A Respectful Approach to Literacy

Posted March 2004: Ana Huerta-Macías sketches a typical family literacy program and gives links to more information. See Jim Hughes' Home Room column, "Bringing Home Into School," Essential Teacher, Spring 2004 (pp. 8-9).

Imagine the following scenario in a school:

As you walk down one of the hallways, you hear the chatter of small children, women's voices, and a few men's voices. You open the door to a classroom and take a look.

 Both adults and children are sitting around five large tables. They are engaged in what appear to be art projects. On each table are large squares of colorful construction paper, scissors, yarn, colored markers, glue, other art materials, and a large poster board. At one table, the children are pasting drawings and shapes cut from the construction paper onto the poster board. At another, a child is relating a story about a drawing she has just finished while her parent writes the story on the poster board.

You look to the other side of the room and see two children, along with an elderly man who appears to be their grandfather, doing a choral reading of the story on their already completed poster board. They are reading in Spanish, and you realize at this point that the families at some of the tables are chatting, writing, and reading in Spanish while others are doing the same in English. All the children are busy completing projects together with the adults; indeed, they are working in family teams.

What you have just envisioned is a family literacy program. Family literacy brings together children, parents, other family members, and caregivers to develop the reading, writing, communication, and computing skills they need to accomplish daily tasks. Parents attend primarily to help their children succeed in school and for their own personal development.

The Family Is Fundamental

The philosophy behind these programs is that the family is fundamental to children's learning. Children who receive home support for their literacy development and all other learning efforts tend to do better in school. Family literacy is a highly successful model for involving parents and building home-school connections. Most significantly, family literacy programs allow mainstream and nonmainstream families to develop functional and critical uses of literacy in ways that respect the family's ethnic, racial, and cultural heritage.

Family Literacy Links

See the sources below for more information on family literacy programs in the United States.

Brown, B. L. (1998). Family literacy: Respecting family ways (ERIC Digest No. 203). Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED423429). Retrieved January 16, 2004, from http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content5/family.literacy.html

This ERIC Digest addresses the sociocultural connections in family literacy programs.

Family literacy special collection. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2004, from http://literacy.kent.edu/Midwest/FamilyLit.

The Midwest Literacy Information and Communication System at Kent State University, in the United States, offers resources on parenting issues, children's activities, and classroom materials.

Hispanic Family Literacy Institute. (2003). Retrieved January 16, 2004, from http://www.famlit.org/ProgramsandInitiatives/HFLI/index.cfm

The National Center for Family Literacy offers resources and related links in Spanish.

Ana Huerta-Macías (ahmacias@utep.edu) is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Texas at El Paso, in the United States.