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Understanding Family Literacy: Conceptual Issues Facing the Field

by Vivian L. Gadsden - 1994

A look at the intergenerational nature of literacy and life-span development of individual family members

Family-support initiatives within school and home contexts have received considerable attention over the past five years. Legislation such as the Family Support Act of 1988, efforts to integrate services for children and families, and discussions about the changing role of schools in supporting parents and communities have contributed to an expansion of research and practice in literacy-from child to adult development.[1] An emerging subset of this work examines the intergenerational nature of literacy and life-span development of individual family members.[2]

Research in both adult literacy and literacy within K-12 schools acknowledges the role of the family as central to learners' valuing of education and persisting in school and program activities.[3] With less frequency, this work provokes discussion about the intersection between the goals and culture of the family as a unit, the real and perceived roles of family members within and outside the home, the issues of race and culture, and the ability of some families experiencing hardship to sustain their engagement in literacy learning and classroom activities- whether in traditional or nontraditional school contexts. The purpose of this article is to review these prevailing issues in the development of family literacy and to examine assumptions about families, family support, and learning on which the concept of family literacy is being developed and which may dictate its future course.

Although research on parents and children has a long history, recent discussions-particularly popular notions-about family literacy have evolved largely out of programmatic and policy efforts. Much of the discussion that frames these efforts is predicated on a cluster of educational and social problems facing children and families and the potential windfall for intergenerational poverty and school dropout. For example, in separate documents cited in literacy research reports, authors have noted that more than 20 percent of children and families in America live in poverty; almost 70,000 children and youth are estimated to be homeless; urban high schools, similar to many in large metropolitan areas, report high percentages of students who drop out or simply become disengaged in the educational process; and even for parents seeking literacy assistance, the demands of parenting and lack of economic stability outweigh parents' desires to gain access to sound literacy programs.[4] In studies over the past ten years, researchers also point to the high levels of literacy that often exist in homes or describe the family as educator.[5] Several other studies suggest that children in families where books and other reading material are available typically perform better in school than children in homes where such material is unavailable, while still others find that parents are motivated to improve their own literacy education in order to help their children achieve in school.[6]

Programs that provide family and intergenerational literacy assistance are designed to improve literacy among adults (typically parents) in a family and aim to increase the likelihood that children in the family will experience fewer literacy problems than their parents.[7] Programs based on this generic description of family literacy are found in schools, churches, community centers, libraries, and private agencies. Moreover, educational initiatives at different levels of policy aim to "incorporate the idea [of family literacy] into existing programs (compensatory education, adult education, Head Start, and welfare reform) and new programs built around family literacy (Even Start)."[8]

The concept of family literacy, as currently used to describe programs, is relatively new, although the basis for much of the discussion is derived from a variety of domains (e.g., early reading/emergent literacy and parent-child relationships). Recent references to the concept are either located in larger discussions of family-support efforts or embedded in the ability of programs to compensate for the inability of low-literate parents-particularly low-income, minority families-to assist their children's performance in school.[9] Like family-support initiatives in general, family literacy efforts aim to improve the developmental capacity and educational options available to family members. However, while there is ample evidence that family development is a compelling educational and policy issue, the status and future of family literacy are considerably more ambiguous. A major question then is where and how family literacy can be situated within the body of research and practice on parents and children, particularly in fields such as reading and human development. That is, how different, if at all, are the components of family literacy from the existing research in child and adult literacy? Is family literacy a field with special or unique instructional approaches and theoretical frameworks, is it a domain of study under the rubric of parent involvement, or is it simply an interesting concept that comfortably fits into current policy and political agendas?

The importance of these questions, and the responses, is heightened because of a sense of national urgency that seems to accompany the recent emphasis on family literacy. Indeed, few initiatives have more appeal than those that aim to help, educate, and protect children and their parents, many of them young and poor. Despite the appeal of these efforts, however, the mechanisms to ensure their success are only partially developed. Family literacy currently exists as an amalgamation of models and approaches with varying levels of empirical evidence to support claims of success or failure and with few theoretical frameworks. Studies that explore the parameters of literacy programs are limited, and the potential impact of the activities in them on the families they are intended to serve is relatively unknown.[10]

Although adding to the ambiguity of family literacy, the relative absence of theoretical frameworks in the field creates latitude for literacy specialists to conceptualize the field and determine its scope. In this article I explore this field of opportunity, examining the issues within recent child/adult literacy, family-development, and family-support efforts. The discussion is divided into four parts: (1) research and program factors that contribute to popular conceptions of family literacy, (2) assumptions in expanding family literacy efforts, (3) linkages between literacy and family support, and (4) conceptual considerations for the field. Embedded in the discussion are questions of what constitutes literacy support to families and how the concept of family support is defined and interpreted-particularly by literacy specialists, who have vastly different notions about the purposes of literacy within families and about who decides what the purposes should be.



Issues in family and intergenerational literacy have been at the center of discussions in education and the social sciences since the 1960s when researchers in reading, linguistics, educational and developmental psychology, and sociology attempted to identify factors in the home that contribute to children's success and failure in school. While research in this area, much of it an outgrowth of the "War on Poverty," focusedon the African-American community primarily, the findings of some studies also provided a context for understanding many of the problems facing families targeted for family literacy programs today. Durkin studied home (parent) variables in the reading development and reading performance and behaviors of black children from low-income homes in Chicago. Labov examined the linguistic elements associated with black children's code structures within urban homes and communities and the impact of these structures on literacy activities such as reading. Coleman and his colleagues described the status of black families in America and the plight of black children in gaining access to education. Moynihan described the problems facing black families in relationship to national agendas. Billingsley examined the sociology of black families, while Blassingame wrote about black families in historical perspective.[11]

More recently, research on children and families' learning literacy has focused on cross-cultural and social issues or on conceptualizations of family ecology, family within school contexts, and mother-child interaction.[12] Collectively, these studies and a large complementary research base from multiple domains demonstrate not only a relationship between children's performance in school and parents' literacy levels (and literacy practices in the home) but also the importance of understanding the nature of the family itself, its function as a social unit, and the uses of literacy within home contexts.

