Academic journal article School Community Journal

Through a Rear-View Mirror: Families Look Back at a Family Literacy Program

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Through a Rear-View Mirror: Families Look Back at a Family Literacy Program

Article excerpt


In this article, we report on a study in which we interviewed working class families who were the first cohort in a family literacy program that had been locally developed and implemented in a small village in Canada more than two decades previously in response to community-identified needs. The study was framed by Tulving's concept of episodic memory which he described as autobiographical and which allows one to recall and reflect on one's past experiences because they are significant. Ten of the original 18 families were available, and they were interviewed in their homes using a semi-structured protocol. Interviews were transcribed and then coded according to themes. Findings include the following: families reported that the hands-on structure of the program in which they worked alongside their children helped them understand learning through play and developmentally appropriate curriculum and pedagogy; they gained insights as to how they could continue to support their children's learning at home and in the community; they became more comfortable in school and knowledgeable about its workings and subsequently participated more in school affairs; they and their children benefited socially from the program; and they believed the program assisted their children's transition to school. They also identified areas that needed improvement, including more frequent sessions and more explanation of some aspects of the program. The study extends previous research in family literacy in that it demonstrates that programs can contribute to families' social capital.

Key Words: family literacy programs, social capital, retrospective interviews, early childhood, learning, parents, involvement, transition to school, Canada


It is now generally recognized that families can be rich sites for children?s early literacy learning before schooling. Since the publication of Denny Taylor?s (1983) foundational book, Family Literacy: Young Children Learning to Read and Write, other researchers have documented how families support young children?s literacy learning in diverse social and cultural contexts (e.g., Gregory, 2005; Mui & Anderson, 2008; Purcell-Gates, 1996; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988). Because of this body of ethnographic and naturalistic research studies documenting the potential of the family as a site for young children?s litera- cy development, educators have developed family literacy programs intended to build on and enhance children?s literacy learning at home. Much of the research on family literacy programs has examined the impact on children?s lit- eracy development in the short term (e.g., Anderson, Friedrich, & Kim, 2011; Anderson, Purcell-Gates, Jang, & Gagne, 2010; Brooks, Pahl, Pollard, & Rees, 2008; Phillips, FJayden, & Norris, 2006), and there is very little longitudi- nal research as to their impact. Furthermore, studies have tended to focus on young children?s emergent print literacy knowledge or language development (e.g., Jordan, Snow, & Porche, 2000), and there is relatively little research that has examined the broader impact of family literacy programs in terms of their effects on home-school relationships, insights that parents gain in understand- ing schooling and how to support their children?s learning, and how family literacy programs might benefit schools. As well, although parents are seen as playing an essential role in family literacy programs, there is a general dearth of research giving voice to their insights and perspectives.

Thus the current study is significant for several reasons. Despite the central roles that parents are expected to play in family literacy programs, this group has largely been ignored by researchers, even though they could provide a more expansive perspective on the effects of family literacy programs beyond chil- dren?s early language and literacy development. As Swain and Brooks (in press), who studied family literacy in the United Kingdom and internationally, com- pellingly point out,

parents are key players in FL programmes, not least because the agency they exert in whether they choose to attend or not, and the number en- listing, decide whether or not the programme is viable to run. …

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