Academic journal article School Community Journal

What Do Parents Think? Middle-Class Chinese Immigrant Parents' Perspectives on Literacy Learning, Homework, and School-Home Communication

Academic journal article School Community Journal

What Do Parents Think? Middle-Class Chinese Immigrant Parents' Perspectives on Literacy Learning, Homework, and School-Home Communication

Article excerpt


This article reports on a sample of 26 middle-class Chinese immigrant parents' perspectives on their children's reading, writing, mathematics learning, and homework, and on the parents' involvement in and communication with mainstream American schools. Findings suggested both consistencies and discrepancies between their beliefs and practices. Areas of discrepancies include their reported involvement in their children's reading and their attitudes toward homework. However, the parents were more consistent in their beliefs and practices in writing and mathematics involvement. These consistencies and discrepancies may be influenced by the parents' familiarity with school instructions in the particular skill areas. These findings argue for more effort to enhance Chinese parents' knowledge base on how American school functions and to build stronger school-home communication and collaboration.

Key Words: Chinese immigrant parents, literacy beliefs, home practices, parental involvement, school-home communication

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The idea of social and cultural contexts becomes important when it comes to the literacy instruction of students from diverse backgrounds. There is a pressing need for schools to provide instruction that is meaningful and affirming to the cultural identities of students of diverse backgrounds. However, what literacy is, how it is learned, and what is practiced depends upon many sociocultural factors of which schools are often not aware (Li, 2001, 2002, 2003). Across cultures, researchers (e.g., Au, 1998; Hartle-Shutte, 1993; Heath, 1983; Lopez, 1999; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988) have pointed out that different homes engage in literacy on a regular daily basis, integrating it in socially and culturally significant ways via diverse languages and literacy traditions. Upon entering multicultural schools, learners of diverse backgrounds bring varied, rich experiences to the classroom; however, these experiences are often unrecognized or devalued, as the culture and language from home are deemed to have little to contribute to the curriculum (Au, 1998; Moll, 1999; Valdés, 1996). This neglect is often the result of teachers' insufficient understanding of students' languages and cultural practices at home (McCarthey, 1997, 1999; Nieto, 2002). There is an urgent need to bridge this knowledge gap.

With regard to literacy education, parents are often considered as children's first teachers. However, there exists great diversity in what parents believe and how they practice literacy at home (Li, 2002, 2004; Taylor, 1983; Valdés, 1996). For immigrant parents, the values they hold and the messages about educational expectations and school success they transmit to their children may be different from those advocated in school. Research demonstrates that these different values and expectations often result in discontinuity between school and home literacy goals (International Reading Association & NAEYC, 1998; Ogbu & Matute-Bianchi, 1986). This discontinuity has also been considered as one of the major barriers for English language learners in achieving academic success (McCarthey, 1999; Serpell, 1997). This study aims to bridge this discontinuity by exploring middle-class Chinese minority parents' beliefs and roles in their children's literacy development.

The reasons behind the decision to focus on Chinese immigrants are many. One is that Chinese immigrants have become one of the largest growing immigrant groups in the United States in recent years. The U.S. Census Bureau (2001) reports that the nation's Chinese population has reached 2.4 million, a 48% increase since the 1990 census. The second is that in recent years the U.S. has witnessed an increase of middle-class Chinese immigrants who often came with resources - financial capital, training, and education. Unlike Asian immigrants prior to the 1980s who settled in urban ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown, the majority of these new immigrants settled in concentrated suburban areas and established new middle-class ethnic communities. …

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