Studies on early reading and emergent literacy have contributed to the research impetus for family and intergenerational literacy, both expanding conceptualizations of literacy and focusing on a variety of human and environmental factors in literacy learning. Teale and Sulzby examined children's first or early representations of and uses for literacy and discussed parents' roles in this early developmental stage of literacy. Hiebert and Adams, in one of the few studies to examine fathers' responses, focused on the impact of home influences on young children's print development and parents' perceptions and knowledge of children's literacy. Allen and Mason described how parents use print with children, applying different genres and strategies. Wigfield and Asher demonstrated that parents' attitudes and expectations for their children's performance are good predictors of children's attitudes toward learning, effort in school, and classroom performance.[13]

Studies in family literacy are located often in two dominant, sometimes overlapping, positions on literacy learning in the home. The first suggests that parents' literacy has a significant influence on children's motivation to acquire, develop, and use literacy. Physical environments, such as homes, in which books are available become a positive influence on children's sense of efficacy with print.[14] Leichter found that when parents have levels of literacy that allow them to feel competent with print, speech, and other literate behaviors, the availability of books in the home increases and the quantity and quality of interactions between parents and their children may be enhanced. Thus, parents are able to assume new roles helping children to acquire literacy and guiding their children's learning. Rogoff observes that in cases where parents and children participate in problemsolving together with large amounts of verbal interaction, there is effective parent- child interaction in many domains.[15]

A second position is based on the notion that literacy may serve a liberating and empowering purpose for children and parents. This position is developed around the view that parents who gain a sense of personal control as a result of literacy, and who are given opportunities to make choices-that is, to accept or reject alternatives to their current practices, serve as role models for the importance of literacy to personal success and power.[16] Research bearing on this theme suggests that the development of literacy within many homes may be constrained by social distance (created as a result of misunderstanding or lack of information) between the family and the program. This distance may be perpetuated through lack of knowledge and inattention by literacy providers to cultural beliefs and practices in the home and community, literacy needs of family members, and expectations of literacy learning by children and parents. The distance may be exacerbated by a perception within families that literacy is inaccessible for children and adults because of social or cultural differences, institutional barriers within society, or learners' own past negative experiences with literacy learning and instruction. In the case of either of these situations, family members may come to see the price of literacy as being too high or associate literacy with real or perceived tradeoffs between the social forces of home and culture and the requirements of literacy and schooling.[17]

A core of research studies on parent-child literacy suggests that children have a decided advantage when they are read to and when reading materials are available; other studies find children learning to read without ever seeing their parents read or having many reading materials in the home. Reading research, for example, beginning with Durkin's work, supports the idea that the level and nature of the interaction between parents and children in home settings is the most critical factor. Heath found that in the homes of "mainstream" families, parents supported their children's literacy development by asking questions, engaging them in conversations about events, and reading bedtime stories. However, what seemed to be an important contributor to the children's literacy development was parents' availability to interact with their children in a way that approximated approaches used in school contexts.[18]

Much of research and practice on parent-child literacy is developed around a view of families in low-income homes-disproportionate numbers of whom are families of color-as "lacking in literacy."[19] Parents in these homes are described often as not having the skills and knowledge to engage their children in the types of activities that are expected in school. Thus, the ability to complete some school-related tasks of reading and writing may be equated erroneously with literacy as problem- solving ability.[20] Some forms of problem-solving ability (i.e., everyday cognition), often encouraged and supported in these homes, may be overlooked because they are neither mainstream nor easily assessed.

Cochran notes that literacy studies have been developed disproportionately and consistently around a deficit model, despite challenges to this perspective over the past twenty-five years. Among the studies to challenge the claims of deficit is research conducted by Anderson and Stokes with African-American, Anglo-American, and Latino families. The researchers suggest that many literacy experiences that occur in homes of poor families, for example, paying bills, reading a television guide, and Bible reading, are overlooked because they do not conform to "mainstream" school-like literate events and are not used as ways to engage learners. Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines describe the difficult lives of "poor" African-American families and focus on school-like practices that occur in the families-for example, a young mother who reads aloud to her children as a way of helping them learn to read and write. Parents with little economic means drew on school-like models and memories of reading instruction to help their children. Findings from a study conducted by Schieffelin and Cochran-Smith raise questions about the single-mindedness of literacy as a set of activities and actions around print alone. They observed that children were successful in school although their parents did not read to them, did not have reading materials, and did not provide the children with reading instruction. Yet, in these homes, oral and written literacies were valued commodities (particularly becoming literate in English), encompassing functional, relevant activities.[21]

Research on parent-child literacy and family literacy provides several options to examine the relationship that exists between literacy learning in school and at home. Although this research embraces and promotes a potentially rich data source about the role of context-based literacy, it is constrained by a relatively narrow perspective born in the populations studied (e.g., young children learning to read or experiencing reading problems in early grades) and the unidirectionality of the research (e.g., how learning is transferred from the classroom to home rather than across multiple contexts). In adult literacy, relatively little work examines how literacy is used or program participation negotiated within home and family contexts, despite anecdotal evidence and practitioner reports that for many adult learners, women in particular, participation in programs strains their relationships within the family and home.[22] The intergenerational nature of literacy within a life-span perspective requires a longitudinal, multilevel approach to studying literacy across generations. Emerging as a critical domain, the life-span/life-space perspective begins to focus on the uses of literacy within family context to construct life views and life plans and to mediate or parse life demands.[23]

Recent research on families and intergenerational learning increasingly focuses on social and contextual issues once outside the traditional domains of literacy and learning research: gender and culture-specific issues, problems facing homeless children and families, transitional issues for Head Start families, and the impact of racism, joblessness, and chronic poverty.[24] Still understudied, these research areas have begun to provide compelling insights into the nature of self- sufficiency[25] and the role of family, school, and community as social systems and as systems of support. A basic issue that persists, however, concerns how to translate existing research for current program efforts and how to develop new research that helps to define the field, that complements the development of programs, and that responds to the question of what constitutes practice and curricula in family literacy.


Although several program models have been developed, there is still little known about the design of family literacy programs in general. What is known appears to be an outgrowth of reports about program models, the most widely known being the Kenan Model of the National Center for Family Literacy.[26] However, several other models, curricula, and strategy packages have been developed over the past few years: Parents as Partners, developed by Edwards; the Missouri Parents as Teachers program, developed by Winter and her colleagues; the Home Instruction Program Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY); and the Even Start initiative.[27] In addition, parent-child reading curricula and on-site programs have been developed by researchers and researcher-practitioners such as Strickland and Morrow, Paratore, and Handel and Goldsmith.[28] While these programs may differ in methodology, they either have been referred to or have referred to themselves as family literacy or family education programs. The differences in the structure and content of the programs and the possible outcomes appear to be modest in some cases, although the interpretations for practice, stated purposes, or ideological basis of the projects may vary substantially.

The size and format of family literacy programs run the gamut from small after-school projects to large classes. In some programs, adults may work alone in one room while their children work in another room on separate literacy activities; in other programs, adults and children work together around a common activity designed to improve the adult's and the child's literacy.[29] Some programs include home visits and group parent sessions. Curricula often bring together ideas and materials in a variety of areas. Parents and children may be in the program for a full day or part of a day. For example, the Kenan Model combines its own strategies with approaches in the High Scope model to assist children while parents attend adult literacy classes.[30] Edwards's Parents as Partners is used by teachers in school settings to assist parents with children's early reading. The Parent Readers program, developed by Handel and Goldsmith, works with mothers in community college settings to teach strategies about book readings and sharing to develop an appreciation of literature.[31]

