door and not stay on the shelves.

So we have to consider what is the greater risk.  Do we risk more when books might be damaged or lost, or do we risk more when we limit the access to books?   We also know that a lack of reading material is a problem with many of the families of children who attend our schools.  To us the answer is clear: the only good book is a book that is read.

A family literacy program is forever.  

Only support for family literacy that is consistent and provided over time has any reasonable expectation of being successful.

As with many new initiatives we take on in our schools, there is always the danger of enthusiasm dwindling over time.  Developing family literacy support is a journey that has no end.  Given the value that such support can provide to children’s learning, it is an effort that needs to be sustained and become a permanent part of our school program.  It is our hope, of course, that our concentrated efforts will build over time and have a reforming impact on our school and on the achievement results of our students.






That was an excerpt from  Family Literacy Workshops   for Preschool through Grade 6: A Research Based Approach . Check back on Tuesday for more information on Family Literacy workshops! Because of positive feedback on these posts, we're going to bring you one per week for the next couple of months, each with new downloadable activities! To download today's selection—the second set of take-home activities for the first workshop—click the image below!

- Tara Rodriquez