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February 2016 | Volume 58 | Number 2
Taming the Screen Beast
In the mid-1980s, an influx of Mexican immigrant families, including my own, found solace in the small urban town of Cicero, located on the border of Chicago, Ill. When I started school, bilingual education was not offered, and I was required to learn English without ample support.
My parents, however, taught me to speak, read, and write in my native language. Their diligence at home helped me bridge Spanish and English, and I became fully biliterate.
At Greenman Elementary School, where I now serve as an English language learner (ELL) specialist, we recognize the need to honor our students' native languages. We found that we could help close achievement gaps by advocating family literacy.
Although our school has an established transitional bilingual classroom, we have had to increase the use of academic English language in the classroom because of the Common Core State Standards and other requirements. When progress stalled, parents wanted to get more involved in their children's native language literacy. As a result, our staff implemented Parents Advocating Literacy, a cooperative biliteracy program.
When we started the program, a survey showed that only 20 percent of parents were reading at home with their children and that 95 percent were unaware of how to best help their children with reading and writing. One year later, 98 percent of parents were using academic strategies and reading daily in the home.
Our school hones in on academic socialization involvement to teach parents the academic knowledge they need to effectively engage their children in learning. We hold family workshops in which we share simplified literacy strategies that parents can implement at home in Spanish.
Practice visual literacy. We encourage parents to narrate what is shown in the illustrations during read-alouds. Colorin Colorado, an educational service of public broadcasting station WETA, emphasizes that storytelling is important for Latino families who struggle with reading in English, and oral or visual storytelling should be a more natural activity.
We teach parents key vocabulary words associated with reading, such as directionality (print is read from left to right) and accuracy (reading without mistakes). Teachers model how to hold a book, read in sequence, and read images. Then parents practice with their children.
Motivate them with rewards. We suggest having children earn reading points at home to spend on activities such as playing video games or going to the movies.
Carve out a reading space. We advise parents to make the space bright, colorful, and comfortable so that children feel safe to make mistakes and grow. The most important part of a reading space is its home library, which we help parents stock. With Title I funds, our school purchases literacy bags that contain five high-interest books, bookmarks, pencils, pointers for reading, and fluency timers.
Build routines. Solid home routines can support homework and learning. For example, our teachers send home folders every day with important information that parents need to review. We model how to fill out and sign the reading logs and how to find the author and title of a story.
We suggest that parents dedicate areas for their kids to put their school bags and to set out their folder for review. We also advise parents to post a nightly schedule at home: dinner, homework, reading, and fun.
Make it challenging. In our workshops, parents learn how to help develop the fundamental skills their children need to grow as readers, such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and comprehension.
The Parents Advocating Literacy program is creating a bilingual, bicultural bridge that bonds the school and home. Students are showing substantial growth in their English proficiency scores, parents and students are empowered in their literacy proficiency, and the most remarkable advantage is that students are becoming biliterate.
When I was growing up, my parents taught me literacy skills in Spanish that influenced me to become a bilingual educator. At Greenman, we create an environment that engages families in literacy strategies that unify our community. Our students' literacy skills have begun to excel, as has our culture of ELL family empowerment. When parents are empowered, they become active, lifelong participants in their children's education.
Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.
Brenda Mendoza is a K–12 bilingual ELL specialist in Aurora, Ill., an ASCD emerging leader, and Illinois ASCD's coleader of whole child advocacy.
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