From the 1970s to the present, several parent-child programs have grown out of reading research. Although recent emphasis in this area focuses on book reading,[32] approaches used in studies over the past twenty years and the resulting programs have varied, ranging from direct reading instruction for parents to preparing parents to mentor their own children. Some programs in the 1970s, for example, were designed to assist parents in constructing reading games and to promote their children's beginning reading, for example, Vukelich's Project PROP (Preschool Readiness Outreach Program). Others emphasized parent-child book reading, for example, the "Get Set" program in Philadelphia. Several programs encouraged parents to become more involved in their children's reading in school, for example, Crosset's PPR (Parent Participation in Reading program); still others involved parents as tutors for their children, for example, McWilliams and Cunningham's Project PEP (Parents Encourage Pupils).[33]

The typologies of literacy programs serving families range from parent involvement to parent-child book reading projects. They are typically designed for targeted adult and parent populations, including adults who have been labeled "at-risk," adults who are educationally disadvantaged, "newly literate adults, adult literacy students, teen parents in welfare families, mothers in prison, and parents of children in federally-funded educational programs, such as Head Start and Chapter 1."[34] Programs may be defined more broadly as intergenerational or multigenerational but include only a limited literacy strand. They may involve adults and children in one family or simply pair one child in a family with an adult outside the family who volunteers to assist the child by tutoring, book reading, or mentoring. Programs may be culturally focused (e.g., a Chicago program using an Afrocentric approach and a Los Angeles program designed to meet the needs of Mexican-American families), or they may be generic in their programmatic appeal. They may respond to the goals of a small community network, or they may be appended to existing adult literacy programs. They sometimes use a panoply of approaches, or they may be built around a single philosophy or strategy. Programs may involve a parent and child from the same family or may include a child and an adult family member other than the parent-a grandparent, uncle, or aunt. Rarely, however, do programs expand to include more than two members within a single family (typically a parent and a young child) around a set of teaching and learning approaches.

Although several field studies and policy reports describe the variety of models that have been developed,[35] few studies have been conducted that reveal the relative impact of the programs: that is, whether the learners and their families consider the programs effective, useful, or appropriate; how adult learners use literacy for their own development to help their children; and whether children's school performance improves. A literature search recently conducted by the National Center on Adult Literacy found that, with the exception of a small cohort of studies, most reports provide "how-to" information: for example, how to develop a program, how to use existing organizational structures to create a program, how to get parents interested, or how to obtain funding and other support.[36] Some states have published materials that describe the range of programs sharing the label family or intergenerational literacy.[37] The description of programs in such publications often accommodates or responds to the growth of programs in the state and the desire for funding to expand existing adult literacy efforts. Few reports or reviews describe a conceptual framework for learning and instruction or refer to the need for instructional frameworks. Programs may be driven by service-delivery issues alone; developed around a compilation of strategies, sometimes neither culturally appropriate nor widely studied; or complemented by a limited body of research on literacy and families, that is, learning and instruction, family development, or family systems.

The characteristics of programs often contrast, providing multiple-and sometimes confusing-images of how efforts in the field might be defined. The need is for guiding principles and understandings about how families, across cultural and social backgrounds, use literacy to make sense of the world and how literacy assistance can help them to do so effectively. Although some of the existing models provide guidelines and approaches to working with parents and children, they have not been developed around a coherent set of theories or supported by research that will help to integrate new findings or compare approaches. Conceptual frameworks that enable the field to conduct action research and to assist practitioners to create innovative strategies are critical to the expansion of family literacy practice. In the next section, the beginnings of a framework drawn from multiple disciplines are provided.


In discussing the limitations of family support programs, Walker and Crocker suggest that the programs often are developed around a set of understandings, information, and assumptions that are as likely to misinform as to inform the effort.[38] Unlike the broad area of family support, family literacy reduces this margin of misunderstanding by targeting a specific area of assistance and study. Like the family- support effort in general, however, family literacy efforts are developed around assumptions about problems and content in the field and about the characteristics of the populations studied. Five major assumptions about the nature of families, the history of family support, and the potential viability of research and practice in family literacy are described below as the basis for a conceptual framework.

1. Family as mediator The focus on the family as a mediator for literacy predates the recent emphasis by almost one hundred years.[39] Early definitions restricted literacy instruction to the inculcation of religious and behavioral standards within families, primarily the role of parents in ensuring the religious training of children. These included studies of family structure and governance, psychological and sociological factors affecting family learning, and the "emotional texture of family experience."[40]

Current family literacy spans K-12 to adult literacy and exists in a variety of forms. Some family literacy advocates liken the effort to previous work conducted with parents and children while others argue that the current focus on family literacy recognizes it as a unique concept, unlike models restricted to the study of child and parent reading.[41] On the one hand, family literacy as a research domain is not new, although the specific focus on relationships among family members and literacy is relatively recent. Particularly in adult literacy, the focus on learners' families as crucial to adult participation, until recently, has received little attention. However, research in areas such as emergent literacy and parent-child literacy contributes significantly to discussions in the field and to the view that family members play a role in literacy learning. Table 1 presents an overview of some relevant studies.

Much of the research, particularly studies over the past ten years, has been developed around context-based learning and deemphasizes literacy as a set of discrete skills and abilities. Instead, these studies focus on relationships between learners' development of literacy and their social and cultural contexts for using literacy.[42] Here, the home is seen as a critical social context for learning. Literacy, the desire to learn it, and the ability to achieve it are inextricably tied to learners' perceptions of access-informed and affected by a myriad of social and cultural precepts and consequences within the family. Studies developed out of this framework focus on the relationship between family life and reading, parents' facilitation of emergent literacy, bidirectionality of learning and ecology of the family, literacy within families from diverse cultural and ethnic groups, and literacy interactions in the home.[43]

On the other hand, family literacy is a new concept with wide-scale implications for schools, literacy programs, practitioners, and administrators. This is, in part, the result of the redistribution of funds across federal agencies to support family literacy efforts in multiple settings (e.g., K-12) and is less the result of a transformation in research or practice. What sets current work apart from previous efforts in the field is the notion that a program potentially may provide literacy assistance for both parent and child at the same time and within the same context. That is, while a child is learning to read, so might the parent. How, whether, and the degree to which this actually occurs has not been investigated or reported widely. What is lacking still is a way of helping programs understand, gauge, and address the needs of a wider net of family members seeking literacy assistance.

Adding to the discrepancy about the origin of family literacy is the apparent difference in the goals of research and objectives of programs. Research studies that are broadly considered family literacy focus on specific teaching approaches for children and parents and the impact of parents' literacy on children's school readiness and school success.44 The goals of family literacy programs are both practice-based and policy- driven, ranging from "breaking the cycle of illiteracy" within families, to improving America's economic position in the marketplace, to assisting the family in becoming a system of self-sufficiency. Although these overlap in many cases, they result in programs with highly varied missions and purposes.

Family literacy represents an old idea, perhaps never fully developed, rather than a new concept. It is carved out of family-support efforts that must integrate a wide range of social service, health, educational, and human needs of families. However, what has been lost typically in the discussions in both family support and family literacy is the family itself and the realities of the lives, problems, and goals of individual family members. Whether the revisit to the concepts in family support can effectively integrate literacy options for parents, children, and other family members depends, in part, not only on how well the goals of research and programs can be coordinated but also, in large measure, on whether family members themselves are key actors in determining their roles in their own literacy development, and not simply defined as the product or recipients of an effort.

