BY NICOLE NADEAU
Action Research Project
How can I find
ways to build connections with the parents of my students and in what
ways do these efforts support their child’s academic and language
For the last three
years, I have been teaching an ELL (English Language Learners) Kindergarten
class at P.S.361 in Brooklyn. I left my ELL Pull-Out position to start
our schools first self-contained ELL class, which I hoped would better
meet the needs of my students. Because students were pulled daily,
sometimes for two periods, they often missed significant chunks of
curriculum. Having them in one class, not being pulled out, I believed
would simultaneously support their language and academic development
by teaching English through all facets of the curriculum.
Each year has
brought a new set of challenges and joys from which to learn and grow.
This year my class saw a large influx of students. The class register
went from 14 to 24 and finally leveled off at 20 in February. In the
fall, new children were admitted daily or were transferred into my
class from other classes as they were identified as needing ELL services
based on the New York City LAB Test for English Language Learners.
Many of the children, initially, spoke no English and/or had never
been to school. They needed help adjusting to school while learning
a new language and culture, so I enlisted a few of our school’s
Parent Learning Leaders (PLL’s) to aid our class.
I started my research
by considering how PLL’s not only assisted the students in their
daily routines, but, also, how they supported the children’s
academic and developmental needs. I observed how the PLL’s read
with small groups of students and how they talked with the children
about these books. I also observed how Mrs. O., a bilingual parent
would sometimes translate for students whose first language was Spanish
simple commands such as “stand up” and “go to your
cubby” to more complex academic concepts, such as, how to pick
and write about one topic during Writing Workshop. This enabled some
students to understand more fully what was expected of them. I thought,
if I could get another bilingual parent into the class, perhaps, one
of the parents of my students who spoke Haitian Creole, this would
help to support the needs of even more of my students.
But, as the year
progressed, several factors led me to change the focus of my research.
Unfortunately, my Parent Learning Leaders were no longer able to volunteer
in my class due to family responsibilities. Also, I was unable to
enlist the help of any of the parents of my own students in our class
after sending home a questionnaire asking for volunteers. For the
last three years, I have also had great difficulty getting any parents
of my students to chaperone trips. I wondered why I had a hard time
getting parents “involved”.
As I began looking
at what the research said about the importance of parental support
and involvement, specifically, as it related to parents whose first
language was other than English, I realized I needed to change my
own definition of what constituted “involvement”. I realized
I would need to find ways outside my own traditional mind set to connect
parents to their child’s school experience. Therefore, my question
became: How I can I find ways to build home-school connections with
the families of my students and in what ways do these efforts support
their child’s academic and language development.
Experts in the
field of English as a Second language point out the need for teachers
to reach out to parents and the positive impact it has on the achievement
of students. Hilda Hernandez (1997) states, “For students and
parents alike, school can be an ‘alien’ place, alien in
language and culture, in values and experiences. Recognizing parents
as participants in the educational enterprise is critical”(43).
in his chapter in Educating Second Language Children (Genesee
1994) outlines five pedagogical principles to keep in mind when teaching
ELL students. The fifth principal states, “The academic and
linguistic growth of students is significantly increased when parents
see themselves, and are seen by school staff, as co-educators”(43).
Research done in England found struggling ELL readers who read aloud
to their parents with books sent home from school made significantly
greater gains in reading achievement than those ELL students who only
worked with reading specialists at school. It was found that students
increased their reading proficiency even when parents spoke no English
and/or were illiterate in both the first and second language. The
research also reported parents felt “great satisfaction”
at being involved in this way in the school experience. Students demonstrated
increased interest in learning and improved behavior at school. Cummins
sights this study as, “The most clear-cut evidence of the academic
benefits that can accrue to students as a result of the establishment
of a collaborative relationship between the school and parents”
The above study
also supports Cummins’ fourth pedagogical principle for educating
ELL students. This principle stresses the need for educators to integrate
academic content and language learning in order to help ELL children
“catch up” to their native English speaking counterparts
(42). Miramontes, Nadeau, and Commins (1997) stress linking educational
policy to best teaching practices. They write, “if they [ELL
students] are made to wait to develop new school-based concepts and
skills until they have enough English, they are blocked from using
available cognitive tools to their full potential” (19).
