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Literacy: A Family Focus

What is Family literacy?

The term Family literacy was first coined by researcher Denny Taylor in a 1983 study that explored the social context of the home as a key factor in the literacy development of children. Although it would be impossible to assign a universal definition to such a far reaching and encompassing subject, one definition currently promoted in the literacy field is:

Family literacy refers to the many ways parents; children and extended family members use literacy skills to accomplish every day tasks in the home and community. (International Reading Association 1994)

First generation family literacy work placed an emphasis on transmitting mainstream school literacy practices to the home. Such work would include teaching parents how to read to their children and how to help their children with homework. This may very well be the type of family literacy work you engage in with your student and it is very useful and valid. Current work in the field of family literacy is beginning to place an emphasis on the richness of the cultural experience of the home. Although this may not sound very much like the more traditional “school” experience of literacy it does support the strength of families and the impact of one generation upon another as powerful forces for positive change. This approach to family literacy includes activities such as the passing on of family stories to children and a son or daughter translating for a parent who doesn’t speak English.

Why is Family literacy so important?
• Family literacy is preventative. Research shows that what happens in the first few years of a child’s life has a critical effect on how that child’s life unfolds.
• Family literacy creates positive attitudes towards learning and lays the foundation for lifelong learning.
• Family literacy supports a culture of learning in the home.
• Adults who are building strong reading and writing skills in an adult literacy program are better prepared to support their children’s learning.
• Adults have a greater sense of control over their lives when they are able to fulfill their personal and family goals through family literacy activities.
• The literacy development of families affects every area of their lives including: health, employment, economic status and life chances

What are the goals of Family literacy activities at East York Learning Experience?
• To promote reading as a valued family activity that encourages shared learning experiences between adult learners and their children.
• To assist adult literacy students to support their children’s language and literacy development from birth through the school years.
• To support parents’ involvement in all aspects of their children’s development and education
• To foster an appreciation for life long learning as it relates to the needs of adult literacy students and their children

Family Literacy: Student Centered Individualized Learning

Adult literacy programs that are student-centered are more effective than traditional teacher-centered approaches. Adult learners are empowered by the ability to make choices within their reading, writing and math upgrading and to use their own lives as the context for the instruction.

Many adult learners have children and many adult learners come to literacy programs because they want to be able to read to their children, support them in their school work and read parenting materials to improve their parenting skills. It may be useful, before planning a family literacy learning activity with your student, to consider the following:

1. Discussion: Talk about your student’s family literacy needs with them. It probably won’t surprise you that a number of adults with literacy issues state, on first meeting a program staff member that they need to improve their skills to be able to read to their children or write a letter to the school. So talk to your student about their children and keep an open mind. Look for opportunities for family literacy that allow you and your student to think outside the box. Perhaps your student would like to take the phonics techniques they are learning in the lessons and work with their child to build their reading fluency using the same techniques.

2. Relevance and Resources: What does your student need? Would they like to be able to read to their child? To help with homework? Maybe they need to find information on nutrition or parenting and discipline. Remember, family literacy is a broad term that covers activities ranging from a parent reading to their child, to parents sharing family stories and history. Remember the SCIL approach to tutoring your student: the lessons should be directly related to the student’s needs and individualized to the plan of learning that the student has agreed upon. Adults learn differently than children; if you don’t capture the interest of your student in discussion they will loose interest.

The next step is to locate the relevant resources. EYLE is building a collection of children’s books and collating volunteer resources for tutoring a student with family literacy needs. The Internet and the local library are also good places to track down resources for family literacy. As well, your student may need help reading school related information or understanding the content of a book on discipline, child psychology, or nutrition. The material may be at level that your student couldn’t possibly read; however, this doesn’t mean that a shared reading of the material and lesson activities related to it isn’t an opportunity to reinforce your student’s interest, build further lesson activities and deepen their knowledge of subjects related to the family. Lesson activities could include vocabulary building, language experience and written conversation.

3. Time and Lesson Planning: How much time does your student want to spend on family literacy related activities? They may not be something that the student wants to work on in every lesson. Make sure that you plan family literacy activities with your student’s feedback. The Student Centered approach puts your student in the driver’s seat so to speak. If your student isn’t giving you a lot of feedback on suggested learning activities than move on to something else.

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