2. Program goals in response to family expectations Research studies over the past few years have called into question the degree to which instructional practices and program goals represent and integrate the expectations and goals of learners.[45] Although this issue does not originate in family literacy, it is an important concern for programs aiming to address the literacy needs of multiple family members or individuals with varied social, cultural, and political histories and experiences-sometimes within the same family. The family itself has only recently been relied on as a resource for program development.[46] Despite the history of family support in the United States, only within the past ten years has research or practice in literacy focused on the family as the center of educational change, that is, where change can or should occur.[47] To understand where, when, and how change can occur requires understanding families, especially families of color. Historically, programs for these families have been presented with little knowledge of the family as a unit-its culture, its beliefs, or its expectations.

The importance of matching program goals and family expectations was a central issue in educational and policy discussions throughout the mid- 1960s and 1970s. Research on families focused on what researchers labeled discontinuity between family and school life, that is, family- specific characteristics that created problems for children attempting to make the transition from home to school.[48] The apparent mismatch between home and school existed often in the level of independence that learners demonstrate in the classroom; in learners' cultures, experiences, and prior modes of communicating ideas and responding to teachers; as a result of inconsistency between learners' expectations of the teacher as authority and the teacher's willingness to accept the role as an authority figure; or in the language experiences of children in families and the culture of school.[49] Discontinuities were found to result not simply from a mismatch between the structure of school and home but also from misunderstandings about the importance assigned to literacy activities, attitudes, and practices within these two contexts.

Research on parent involvement and home-school partnerships examines the issue of continuity through a variety of typologies for ensuring parent participation in children's school learning.[50] Some of this work is rich in its examination of the intricacies of parent participation in children's learning and school organization while other research has as its goal identifying complementary roles and relationships between parents and school personnel; the second may be less concerned with providing direct instructional assistance to parents and other family members. In comparison, family literacy programs generally describe their purpose as improving parents' literacy to ensure the literacy development of the child; less attention has been given to the quality of relationship between program and parent or parent and child. The success of these literacy programs in achieving their goals depends largely on their capacity to capture the purposes and goals of the children and families served. In some cases, these goals may be consistent with those of the programs or may be a subset of the programs' purposes; in other instances, they may bear no resemblance to the programs' mission.

3. Literacy learning and family context: Developmental processes Families create and sustain environments that ultimately affect the development of the individuals in them. When changes occur for the individual family member, they occur for the family as well. After adults decide to enter literacy programs, not only does the schedule of their lives change but their ability to assume certain responsibilities within the family may also change. We know from developmental studies and educational research that family environment is important in the value attached to literacy and learning and the ability of individuals within the family to be academically successful. Depending on the nature of the family, some components of the same family environment may be "shared" by individual family members while others are "nonshared." Thus, the family itself can affect individuals differently, creating "both similarity and dissimilarity among family members."[51] We know that family climate influences children, for example, parents' child- rearing attitudes; yet, as Rowe and Plomin found, siblings brought up in the same family may differ from one another on standard measures of personality and psychology, and to some degree cognition, almost as much as do unrelated children raised in separate families.[52]

With increasing frequency, literacy issues are being included in interdisciplinary discussions of family development from developmental psychology to medicine.[53] Family-development research attempts to examine the life-span human processes of individuals within the home context. The family member is seen as a "transformer and the transformed."[54] The traditional unidirectionality of influence going from the parent to the child is broadened, and learning and developmental processes of children, for example, are seen as potentially having an impact on the parents' adult development. Individuals and their contexts are thought to have a reciprocal, continuous, and mutual influence. Each period of an individual's life from childhood through middle and older adulthood is studied to understand life needs, life cycle, and the impact of critical periods on family life, for example, times during which the family is forced to reorganize its relationship network to cope with the changing demands and interests of the individual members.

An understanding of the family as a system and of the cultural and social structure of families served by literacy programs is central to engaging learners in programs and sustaining their participation over time. The purposes and uses of literacy may be a part of the shared environment within the home and community, or it may be the individual learner's construction. How learners construct their expectations and perceive their ability to achieve their literacy goals, however, is affected by developmental and contextual structures within the family, which may serve as either incentives or barriers to learning.

4. Cultural and social practices within families Recent research indicates that family literacy efforts that do not build on the strengths of families may succeed for parents and children in the short term but fail on a long-term basis. The emphasis on identifying and using what is referred to as "family strengths" is developed around a competencies model in which families access and utilize resources effectively. Although these strengths have rarely been delineated clearly, social connectedness of the family to others in the community is a frequently identified variable in successful family-support programs, as are culture-identified relationships between children and parents.[55]

In several studies on families of color, researchers identify variability in the approaches to literacy; relationships among parents, children, and other family members; and expectations within the family as functions of culture. Willett and Bloome show that over time children began to experience tension, anger, hostility, resistance, and alienation in their relationships at home when the literacy experiences did not enable parents to participate. Delgado-Gaitan found that Mexican- American parents wanted a better life for their children but often used systems of support that did not mirror those of the dominant American culture. Weinstein-Shr, referring to her work with Cambodian families, focuses on the degree to which the Western-centered, time-honored view of history and culture constrains the opportunities for children and parents of other cultures to develop literacy. Work by Gadsden suggests that for African-American families, perceptions of power, powerlessness, and access are inseparable in intergenerational messages about the value of literacy or the nature of access.[56]

There is relatively little research on parents' concerns about the relationship between literacy and culture.[57] One exception is Wong- Fillmore's work, which provides interesting parent accounts about the importance of sound early educational programs that are also culturally sensitive.[58] The perception of literacy as socially enabling surfaced in interviews with mothers in a current study with Head Start parents and children. Parents described literacy in relation to its socially enabling qualities, that is, to empower children and adults to build on both the school-like nature of literacy and the broad contexts for literacy learning and use to combat societal inequities. In another study, parents defined access in specific socially and culturally contextualized ways, stressing the potential impact of literacy for ensuring power and success for future generations.[59]

Although there is evidence of the importance of cultural and social practices in framing context, several critical domains of thought are unexamined. One policy issue with implications for research and practice focuses on institutional barriers to access and the perceptions about the (in)surmountability of these barriers. A related question centers on whether parents and children perceive that literacy can and will make a difference in their lives. The second issue concerns how to translate and make accessible to practitioners and policymakers what is known about culture, ethnicity, race, and gender in developing instruction and policy for different populations. This presumes that the work force in programs will include some people from the cultural and ethnic groups of program participants. The critical questions here are bound to culture and context, not only for the populations studied and served but also in reference to the assumptions and beliefs with which the researchers and practitioners working with the families enter the research and instructional setting.