Earlier this year,
I had sent home books from the classroom library with two students
whose parents had expressed a need for books. But, I also observed
that not all of my students were completing their homework reading
logs. Therefore, realizing other students may need books and inspired
by the research findings in England that showed ELL students’
reading achievement improved when the school collaborated with parents
and had ELL students read aloud familiar books to their families at
home, I decided to start sending home books with all my students.
I chose to send
home books known in my class as “Star Books” or “old
favorites” because I knew my students would be familiar with
them and could share them with their parents. “Star Books”
is a Teachers College Reading Workshop term, used to distinguish them
from other kinds of books. Characteristics that qualify Star Books
as high quality storybooks include, but are not limited to, having
a strong storyline, strong characters and some repetitive text. These
books help support both oral language and reading development. Examples,
one might be familiar with are, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Bears.
I read Star Books
over and over again throughout the year and use in them our Reading
Workshop in a variety of ways to teach children about different aspects
of reading. For the first few to several months of school, I read
each selection over a four to five day period. I also teach my students
during Reading Workshop how to “read” and reread these
books on their own using the pictures, their memories of the story
plot, and the repetitive language based on their stage of reading
According to the
work of Elizabeth Sulzby (1985), children pass through “stages”
as the “read” and reread well-known storybooks, much like
children pass through stages when they are learning to speak or write.
Children are said to demonstrate “pre-reading” behaviors,
also known as emergent reading, before they learn to read “conventionally”,
or in other words, before they come to understand that print holds
In order to illustrate
the five stages of development children might exhibit in relationship
to their interactions with storybooks, I will use the story, The
Three Bears. Initially, children may point to pictures and name
them, for example, saying, “bear” or “bear go”.
At Stage II, as their knowledge of oral language and reading develops,
their interactions with the text sounds more like they are telling
a story or talking. For example, one of my students said, “the
bears are playing” at this stage. At the next stage, children
incorporate more book language in their “reading” of a
story. Children often intermingle both oral and story language. They
might say something like, “The bears sat in chairs. ‘The
little wee bear had a little wee chair’”, hooking into
the book’s repetitive language patterns. At Stage IV, children
realize that the text holds the message and not the picture marking
the point at which children start to transition from emergent readings
into conventional readings. They usually say something like, “I
can’t read this” or stare blankly at the page and are,
usually, now considered “ready to read”. The last stage,
stage V, in their interactions with these well-loved storybooks, is
when they use their memory of the pictures, the text and newly developing
print strategies to read the words.
Before I started
sending home Star Books, I assessed my class to determine the children’s
stages in relationship to their “reading” of these familiar
books on their own or with a partner during Reading Workshop. The
assessment demonstrated that each of my students could in someway
interact with the text, therefore, it was my hope that even if the
ELL parents were not able to read to their child, their child could
“read” the familiar texts at home to their families. I
realized, even if it was not possible to have parents in my classroom
on a regular basis, I was making an important school to home connection
by sending a student selected well-loved piece of our every day curriculum
home to share with their families. And, at the very least, this intervention
was ensuring that every one of my students had a book at home every
On Monday, December
6th, 2005 I started sending Star Books home. I, also, sent a letter
home in the bag with the first book explaining the rationale behind
the initiative and the procedures for handling books. The letter,
however, was in English only. I knew this would not be enough to help
parents fully understand the intervention, particularly, because I
knew some parents were not able to read in English and/or their first
language. So I arranged with the help of the principal and assistant
principal an event I called “Breakfast and a Book” which
took place on in my classroom on Wednesday, January 12th, 2005.
