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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation: Opportunities for Learning and Interactions that Promote Literate Actions and Practices

Our Teacher Research: Past & Present

Helping all students achieve higher standards

Teacher preparation and new teacher induction   Ongoing teacher professional growth   Teacher networks
Teacher leadership in school change   Helping all students achieve higher standards      

Opportunities for Learning and Interactions that Promote
Literate Actions and Practices: An Ethnographic Study of a
Family Literacy Program

By Sandra Bravo

Teacher's Network Policy Institute
Santa Barbara, California

Educational reform is a constant theme in American educational policy. Policy makers have launched ambitious efforts to change schools and the way schools prepare students and their families. This idea is made apparent by numerous past and present efforts to improve education. Additionally, there has been a substantial effort to include parents in the educational process of their children. These efforts have created family programs to bridge the gap that exists between home and schools. Unfortunately, there is no recent research that indicates how these programs are being implemented, and how they are affecting students and their families. What are the opportunities for families to become involved? What are the roles and relationships and the patterns of interaction when teachers, parents, and students work together in these programs? These questions are focus to this study. The proposed study will not only examine how family literacy programs are implemented across California, it will also examine how these programs promote or constrain parents to becoming involved in schools.
This study suggests the need to examine two questions: If the school system wants parents involved in school, what are they doing to make school more accessible to parents? What do schools provide as opportunities for parents to get involved in their children's education? Schools often question why some parents are not involved in school. Research indicates that first, many parents are intimidated by the school system (Valdés, 1996), and some may not know how to help their children. Secondly, there are not a lot of opportunities for parents or families to be involved. Underlying these questions is a view of parent involvement that rests solely on the shoulders of schools, and not on interactions between home and school. There is a limited view of what home-school interactions entail. Research shows that parent involvement programs have been centered on either increasing the involvement of parents in learning activities at home (Epstein, 1984; Allexsaht-Snider, 1995), or in using parents in various capacities as school volunteers, along with attempts to teach parenting and other school skills to parents.

This is view of parent involvement is important to study because there are many positive outcomes when parents and schools interact. When parents are involved, children perform better academically, they are more motivated to learn, have fewer discipline problems, and have higher self-esteem (Epstein-Becker, 1982). It is crucial to address this issue when looking at program development. The information found in this study would be relevant to school districts because it will help guide the way programs are implemented and evaluated. At the state and federal level, it will provide data that will support the need for such programs.
This study will examine how a family literacy program makes learning opportunities accessible to parents. As part of this program, parents participate in classroom-learning activities that provide various opportunities to interact with their children and teachers. In looking at family literacy programs, we will examine the opportunities that are made accessible or constrained. By the accessible opportunities, there is a big assumption made that the parents will not only learn literacy skills, but also will also learn the language of school, or school literacies. By analyzing their actions and interactions through time and space, we can determine if parents take up what is being offered through different contexts. If applicable, we can make visible the different opportunities for parents and children's learning.

This study will also examine the ways parent involvement is supported or constrained and are committed to developing home-school relationships that may support student's academic progress. To examine these factors, we will explore the processes and practices of home involvement used by each school to identify the institutional practices and interpersonal relationships needed to promote positive parent-home involvement. The study will focus on three aspects:

  1. the interactional relationships between students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other community members,
  2. the way knowledge is constructed in a program of home-school involvement, and
  3. the way parents are afforded opportunities to appropriate academic strategies and take on the role of teachers as they practice these newly acquired literacy skills with their children.

 Through an ethnographic approach that studies the interactions and interpersonal relationships between all members of the family literacy program, this study will address the following questions:

  1. What are the opportunities in which parents can and do become involved?
  2. What are the roles and relationships and the patterns of interaction?
  3. How are parent-school relationships constructed? and
  4. What supports or constraints these relationships?

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