5. Competing perspectives: Reducing conceptual conflict Where conflicts or competing ideologies occur, they do so largely because of ambiguity and terminology. Alexander, Schallert, and Hare state that fields of study can be identified by the language associated with them.[60] Just as there has been spawning of terminology in literacy, so has there been an increase of efforts in family literacy support. As is true of literacy, this rapid growth of interest may have serious theoretical and practical implications if put forth outside of its relationship to existing work. Most of the competing references in family literacy are framed around reciprocal learning relationships between parent and child-that is, what parents want for their children and for themselves, what investments they are willing to make, and how educational programs enable them to achieve their personal, academic, and life goals and needs.

At the heart of these issues lie two premises that guide much of the work that is currently done in studies on families and literacy. One interprets literacy as performing school-like academic activities within family contexts. In this view the social and contextual characteristics of the family unit may be seen as potential obstacles to overcome in order for learning to occur and the focus is on teaching parents strategies and approaches to assist their children, using school-like models.[61] The second premise focuses on the family as a source of information and literacy learning, not as a barrier to literacy, and is developed around the view that the literacy practices already used in the home should serve as the basis for instruction. Family practices and interactions are examined to understand the functions, uses, and purposes of literacy within families. This view presupposes that the family is a context for learning and that program development and relationships between teachers and students should build on the social fabric of the family unit.

While the bifurcation of these premises persists, the line of distinction between the two becomes less clearly defined as interest in and information about families, cultural issues, and social contexts for literacy learning increase. Both premises are useful: Many parents want assistance in using school-like models for literacy and it is not only possible but, in fact, essential to use parents' knowledge in developing instruction and integrating their interests into the curriculum. The demarcation between the two premises may not be entirely inappropriate, however. While models based on the first premise hold promise for improving the literate abilities of parents and children, models based on the second provide for understanding the family as a source and user of knowledge. What the first may provide us in measurable terms (e.g., test score gains) over the short term, the second may allow us to sustain in interest and participation within family literacy programs.


Literacy is a vital part of discussions in family support.[62] In the formation of family-centered efforts in programs such as Head Start, literacy is linked generally to employment possibilities and opportunities for adults in low-income homes or to the improvement of children's performance in school, as in the case of Even Start. A goal of this work is to improve the self-sufficiency of parents and children in a family and to assist them in acquiring skills and knowledge necessary to access appropriate services and resources. Although literacy is considered an important component of the systems ideology of family support, its inclusion often focuses exclusively on basic skills, for example, knowing how to identify useful information and resources. High-order skills and problem-solving skills-for example, knowing how to access and use information and resources effectively-are not examined, nor are the purposes of literacy to achieve long-term personal, family, or educational goals. Yet these goals define who the family is and what family members might achieve intergenerationally.

The recent policy impetus for family-support efforts provides an important venue to converging two critical domains of study: families and literacy. By bringing together these two domains, there is an opportunity to explore family-systems development and its relationship to literacy beliefs and practices and to identify ways to support families in gaining and retaining access to literacy education. However, literacy research and practice lag in the areas of family functioning and family development. Most literacy studies, including those discussed in the previous sections of this article, focus primarily on developmental theories and controlled studies of reading with children as the center of research.

This present point in the history of literacy and family support is a critical and appropriate juncture to frame the issues in family learning and to establish a rigorous area of research and practice. In doing so, the nature and structure of the family-as a cultural, structural, and life-span unit-are studied. Issues such as family stressors and family strengths figure prominently in discussions, as do the debilitating effects of poverty and societal abuse. The two critical domains, studied in tandem, might examine intensively how families develop as systems, how the development of such systems encourages or reduces opportunities for literacy, how institutional structures contribute to perceptions of opportunity, and how family systems and institutional forces can work together to eliminate the real or perceived obstacles to literacy education for family members. The alternative is to continue to focus on family literacy in isolation of the many configurations and issues within families and communities.

A convergence of families and literacy as a research domain stresses the cross-disciplinary nature of literacy research and practice (e.g., the interrelationships among contributing disciplines-reading, sociology, psychology, and social work). An integrative approach to family literacy would examine the family as a social context for literacy, developed as a function of the different roles individuals play as family members, rules within the home, expectations of family members, home-to-school and work transitions for children, and home-to-work transitions for parents. The focus on families and literacy considers the role of literacy in families with varying levels of social support and in shared and nonshared environments and expands discussions to include nontraditional literacy topics such as father-child literacy development and the changing roles of women (mothers) and men (fathers) in families. By emphasizing the equal importance of families and literacy, the field of family literacy allows itself to be informed about how individuals in different kinds of family constellations make choices among social options available to them, interpret literacy for enacting options against changing economic conditions and structures, and communicate options intergenerationally. In short, this view would expand the field to focus on the conditions and circumstances that affect families and seek to understand the most effective ways to meet the multiple and varied educational needs and social demands within different home settings.

A beginning point in the conceptualization of an integrative approach is to examine family systems theories (e.g., family relationships, family structure, and kinship) that focus on family behaviors and interactions,[63] then to explore how these behaviors and interactions intersect or connect with literacy. Coupled with existing research on family literacy models and practice, this research would contribute not only to the knowledge base but also to a comprehensive approach for family literacy assistance and educational access. Family literacy conceived in this way is tied to family support generally and widens our understanding of how family functioning-as a cultural, social, and historical phenomenon-affects the interpretations and enactments of literacy in the daily lives of family members, including how and when it may be perceived as restrictive within different contexts. Thus, the purpose of family literacy support would not be limited to the mission of some programs "to break the cycle of illiteracy" but would also ensure that options are available for families (not for programs alone) to determine how to break the cycle of problems facing family members and to construct and achieve their own life-defined system of self- sufficiency.


The basic premise of this article is that family literacy provides an umbrella concept for existing and future work on parent-child literacy, emergent literacy, family support, and intergenerational learning. The life-span family developmental issues that have been associated with family studies and developmental psychology are equally applicable to families in which one or more members is engaged in literacy learning. What the field lacks is an integrative approach to family literacy that provides family literacy researchers, practitioners, and learners themselves with the widest array of options to develop literacy. If family literacy is to have the advantage of the broadest set of contributions across disciplines, it should be located along a continuum of educational and family support-not limited to practice or research or confined to education or human services.

A conceptual framework for family literacy must integrate different and apparently competing ideas. For example, a conceptual framework should be developed around the family unit as the primary focus of the effort, encouraging both greater understanding of family interactions and knowledge of family development. Second, the field should state its assumptions about the reciprocal relationships between children and parents and other members of the family as these relationships promote or obstruct literacy opportunities and learning. Here family members are the sources of information about their needs and the co-constructors of knowledge within the classroom or program. Third, the cultural, ethnic, and social contexts for learning should be more than an allusion in the text and should grasp identifiable features of instruction and planning. Issues such as the expectations of women and children in various cultures, the anti-machismo label sometimes attached to men seeking literacy in different communities, and the potential awkwardness of children and parents learning together are basic concerns for gaining and sustaining access in communities and within populations that have been identified as the "hardest to reach." Fourth, not unlike what is needed in K-12 and adult literacy programs, a new relationship is called for between programs and families and between teacher and student if mutual understanding of the purposes of learning and instruction is to be achieved. In this way, family literacy efforts may be the instrument for K-12 and adult literacy programs to connect parents, schools, and children effectively.