At our school,
we do not have designated translators, nor is it any one’s job
description, so our assistant principal arranged to have one of our
aides and the guidance counselor available. Mrs. J., an aide, served
as a translator for parents who spoke Haitian Creole and/or French.
Mrs. W, our guidance counselor translated for parents who spoke Spanish.
She is the only staff member available to translate for parents whose
first language is Spanish.
Ten parents of
nine children in my class of nineteen attended the event, as did both
the principal and assistant principal, and the two staff members who
served as translators. I planned the event for 8:30AM in my class
so parents could come to school with their child and stay. I intended
to inform and educate parents on the emerging literacy of their child,
why I had decided to send home “Star Books”, routines
for bringing books home and back to school, and to answer any questions
parents might have. However, as will be shown through the interview
data and discussed in the analysis, I believe this event did more
for “informing and educating” me about a level of disconnect
between parents, students, teachers and staff at our school I had
not previously seen.
In order to collect
information about my action research I used several tools: random
samples of homework reading logs, assessments of reading behaviors,
and interviews of school staff. I followed a cohort of seventeen students
who had been in my class over a consistent period of time and I interviewed
the two staff members who had served as translators for parents.
Homework Reading Logs
I examined the
homework book log behaviors of my students at three different points.
I randomly sampled one week of homework reading logs in November and
one week in December and combined the two weeks to get a picture of
log entries prior to sending home Star Books. After I started sending
books home, I not only looked at the number of entries made but the
kinds of book titles logged, to see if students were reading Star
Books, books from home, or a combination of books. I randomly sampled
two weeks of book logs between December 6tt 2004 and the January 12th
2005, before the “Breakfast and a Book” event, and combined
them. After the January 12th event, I randomly sampled a week of homework
reading logs for each month from February to May.
Sulzby’s Stages of Children’s Developmental Behaviors
As Emergent and Conventional Storybooks Readers *
I = Labeling and/or
responding to the pictures on each page with little or no understanding
of the larger story
“Attempts Governed by Pictures: Stories Not Formed”
and commenting = 1.
b.) Following the action = 2.
II = Telling a
story (frequently in the present tense) based on the picture in front
“Attempts Governed by Pictures, Stories Formed (Oral Language-Like)”
storytelling = 3.
b.) Monologic storytelling = 4.
III = Transitioning
between oral and written language. They will read the story using
the pictures and language, which they have internalized from hearing
the story over and over again. It may sound like conventional reading.
“Attempts Governed by Pictures, Stories Formed (Written
and Storytelling Mixed = 5.
b.) Reading Similar-to-Original Story = 6.
c.) Reading Verbatim-Like Story = 7.
IV = Refusing
to read the book using the pictures because they realize that print
holds the message. Some children may insist on reading the print and
will struggle to do this.
“Refusing to read based on print awareness” = 8.
V = Using their
memories of the text and the pictures to read conventionally.
*Reading based on memory of text, pictures and conventional reading
Aspectually (recognizing a word or letterers) = 9.
b.) Holistic Attempts
with strategies imbalanced = 10.
2. Reading independently = 11.
Reading Behaviors and Development
In order to assess
oral language and reading behaviors, I listened and took notes as
children selected and “read” aloud a Star Book. I used
the “Kindergarten Emergent Reading Observation Form” taken
from the work of Elizabeth Sulzby and compiled by the Teachers College
Reading and Writing Project to determine what stage or stages students
exhibited behaviors (see Figure 1). I assessed students at the beginning
of the year, before Star Books went home and again in the spring.
In order to get
feedback about parent response to the “Breakfast and a Book”
intervention, I wrote down the initial comments of the two staff members
who translated for the event. Later, I did follow-up interviews to
gain a wider perspective on parental involvement of ELL parents at
The data I collected
comes from assessments of oral and reading behaviors, from the observations
of student homework reading logs, and the interviews of colleagues
who translated for parents.
