Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Parents and Their Children Working Together: A Scaffolding Literacy Case Study

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Parents and Their Children Working Together: A Scaffolding Literacy Case Study

Article excerpt

Can struggling and marginalised students be more effectively brought into school literacy by teaching a 'significant other' (parent or carer) how to more successfully work with them on literacy tasks? This article looks at this question by drawing on a study of parents and carers who took part in the Parents as Tutors Program, a university-based literacy intervention that takes parents and carers through a series of eight two-hour parent/carer seminars and twelve one-hour one-on-one tutorials in which each adult + child work with a trained tutor who models the strategies taught in the seminars. This paper describes the program offered to parents/carers and their children, and draws on the results of an evaluation of parents' perceptions of the value of the program for their families carried out in 2005. The paper argues that such interventions can be effective, but only when they provide both the adult and child with a new set of practices that emphasise the purposefulness and human intent of literacy engagement, and provide the adult and child with a new way to work on reading and writing tasks together.


The Parents as Tutors Program has a long history of working with parents alongside their children. Commenced in the early 1980s, the program has provided a major literacy research site spanning two decades (see Kemp, 1987; Kemp, 1985a; Kemp, 1980; Gray & Cowey, 2000; Gray & Cowey, 2003; Gray, Cowey & Axford, 2003). The current program draws on the Scaffolding Literacy teaching method developed in the period 1992-2003 by Gray and Cowey as part of a DEST (Australian Department of Education, Science and Training) funded project aimed at improving literacy outcomes for Indigenous students in rural and regional schools (Gray, Cowey & Axford, 2003). Since 2003, Gray and Cowey have extended their work with Indigenous students through the DEST-funded National Accelerated Literacy Program (Cowey, 2005).

Meanwhile, the Parents as Tutors Program has continued to operate within the ACT. The teaching approach used in the program has consistently demonstrated measured improvements in the literacy outcomes of students using pre- and post-program reading tests on benchmarked texts. These results are reported in annual reports of the program (see, for example, Schools & Community Centre, 2004). Through these pre- and post- assessments, it is clear that younger students generally make 1-2 Year level gains, while older students (Year 4 and above) gain 2-3 Year levels. However, these are results obtained within the timeframe of the intervention itself and could be accounted for in terms of the impact of participation in a one-on-one intervention per se. As the evaluation of the Australian Government's 'Pilot Tutorial Voucher Initiative' (TVI) demonstrates, even a relatively short period of one-on-one tuition can have a positive effect on students (Erebus International, 2006). The TVI initiative provided out-of-school tutorial assistance to approximately 6,200 of the 19,000 children identified as not having reached the national Year 3 reading benchmarks in 2003. The initiative was delivered through a complex administrative system that provided eligible families with a $700 voucher. In spite of the administrative complexity and variable delivery of the TVI, the evaluators are still able to identify positive opportunities that the tuition provided the children who participated. These included the opportunity:

   to learn without distractions and so be able to develop greater
   concentration and focus on learning; to learn without the concern of
   being humiliated, embarrassed or laughed at, therefore encouraging
   increased self esteem and self confidence; and to be fully engaged
   in learning activities for more sustained periods of time. (Erebus
   International, 2006, p. 8)

However, whether these 'opportunities' translate into changes in learning behaviours that are sustained beyond the life of the intervention is another question. …

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