A central feature of a framework in family literacy is the establishment of an identity, inclusive of but distinctive from intergenerational learning. All learning that includes more than one generation may be called intergenerational but may not refer to family literacy. Whereas all family literacy involving two or more generations is intergenerational learning, not all intergenerational learning includes family members. There is little in family literacy research or practice thus far to suggest that intergenerational literacy is occurring at the onset of or during family literacy efforts. That is, there is little evidence that literacy abilities, skills, and knowledge are being transferred from one generation to another as a function of family literacy participation. Some such data have emerged from studies that examine family issues in historical context or outside of literacy programs; however, few results from current studies are available. Until these data are forthcoming, the efforts in family literacy will need to focus on what happens over time within the family unit engaged in literacy, examining the implications for intergenerational learning. Family literacy and the reciprocal relationships around learning must be the fundamental area of research. Through family literacy programs and research, we will be able to determine the degree to which intergenerational learning occurs; literacy beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors change; and access to literacy is sustained within and across multiple generations.

Family literacy learning must be conceptualized broadly-as a lifelong activity that may change as life needs change. Unlike many family- support programs, particularly those that focus exclusively on one issue such as parenting, family literacy programs are based on an expanding set of assumptions about teaching and learning. Inherent in these assumptions is the belief that the family is an educative community in which shared learning experiences occur. While family literacy and adult literacy are separated in many discussions, adult literacy, when it seeks to engage learners within and around context, includes a focus on the family; family literacy programs that are responsive to the life and learning needs of their learners are able to capture the issues of adult family members, many of whom are parents. What is yet unresolved is where adult literacy ends and family literacy begins, or whether there is or needs to be a beginning or ending point to either. When adult literacy programs focus on adults' learning needs as workers, potential workers, and parents, are these programs family literacy programs? Are adult literacy and family literacy overlapping concepts, if not in research, possibly in practice? The context for constructing these questions, the frameworks for answering them, and the opportunities to implement an appropriate response are located in much-needed discussions about the cross-cutting concerns at the levels of practice, policy, and research.

At the level of practice, programs designed for families, similar to adult literacy programs generally, must move a step further than focusing on the purposes and functions of literacy for learners; they need to be able to provide intensive instruction and support. In addition to identifying learners' purposes for literacy, programs should position themselves through community and educational networks to create a range of new opportunities for learners seeking to expand their own intellectual growth, determine their own destinies, and promote the development of their children and other family members. Second, although interviews with learners are useful and effective in understanding learner needs, data from interviews increase in value when the information can be contextualized within the household and the community. Practitioners and program developers will not only need to survey the students who walk through the doors of the program but also develop a sense of the household and community and of the nature and quality of supports that exist in these contexts. Third, assessment measures must provide information about the literacy levels of program participants but should inform the program about the family also. Assessment here is not designed to determine progress along reading growth curves alone but encompasses change, lack of change, or reconfigurations of family literacy behaviors, attitudes, self- perceptions, and personal and family capacity. In addition, assessment should provide some indications of life-span changes in the family that affect learning by program participants and examine questions, for example, about the impact of learning on parent and child literacy over time.

Fourth, programs must be developed around a set of assumptions about children and family learning that is not limited to a desire to break the cycle of illiteracy but that also enables family members to construct useful meanings and definitions of literacy that advance the goals, aspirations, and expectations of the adult and/or child learner within the family unit. Fifth, programs must be able to outline their missions, delineating clearly their primary purposes. That is, does the mission revolve around adult needs, one of which includes ensuring the development of children, or around child-parent needs, focusing exclusively on preparing parents to help their children read? Sixth, literacy support efforts must help families reconcile their cultural and social experiences with the literacy instruction to which they are exposed in programs. Thus, programs will have to demonstrate their commitment to addressing the needs of different ethnic and cultural communities of learners-through instructional materials, preparation of practitioners from the multiple cultural and ethnic communities served, and instruction that is inclusive of multicultural issues in instruction and learning. To do so, programs and the practitioners in programs will need to integrate what is learned through interviews and assessments to develop culturally appropriate curricula and materials and may need to be prepared to confront and respond, as necessary, to issues of race and racism that emerge in discussions. Not only should instruction be framed around the cultural and social experiences of the learners in programs, but program organization and development should also be sensitive to the demands of the family, particularly family members who figure prominently in the ability of family learners to access, learn, use, and sustain interest in literacy.

At the level of policy, family literacy support must be coordinated within the broader network of family support, serving as a stabilizer for families and increasing their collective and individual capacity to make connections across support systems. The issues of access to programs, economic hardship, social maladies, and institutional barriers must be considered within the context of intergenerational learning. Literacy for employment alone is a limiting concept that promotes the belief that literacy learning is a finite process, rather than a continuous activity over the life span. However, the difficulty that certain groups experience in gaining access to and sustaining themselves within the labor market is a critical issue that is not insignificant to discussions of literacy. In low-income communities where many family literacy programs are targeted for African-American and other families of color, the programs address only a small and, for some participants, relatively unimportant part of the problems facing them, problems that they see as centered in the ability to obtain employment. The appearance, if not reality, of a declining economy and labor force have been evidenced in low-income communities through increases in layoffs, the reminders of "last hired-first fired" for many people of color, a growing crisis of labor-force participation among African-American males, and crime and hopelessness that appear in tandem with or shortly after economic hardship and crisis. Welfare reform and family-support initiatives are tied to the ability of individuals to utilize existing literacies and to develop new ones. Social policies that structure opportunities for people to use and value such learning and support their families are fundamental to any national or local agenda of family support as are policy investments in a developmental approach to strengthening families over time.

At the level of research, investigators should (re)assume leadership in developing the field, sharing leadership and responsibility with practitioners. Both empirical and field-based studies are needed in adult literacy and K-12 programs, focusing on the reciprocal relationship of literacy between families and schools. Such studies need to focus on the entire family-mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, other adults, and children who are considered integral to the family structure. The participation of fathers and other adult family members in children's literacy development is conspicuously limited in literature from research and practice. In addition, family literacy needs a life-span approach that allows the field to examine how literacy is parsed by life circumstances and how life circumstances affect literacy within families. Two basic questions in this reference are who the families are and how they describe their own family trajectories. Research might assist in responding to these questions through studies that examine what happens to children not just at school but also before and after school, and what happens to adult learners in programs, before a session or after a session. This is not to suggest that the focus on school or program learning should be reduced or that schools or programs should not be held accountable for ensuring that learning and effective instruction occur. However, researchers might ask (or continue to ask in some cases) what learners negotiate in their learning across contexts, how the process of learning and negotiation by the learner can be understood better as an intergenerational activity, and how this process can be utilized effectively as a model or tool for studying intergenerational literacy.