In November, when
I did the first assessment, none of the students exhibited “print
readiness” or the ability to read conventionally. However, all
of the students demonstrated some ability to interact with the text.
Nine of the seventeen students exhibited Stage III behaviors using
the picture and combining story and oral language to “read”
the story. Three students exhibited emergent reading behaviors typical
of Stage II, or using oral language and the picture to tell a story.
The remaining five demonstrated labeling (“monkeys”),
or labeling with action (“man walk”), behaviors consistent
with Stage I (see Table 1).
According to the
final assessment done during the month of May, the class demonstrated
behaviors in four stages of development. Nine students out of the
seventeen exhibited behaviors that demonstrated they were ready to
start (Stage IV), or had started reading familiar storybooks conventionally
(Stage V). Eight students still exhibited behaviors that demonstrated
emergent reading. No students exhibited Stage I behaviors (see Table
However, in order
to view the oral language and reading development of each student
more closely, and to observe any relationship or possible connection
between reading books at home and storybook reading development, I
organized my data for the cohort of seventeen students on one table
(See Table 2). One side of the table lists the stages and sub-categories
for each child for the first and last assessment of storybook “readings”.
I did this to demonstrate that as children grow as readers they may
demonstrate a variety of reading behaviors. A third column shows the
difference in stages from the beginning of the year to the end for
each student. The second half of the table shows the scores assigned
for reading log behaviors for each student taken from the random samples,
as previously explained, from November through May.
According to the
combined two-week random sample done before I started sending books
home, out of the seventeen students, eight students received a score
of “5”, or completely filled out their reading logs. Two
students logged “all” to “some” book log entries
when the two weeks were combined. They received a rubric score of
“4”. Three students logged “some” entries
receiving a score of “3”. One student logged “some”
to “no” entries with the combining of the two-weeks, and
two students logged “no books”. One student lost the homework
packets each of the two weeks and received no score.
After Star Books
started going home a combined two-week random sample between December
6th, 2005 and January 12th, 2005 showed only three students fully
completed two-weeks worth of log entries. Of the three, only one student
logged all Star Books. The other two students read a combination of
books from home and school. Six students read some to all entries
over the two weeks. However, their book choices also varied. Three
out of the six exclusively used Star Books to complete book log entries.
The logs of the other three contained some combination of books from
home and school. Five students read “some” books each
week over the two-week period. The behaviors for this category were
the most varied. Only one of students in this category read Star Books
exclusively. Two students read a combination. Two other students solely
read “other” books or books from home. One of these two
students appeared to not actually be logging book titles, but words
in cursive copied from a text. Three students filled out “some”
to “no” book log entries over the two-week period. One
of these students used a combination of books. The other two students
used Star Books exclusively to make book log entries.
Overall, compared to the first two-week sample, three students wrote
more book log entries, six logged the same number of books, and seven
logged fewer book title entries. One student did not have a previous
sample in order to compare number of book titles logged. Seven of
these students used Star Books exclusively, eight used a combination
of Star Books and books from home, and two students did not use Star
Books at all. Of these two student, one used text not book titles
(see Table 2).
The one week random
sample taken in February after the “Breakfast and a Book”
event showed different results. Eight students completed all book
log entries and did so with Star Books. Three students completed four
entries with Star Books exclusively. Four students logged two to three
books. This student continued to use text and not titles. Only one
student logged no books.
Since, I used
a one-week sample and previously used two-week samples, I will not
compare number of books logged. However, overall, after the event,
thirteen students compared to six students used Star Books exclusively
to make Book Log entries, demonstrating a significant increase in
the number of students who logged Star Books exclusively. Two students
used a combination making the total number of students who used Star
Books in some capacity to log book entries fifteen. One student logged
no entries and the other was a student who used text (see Table 2).
of Reading Skills
Student 1 is the
only student that clearly demonstrated a difference of three stages
in development from the beginning of the year to the end (see Table
2). This student also logged the most Star Books between January and
April. I did not have a sample for this student in May. She went to
her country of birth over spring vacation and was not able to re-enter
the country for a month until her paper work was cleared.
students 3 and 7, exhibited two to three stages of growth (see Table
2). Both students read Star Books exclusively after the initiative
and completed most to all entries.
