Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Parents provide the best literacy



I admit becoming a parent made me more aware of what I loved and feared in education.  I went through an intense stage of self awareness when my daughter entered kindergarten.  I was so impressed by her excitement to learn.  Her teacher of 30+ years experience was engaging, entertaining and very organized.  Her mentoring led to my transformation  and a decision to improve upon a few things. This teacher communicated with parents.  Parents were not afraid or put aside.  Every interested parent found a role to play in education (at least while their children are involved).   It is difficult to organize but I will not give up on the idea that parents want to be involved in education in a positive way.  If I don't give parents a role it isn't surprising to find them airing frustrations on Facebook or in other public forums.

First, I need to improve how schools acknowledge the role that parents play in the home. In the Journal for the Education of the Gifted (2009), Craig Howley urged education to avoid being tied only to middle class and corporate values. In rural areas, like my own, "the community students belong to is of immeasurable consequence to their education". (source links) Teachers can embed rural ideas and dilemmas into the actual coursework but until work at home counts as meaningful education at school, we still have communities at odds.

Research into standardized testing poses many questions concerning educational improvement. Not only do we use scores to change how we teach or reteach content and skills but we use scores for inquiry into why some students seem to succeed and others do not.  There is great fear that low test scores identify students of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.  Is there something in our methodology that causes education to fail students of race or ethnicity, making teachers guilty of racism? Does class influence the values that are promoted in school encouraging teachers and parents to miss the talents of one group of students over another?  It shouldn't and won't if parents and teachers examine the role of literacy.  As a specialist in literacy this is what I want to have acknowledged.


  • Learning in rich contexts, incidental learning, and the use of computer technology all help children develop larger vocabularies. A combination of methods, direct and indirect rather than a single teaching method, leads to the best learning. (National Reading Panel).  As a teacher I will rely on methods that work best for me and my students.  But I hope and expect students to go home and learn directly or indirectly in that home environment in a way that suits them best. 
  • Thus higher scores on standard literacy tests  are influenced more by home environments with a greater  access to literacy activities that fall after school. In a search for transformative approaches to literacy curriculum, this kind of research points to education implications of bridging home and school literacy.  (Ying, Z.,Klinger, D.A., Living,C., Fox,J., &Doe,C.(2011). Test-Takers’ Background, Literacy Activities andViews of the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(2). 115-136. )
  • Do home activities include the following? traditional literacyreading newspapers, reading manuals and instructions, writing notes, directions, and instructions, reading non-fiction books, reading letters, reading religious or spiritual writings, reading magazines, reading novels, fiction, and short stories, reading comics, and work related writing. Having a variety of literacy activities helps children discover a genre that makes sense to their learning style. 
  • Do family members model traditional literacy?  Seeing family members engage in these activities while students engage in schoolwork at home is very powerful in terms of creating value for gaining new knowledge. Modelling the learning of new vocabulary is very important.  Younger students benefit from  (link to phonological awareness,) manipulating sounds & words.  When parents model use of new vocabulary, guessing at definitions and then finding the right definition is helpful. Even when we model the wrong use of a word and correct that usage is invaluable.  Children need to know that we learn from mistakes. (link to emergent literacy)
  • Do households and families engage in creative literacy activities? reading poetry and song lyrics, writing song lyrics and poetry, writing letters, journals, and diaries, and writing short stories and fiction. One variable, writing short stories and fiction, had a loading of .50  which means that it is considered highly influential in helping students progress in school. 
  • Do households promote fluency in a second language? A sample of 143 students who reported reading and writing in another language, and tested above the norm reported engaging in dual language activities that included  reading websites, emails, chat-rooms, and text messaging, writing song lyrics and poetry, reading novels, fiction, and short stories, writing notes, directions, and diaries, and writing letters, journals, and diaries. 
  • literacy activities are no longer confined to books and print on paper.  There is some value in e-literacy activity on computers or personal devices.  Tech tools are constantly changing and there are two levels of value that children gain from e-literacy. Some e-lit activities encourage minimal levels of learning:  reading websites, email, chat-rooms, text messaging and email.  Students who scored higher on tests were surveyed and were engaged in e-literacy activities such as  collaborative editing, converting complex ideas to simple twitters or vice versa, interactive gaming, comparing two searches or two perspectives, writing html, designing a program,  researching subjects from a variety of subtopics.  intertextual overlays- (finding ideas in a library or books and then using internet searches to discover the same information.)
  • There can be gender differences that influence engagement in literacy activities. Do households include more than one type of literacy activity?  Results also suggest that gender is a significant, albeit minor predictor of students’ afterschool literacy activities. Girls were more inclined to be engaged in traditional and creative literacies (such as short story writing, diary entry, etc.) than boys. Therefore, having other texts available and modeled will help pique interest and invite learning in a different rich context.
  • Do parents and teachers model chunking? Breaking down difficult sentences of information into a self connections, self generated definitions is a lifelong skill and students need to see this modelled. Children need to see ideas that are delivered in school, practiced at home.  Do parents know what units are being taught? Do they share their connections to these studies? Is there a place to share them?  And do students receive credit for making connections between their texts and their own practices?  I learned more about chemistry when I learned to mix my own oil/gas for our lawn mower and our own home cleaning ingredients.  I never understood politics until my parents let me attend a rally on my own or accompany them to the polls to vote.   The National Reading Panel (2000) contends that most students have had few experiences reading informational  texts and that teachers generally do not teach the strategies that students need when reading textbooks. While I disagree concerning what I teach, I do know that students are exposed to sets of informational text in every core class that that do not necessarily cross over to other courses.  We are asking students to become experts in several fields of knowledge, we ask students to apply newly learned concepts to new material without sufficient modeling.  Students need new information to become familiar, background knowledge. Thinking critically and logically is not possible without background knowledge (Daniel Williams, 2009). (links to William's articles)  
  • Are students exposed to enough informational literacy?  How we learn and what we learn is influenced by so many variables that it is impossible to pinpoint one best practice.  However we can ascertain that exposure to types of informational texts can improve or destroy opportunities for educational development.  According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 22% of American adults have minimal literacy skills. Some are functionally illiterate in that they can read some words but not enough to understand simple forms or instructions. Adult with low literacy levels are more likely to be homeless or unemployed, or hold very low paying jobs.  While I don't believe that fear of unemployment should shape educational practice it is certain that children and adults using three types of informational text in authentic situations improve their chances for learning.  
  1. Prose literacy is the ability to read and comprehend documents with continuous text, such as newspaper articles and instructions. 
  2. Document literacy is the ability to read and understand documents with non-continuous text, such as job applications, maps, and transportation schedules. 
  3. Quantitative literacy is the ability to perform computations, such as reviewing a bill or balancing a checkbook. 
These three types of literacy cover the types of reading that people need to do to be functional on a daily basis.

Do you provide these literacy experiences in the home and are they available in the classroom?
NPR Puzzle

2 comments:

Darlene Witte said...

OK, trying again. will my post make it this time?
Whitney I am so far behind, how will I ever catch up to you?

whitney kaulbach said...

Yay! a comment. I am so happy to see this. In the big scheme of things Darlene, you are still a leader and you are not behind at all. I have made a small ripple into literacy research. These 30 posts are just a way for me to catch up.