Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Involving Latino Families in Literacy

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Involving Latino Families in Literacy

Article excerpt

Abstract

This qualitative study reports on the family literacy component of a reading improvement program conducted as a partnership between an elementary school and university along the Texas-Mexico border. Family participants were 100 percent Latino and 99 percent economically disadvantaged. Findings report on the families' aspirations for their children's literacy development as well as suggestions families have for the program.

Reading for me is fundamental. It is a way to grow culturally, and overall will open doors for all he [my child] wants to do in the future. [Parent comment]

Purpose

The paper reports findings from an on-going partnership between a community university located along the Texas-Mexico border and a public elementary school. The partnership, called the Evening Reading Improvement Program, involves preservice teachers assessing and tutoring early childhood students in literacy, graduate educational leadership majors guiding the program, and both the undergraduate and graduate students working closely with families to improve the children's literacy skills. This paper focuses on the evolving family involvement component of the program. Families' aspirations for their children are explored along with their views of Spanish and English literacy at home and at school and their recommendations for the program.

Perspectives

According to the sociocultural perspective, social and cultural contexts mediate learning (Moll, 1994; Vygotsky, 1986). This is particularly true of literacy learning, which varies across cultures as well as functions and purposes, creating multiple literacies and discourses (Au & Raphael, 2000; Gee, 2001). Families play a critical role in the social and cultural context of young children's developing literacy both at home and at school (Purcell-Gates, 2000; Rogers, 2001). The families involved in this research came from low income, Latino, and Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Researchers such as Valdes (1996) argue that school-based family involvement programs often view these families from a deficit perspective. Valdes asserts that the programs try to force school values and needs onto the families rather than valuing their diversity. The current researchers recognize the vast funds of knowledge (Moll, 1994) and the diverse forms of literacy (Au & Raphael, 2000) that families have, but they also acknowledge the need for the students to succeed in a school atmosphere in which standards and high stakes testing prevail. Paratore, Melzi, and Krol-Sinclair (1999) argue that it is possible for a family literacy program to respect cultural and linguistic diversity and at the same time prepare families for the literacy demands of United States public schools.

Program Description

The Evening Reading Improvement Program has two components: 1) a tutoring component and 2) a family literacy component. Each semester, university preservice teachers enrolled in undergraduate bilingual and English as a second language reading courses meet after school hours on the partner elementary school's campus to conduct tutorials once a week for ten weeks. University preservice teachers are matched to Latino elementary students ranging in age from three to seven years old. A high degree of Spanish profiency was required of the university preservice teachers enrolled in the bilingual reading course but not of those preservice teachers enrolled in the English as a second language course. Families/parents participate in the project each semester through their attendance at a parent orientation session, two family literacy nights, and a conference night in which parents receive information on their child's reading progress and celebrate participation in the program. Families are also invited to stay for all tutoring sessions. The content of the family literacy nights was determined by the graduate educational leadership students under the direction of the faculty overseeing the program. …

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