Although family literacy has evolved from previous work in reading, the current and future focus encompasses a much wider set of goals and populations-from intergenerational learning to life-span development. Constructs must be developed that weigh family needs against the apparent advantages of literacy; that is, they must attend to utilitarian and lofty perspectives about the value of literacy and the valuing of the home as a contributing context to family members' development. Such constructs can be extracted from existing research on family development and the broad base of work on literacy, K-12 to adult literacy. What constitutes literacy support to different families can be answered by the families themselves and the purposes of literacy will be decided by them. The issue facing the field is how to confront the complexity of conceptual issues that weaken the possibilities for the field, to project an agenda of rigorous research and practice that provides for intensive instruction and support to families, and to incorporate what has been learned about families to coordinate efforts for literacy learners across the life span and multiple generations.

This work was supported by funding from the National Center on Adult Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, which is part of the Educational Research and Development Center Program (Grant No R117Q00003) as administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, in cooperation with the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the position or policies of the National Center on Adult Literacy, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, of the U.S. Department of Education.

B Notes

1 U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Together We Can (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, 1993), pp. 1-4.

2 See James S. Coleman, "Families and Schools," Educational Researcher 16 (1987): 32-38; and Sheila Smith, "Two-Generation Program Models: A New Intervention Strategy," Social Policy Reports: Society of Research in Child Development 5 (1991): 1-15.

3 Joyce L. Epstein, "School and Family Partnerships," in Encyclopedia of Educational Research, ed. Marvin C. Alkin (New York: Macmillan, 1992), pp. 1139-51.

4 See reports from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and U.S. Department of Commerce, Current Population Report Series (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census and U.S. Department of Commerce, 1991). The figure on homeless children, like recent figures from the Census Bureau, has been disputed by several groups, arguing that the figure underestimates the number of homeless. For more information, see the Government Accounting Office's Children and Youth (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1989). On dropouts, see Edward Farrell, Hanging In and Dropping Out: Voices of At-Risk High School Students (New York: Teachers College Press, 1990), p. 17; on parents, see ABT Associates, Working with Families: Promising Programs to Help Parents Support Young Children's Learning (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1991), pp. 5-8.

5 Denny Taylor, Family Literacy (New York: Teachers College Press, 1983), p. 17; and Hope J. Leichter, The Family as Educator (New York: Teachers College Press, 1974), p. 27.

6 See Patricia A. Edwards, "Connecting Parents to the School's Curriculum," in Literacy among African-American Youth: Issues in Learning, Teaching, and Schooling, ed. Vivian L. Gadsden and Daniel A. Wagner (Cresskill: Hampton Press, in press); JoBeth Allen and Jana M. Mason, Risk Makers, Risk Takers, Risk Breakers (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1989), pp. 222-51; Vivian L. Gadsden, "Adult Literacy Learning and Instruction" (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1988), pp. 135-38; and Susan L. Lytle and Katherine Schultz, "Looking and Seeing: Constructing Literacy Learning in Adulthood," in Fortieth Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (Chicago: National Reading Conference, 1991), pp. 345-56.

7 Douglas Powell, "Strengthening Parental Contributions to School Readiness and Early School Learning" (Paper prepared for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington, D.C., June 1991), p. 10; and Dorothy Strickland and Lesley Morrow, "Creating Curriculum: An Emergent Literacy Perspective," The Reading Teacher 42 (1989): 722-23.

8 RMC Corporation, "Literacy, Families, and Programs" (Workshop draft) (Portsmouth, N.H.: RMC Corporation, 1992), p. 2.

9 Lesley M. Morrow, "The Impact of a Literature-Based Program on Literacy Achievement, Use of Literature, and Attitudes of Children from Minority Backgrounds," Reading Research Quarterly 27 (1992): 251-73.

10 Preliminary findings from field work and students provide short-term results of intervention programs with parents and children. See Jeanne Paratore, "An Intergenerational Approach to Literacy: Effects of Literacy Learning on Adults and on the Practice of Family Literacy," in Examining Central Issues in Literacy Research, Theory, and Practice, Forty-second Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (Chicago: National Reading Conference, 1992), pp. 83-92.

11 Dolores Durkin, "A Six Year Study of Children Who Learned to Read in School at the Age of Four," Reading Research Quarterly 10 (1974-1975): 9- 61; William A. Labov, "Linguistic Research on Nonstandard English of Negro Children" (Paper presented to the New York Society for the Experimental Study of Education, New York, June 1965); James S. Coleman et al., Equality of Educational Opportunity (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), pp. 7-23; Daniel P. Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Policy, Planning, and Research, 1965), pp. 8-28; Andrew Billingsley, Black Families in White America (Englewood, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 5-18; and John Blassingame, The Slave Community (New York: Oxford Press, 1972), pp. 8-34.

12 Jerri Willett and David Bloome, "Literacy, Language, School and Community: A Community-centered View," in Whole Language and the Bilingual Learner, ed. A. Carrasquilo and C. Hedley (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1992), pp. 35-57; Urie Bronfenbrenner, "Ecology of the Family as a Context for Human Development: Research Perspectives," Developmental Psychology 22 (1986): 723-42; and Diane Scott-Jones, "Mother-as-Teacher in the Families of High- and Low-Achieving Low-Income Black First- Graders," Journal of Negro Education 56 (1987): 21-34.

13 William H. Teale and Elizabeth Sulzby, Emergent Literacy: Writing and Reading (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1986), pp. 16-27; Elfrieda Hiebert and Carol Adams, "Fathers' and Mothers' Perceptions of Their Preschool Children's Emergent Literacy," Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 44 (1987): 25-37; Allen and Mason, Risk Makers; Allen Wigfield and Steven R. Asher, "Home, Schools, and Reading Achievement: A Social Motivational Analysis," in Handbook of Reading Research, ed. P. David Pearson et al. (New York: Longman, 1984), pp. 423-52.

14 Catherine E. Snow et al., Unfulfilled Expectations: Home and School Influences on Literacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 18-28.

15 Hope J. Leichter, "Families as Environments for Literacy," in Awakening to Literacy, ed. Hillel Goelman, Antoinette Oberg, and Frank Smith (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1984), pp. 38-50; and Barbara Rogoff, Apprenticeship in Thinking: Cognitive Development in Social Context (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 2-28.

16 See Elsa R. Auerbach, "Toward a Socio-Contextual Approach to Family Literacy," Harvard Educational Review 59 (1989): 165-87; and Brian V. Street, "Literacy Practices and the Construction of Personhood: Cross- Cultural Perspectives" (Unpublished manuscript, 1992).

17 On distance, see Gerald S. Coles, "Adult Literacy and Learning Theory: A Study of Cognition and Activity," Science and Society 47 (1984): 451-82; and Peter Johnston, "Understanding Reading Disability: A Case Study Approach," Harvard Educational Review 55 (1985): 153-78. On the price of literacy, see Vivian L. Gadsden, "Trying One More Time! Gaining Access to Literacy," in Readings in Equal Education, Volume 11: Qualitative Investigations into Schools and Schooling, ed. Michele Foster (New York: AMS Press, 1991), pp. 189-201.