Student 16 clearly
exhibited Stage III, sub-category 5 behaviors during the first assessment.
During the last assessment, this student demonstrated behaviors characterized
by Stage III, Sub-category 7 (Reading Verbatim), Stage IV, Sub-category
8 (Refusal to Read), and Stage V, Sub-category 9 (Reading Aspectually)
(see Table 2).
Student 7 displayed
behaviors characterized by Stages I and II while “reading”
a familiar storybook during the first assessment, and Stages III and
IV during the final assessment, a difference in behaviors of one to
Four students, 5, 6, 13 and 17, demonstrated growth between two stages.
After the initiative, students who demonstrated growth between two
stages was characterized by completing most to all entries with Star
Books or a combination of Star and books from home. None of these
students completely filled log entries with books entirely from home.
Student 10 demonstrated
growth between one and two stages displaying Stage I behaviors initially,
but by the last assessment this student demonstrated behaviors characterized
by Stage II and III. The student was writing text and not titles on
the book log entries. However, for April and May this student was
logging a combination of Star Book and “other” actual
book titles on the reading log. During this time he began an after-school
homework help program.
8, 14, and 15, demonstrated growth into the next stage of development.
All three students went from stage I to stage II. Student 8 is the
only student who logged fewer book entries immediately after the initiative,
but then increased log entries. Student 15 did not receive a score
for the first random sample because she lost the homework packets.
The patterns of how many books were logged for these three students
appear inconsistent, but they all used Star Books exclusively or in
combination with books from home to make entries.
Students 4 and
11 displayed the same oral language and reading behaviors characterized
by Stages II and III during the first assessment, and both demonstrated
only Stage III behaviors during the last assessment. However, one
student clearly displayed sub-category 7 behaviors, by “reading”
using the pictures so it sounded like they reading the text verbatim.
Student 4 logged fewer books than the second student according to
the random samples, but used only Star Books.
Student 2 did
not demonstrate movement between stages, but did show growth within
a stage. The last assessment, as did the first assessment showed the
student to be at Stage III. However, within this stage the student
exhibited growth between sub-categories moving from using storybook
language (sub-categories 5 and 6) to sounding like they were repeating
the book’s text verbatim (sub-category 7).
Only one student,
student12, demonstrated no apparent growth between or within stages.
For both the first and last assessment the student exhibited Stage
II, sub-category 3. Four out of the eight weeks randomly sampled no
books titles were logged. Out of the remaining four samples, an average
of one to two entries were made per week. The student used Star Books
or a combination of books to complete entries. According to random
sampling, this student logged the least amount of books.
for student 12, students who logged four to five book titles a week
and used Star Books demonstrated growth of two to three stages from
the first to the last assessment. And except for student 10, students
who exhibited inconsistent scores for reading log behaviors and/or
who received scores of “1”, “2”, or “3”,
demonstrated development of one stage or less.
After the “Breakfast
and a Book” event Mrs. J., our trilingual aide, reported parents
left feeling “very” happy and now would feel much more
comfortable approaching me. She said they had previously felt they
“couldn’t” and had been “intimidated”.
Two parents cried and thanked “us” for helping their children.
Mrs. W. reported that some of the Spanish-speaking parents were surprised
and quite happy that there was someone at the event to translate for
I used follow-up
interviews to clarify the parents’ responses to the session.
Mrs. J., said she could not quite explain what was so “special”
about that morning but she said, that it was very “important”.
She said, “They were so happy to be there”. She said some
parents at our school had “never” spoken to or even met
their child’s teacher because “they can not communicate”.
