Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Professional Development for Educators to Promote Literacy Development of English Learners: Valuing Home Connections

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Professional Development for Educators to Promote Literacy Development of English Learners: Valuing Home Connections

Article excerpt

Children's first and most important teachers are their parents and caretakers in their home environment. They, along with the family and community, "are the foundations of literacy development in the life of the child" (Herrera, Perez, & Escamilla, 2015, p. 4). Given the valuable role that families play in the early education of children, educators can help facilitate their students' language and literacy development by recognizing the value of the relationships and interactions at home and by becoming aware of and learning how to draw on the "funds of knowledge" that children bring to school (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005).

This article focuses on critical components related to fostering parent-teacher partnerships through the implementation of a year-long professional development project with Pre-K through third grade educators. Through a carefully sequenced set of professional development workshops and experiences, the project targeted the language and literacy development of young English learners (ELs). In particular, the professional development around valuing home experiences was designed to meet participating teachers where they were philosophically and professionally, and worked systematically to help them reach four important objectives: (1) to examine their own personal literacy experiences and funds of knowledge that have shaped them and their instructional practices; (2) to develop an understanding of language and literacy development of ELs and the vital role of their families and first language; (3) to become informed and appreciative of the many different kinds of language and literacy practices that their learners experience; and (4) to begin to build relationships between families and school by changing instructional practices and outreach. After completing the workshops, participants indicated that they had significantly changed their thinking about how to better support their ELs' literacy development with the role of home language and culture becoming an important part of that support.

Review of Relevant Literature

Matthews and Kesner (2008) remind us, "...learners begin their literate lives in the laps and by the sides of significant others" (p. 244). Views of literacy development grounded in sociocultural theory maintain that shared meaningful experiences set the stage for learning to occur. Adults or others more knowledgeable than the children structure activities within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978), guiding understanding and their learning. While a traditional type of image may come to mind, such as a child sitting next to an adult reading a bedtime storybook, literacy experiences can vary greatly by family and culture (Heath, 1983). For example, Herrera et al. (2015) describe children listening to their abuelita, their grandmother, tell the story of "La Llorona" while Walker-Dalhouse and Dalhouse (2009) explain how for Sudanese children, bedtime is the time "that scary or comical stories, accompanied by songs, are told to entertain and to impart important lessons" (p. 331). Zygouris-Coe (2007) describes another literacy experience: reading subtitles to her illiterate grandmother and her friend at the movie theater each week. Regardless of the experiences, all types of literacy activities are valuable for young children. Yet, teachers may overlook students' home experiences when they differ significantly from their own familial experiences.

Literacy experiences are but one aspect of larger, more complex sets of experience and knowledge which students bring into the classroom from their home, family, and community. Teachers can build upon these, assuming they are aware of the broad range of experiences and knowledge students bring into their classrooms. Understanding the social, historical, political, and economic contexts of households is of critical importance in understanding teaching and learning (González, et al., 2005, p. 2627). The notion of funds of knowledge "refer to these historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being" (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992, p. …

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