While families are critical to fostering children’s development as readers, too often family engagement plans fail to focus on literacy. Two related Lead for Literacy memos from the Language Diversity and Literacy Development Research Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education build on the family engagement event that we held recently at the Cambridge Public library. (Read the Cambridge Chronicle’s coverage of the event.)
The memos — “Designing Family Partnerships that Make a Difference” and “Implementing Family Partnerships that Make a Difference” — identify a number of common pitfalls. Families want to support their children’s learning but don’t know how. School-family partnerships rarely focus on building relationships. Plans are designed without input from families. Interactions with families arise mainly when problems arise, and communication is often one-way, from the school to the family.
To address these problems, the research group advises starting with a simple premise: “All families want to support their children’s learning; it is the responsibility of site leaders and staff to leverage this common goal and build partnerships.”
The group recommends building strong relationships with families, through such activities as home visits, welcoming events and encouraging volunteerism, as well as translating information and providing interpreters for families with limited skills in English. It recommends providing families with tools and activities, as well as concrete suggestions of ways to “encourage families to read, talk and play.”
Staff must be trained in family engagement, the memos stress. They recommend appointing an individual or team who is familiar with language and literacy development to lead family partnership efforts.
The group suggests several questions to guide implementation of family partnership initiatives:
- Have we included all families in our partnership efforts, valuing and honoring our families’ diverse strengths?
- Do we communicate regularly with all families about their children’s literacy in ways that are honest, respectful and useful?
- Do we regularly provide specific activities that families can engage in at home to promote literacy learning?
The memos in the series are informed by “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” the 2010 report commissioned by Strategies for Children from Professor Nonie Lesaux, who leads the research group.