She said the parents were” scared to go” and speak with
their child’s teachers because the parents felt they would not
be understood. She said, “Some parents are frustrated because
they do not have the English”. And, in turn, she said the teachers
had never asked her for “help” in order to contact or
speak with these parents.
When I asked her
if she felt there should be more of these events with translators,
she responded, “Yes, [the parents] need someone to help them
talk to teachers.” She pointed out that there are students who
are not in ESL, but whose parents do not speak English. She said some
kids will “act up” because “they say, ‘I don’t
care you can call my mother – she doesn’t speak English!”
When I asked her why she felt these kinds of events are important,
she said because some parents speak no English and they need some
one to communicate with the teacher. “Having someone that can
be between them and the teacher makes them feel very comfortable.”
In closing she commented, “I don’t know what you did last
time, but it made me feel that if everybody did the same thing, they
An analysis of
the data from my study suggests when teachers and school communities
make the effort to connect with families it has a positive impact
on student achievement. Due to the limitations of this study, a case
for the impact on oral language and reading development of reading
Star Books at home cannot be made. However, a comparison of reading
log samples with the difference in stages of development of each of
the seventeen students from the beginning of the year to the end clearly
suggests a relationship between the amount one reads at home and the
rate of development. This was most poignantly illustrated when the
reading log behaviors of the student who demonstrated the greatest
gains in reading development are compared to those of the only student
who made no apparent growth. Simply put, the first student read the
most Star Books and the second student read the least number of books.
Interestingly, the data from the second random book log sample suggests
sending books home was not enough. What the data does appear to suggests
is families need and appreciate having translators available. After
the “Breakfast and a Book” event, where translators were
made available, reading logs between February and May showed more
books and Star Books logged. In addition, parents not only benefit
from having resources, such as books, to help support their child’s
academic success, but, as I found out from two explicit requests,
want and need them.
Lastly, the data
also suggests teachers may not fully understand the disconnect between
home and school a second language can create, the extra efforts they
may need to make in order to connect the school and home experience,
the resources available to help them communicate with parents and
the success that comes from such efforts.
findings and what the literature suggests about the impact of building
strong, informed relationships between families and schools on student
behavior and achievement, what else as teachers can we do to connect
with and support families? What other factors, besides language, might
be hampering teacher efforts?
the limitations of this study concerning understanding the relationship
between Star Books and oral language and reading development, I propose
a few further questions for research:
- Does book
choice make any difference on oral language and reading development?
- If so, what
kinds of books are better for supporting a child’s development?
On a small scale,
my study suggests that when teachers and schools explore ways to connect
with families by attempting to understand and support both the needs
of families and students, it has a positive impact on student reading
development. Therefore, I would like to suggest the following policy
- Language is
a potential barrier to parental involvement, therefore, teachers
and the whole school community need to employ special efforts to
communicate with and involve parents in their child’s school
- We want parents
to be involved, so we need to provide the resources in order to
do so. For example, we can provide books, translators, translated
materials, and events that make families feel comfortable and for
which produce positive experiences.
- We did not
have translators at our school so we found staff members who could
provide these services. Therefore, we need to examine or reexamine
the resources already in place in our schools. We need to better
utilize, support and appreciate the wealth of experienced, dedicated
staff members employed in our public school system.
Cummins, J. 1994.
“Knowledge, Power, and Identity in Teaching English as a Second
Language.” In Educating Second Language Children: The Whole
Child, The Whole Curriculum, The Whole Community, ed. F. Genesee,
33-58. Cambridge: the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
1997. Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms: A Teachers Guide to
Context, Process, and Content. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.
A. Nadeau, and N. L. Cummins. 1997. Restructuring Schools for
Linguistic Diversity: Linking Decision Making to Effective Teaching
Practices. New York: Teachers College Press.
Sulzby, E. 1985.
“Children’s Emergent Reading of Favorite Storybooks: A
Developmental Study.” Reading Research Quarterly, XX(4):