18 Durkin, "Six Year Study"; and Shirley B. Heath, "What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School" Language in Society 11 (1982): 49-76. See also idem, Ways with Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 7-27.

19 Elizabeth Sulzby and Patricia A. Edwards, "The Role of Parents in Supporting Literacy Development of Young Children," in Language and Literacy in Early Childhood Education, ed. Bernard Spodek and Olivia N. Saracho (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993).

20 Recent data from the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) suggest that high-order literacy and problem-solving abilities are weak for almost 50 percent of the population.

21 Moncrief Cochran, "Empowering Families: An Alternative to the Deficit Model," in Social Intervention: Potential and Constraints, ed. Klaus Hurrelmann, Franz-Xavier Kaufmann, and Friedrich Losel (New York: A deGruyter, 1987), pp. 105-20; Alonzo B. Anderson and Shelley J. Stokes, "Social and Institutional Influences on the Development and Practice of Literacy," in Awakening to Literacy, ed. Hillel Goelman, Antoinette Oberg, and Frank Smith (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1984), pp. 24-37; Denny Taylor and Catherine Dorsey-Gaines, Growing Up Literate: Learning from Inner-City Families (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1988), pp. 23-47; Bambi B. Schieffelin and Marilyn Cochran- Smith, "Learning to Read Culturally: Literacy before Schooling," in Awakening to Literacy, ed. Goelman, Oberg, and Smith, pp. 3-23; and Vivian L. Gadsden, "Literacy and the Intergenerational Culture of Woman" (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, April 1993), p. 5.

22 Gadsden, "Literacy and the Intergenerational Culture of Woman," p. 8; and Denny Taylor, "The Literacies of Women: Issues of Access, Representation, and Cultural Context" (Discussant commentary: Symposium at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Atlanta, April 1993), p. 2.

23 Stephen Reder, Karen Wikelund, and Sylvia Hart-Landsberg. "Expanding Theories of Adult Literacy Participation" (Technical Report 92-1, National Center on Adult Literacy, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1992), p. 7; and Daniel A. Wagner, "Lifespan and Lifespace Literacy: Research and Policy in National and International Perspective" (Occasional paper 92-1, National Center on Adult Literacy, University of Pennsylvania, 1992), p. 9.

24 Shirley A. Biggs, "Building on Strengths: Closing the Literacy Gap for African Americans," Journal of Reading 35 (1992): 624-28; and Diana T. Slaughter, Black Children and Poverty: A Developmental Perspective (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988), pp. 2-5.

25 Ralph Smith structures the concept of self-sufficiency within the context of family functioning and access to financial, social, educational, and emotional resources. Smith suggests that issues such as literacy be examined within the life-span development and functioning of families, particularly as children's needs reconfigure parents' strategies for coping with family demands. See "Integrated Services and Family Formation: A Worm's Eye View" (Colloquium at the Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, June 1993), p. 4.

26 The Kenan Model was developed by the National Center for Family Literacy. The model is based on studies with families participating in the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Project. See National Center on Family Literacy, Follow-up Studies on Children Participating in the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Project (Louisville: National Center for Family Literacy, 1993).

27 Patricia Edwards, Talking Your Way to Literacy: A Program to Help Non-Reading Parents Prepare Their Children for Reading (Chicago: Children's Press, 1990); and Mildred Winter and Joy Rouse, "Fostering Intergenerational Literacy: The Missouri Parents as Teachers Program," The Reading Teacher 43 (1990): 382-86; The Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters was developed and used originally with children in Israel. It enables programs to provide parents with a series of activities that can be used to support children's early literacy development. The Even Start initiative is a federally funded, school- based program providing children and parents with support for literacy. Programs use a variety of approaches and techniques and coordinate activities with Chapter 1 efforts. See U.S. Department of Education, National Evaluation of the Even Start's Family Literacy Program: Report of Effectiveness (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1993, Congressional mandated interim report), pp. 3-8.

28 Strickland and Morrow, "Creating Curriculum," pp. 722-23; Paratore, "An Intergenerational Approach to Literacy"; and Ruth Handel and Ellen Goldsmith, "Children's Literature and Adult Literacy: Empowerment through Intergenerational Learning," Lifelong Learning: An Omnibus of Practice and Research 12 (1989): 24-27.

29 Ruth N. Nickse, "Some Issues in the Practice of Family and Intergenerational Literacy" (Paper presented at the Conference on Intergenerational Literacy, Teachers College, Columbia University, The Center for Literacy, New York, March 1991), pp. 2-3.

30 See David Weikart and L. J. Schweinhart, "Early Childhood Education for At-Risk Four-Year-Olds? Yes," American Psychologist 43 (1988): 665- 67, for a description and data from this study.

31 Edwards, Talking Your Way to Literacy; and Handel and Goldsmith, "Children's Literature and Adult Literacy."

32 Anthony D. Pellegrini, Gene H. Brody, and Irving Sigel, "Parents' Book Reading Habits with Their Children," Journal of Educational Psychology 77 (1985): 332-40.

33 Carol Vukelich, "Parents Are Teachers: A Beginning Reading Program," The Reading Teacher 31 (1987): 524-27; Marshall S. Swift, "Training Poverty Mothers in Communication Skills," The Reading Teacher 23 (1970): 360-67; Raymond J. Crosset, "The Extent and Effect of Parents Participating in Their Children's Beginning Reading Program: An Inner- City Project" (ERIC Document Reproduction ED 076946, number 1972); and David R. McWilliams and Patricia M. Cunningham, "Project PEP," The Reading Teacher 29 (1976): 635-55.

34 Ruth N. Nickse, "The Noises of Literacy: An Overview of Intergenerational Family Literacy Programs" (Eric Document Reproduction Number ED 308 415, 1989), p. 7.

35 U.S. Department of Education, National Evaluation of the Even Start's Family Literacy Program: Report of Effectiveness (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1993), pp. 3-8.

36 Vivian L. Gadsden, Joel Hardman, and Ludo C. P. Scheffer, "Children, Parents, and Families: An Annotated Bibliography on Literacy in and out of Program Settings" (Philadelphia: The National Center on Adult Literacy, University of Pennsylvania, in press); and see Jack A. Brizius and Susan E. Foster for a review of the issues emerging from efforts at the National Center for Family Literacy (Generation to Generation: Realizing the Promise of Family Literacy [Louisville, Ky.: National Center on Family Literacy, 1993]).

37 Refer to full text analysis in Suzanne Knell and Barbara Geissler, The Mechanics of Success for Families: An Illinois Family Literacy Report (Rantoul, Ill.: Illinois Resource Development Center, 1990).

38 Deborah K. Walker and Ruth W. Crocker, "Measuring Family Systems Outcomes," in Evaluating Family Programs, ed. Heather B. Weiss and Francine H. Jacobs (New York: A. deGruyter, 1988), pp. 153-76.

39 See E. Jennifer Monaghan, "Family Literacy in Early 18th Century Boston: Cotton Mather and His Children," Reading Research Quarterly 26 (1991): 342-70.

40 Geraldine J. Clifford, "Buch und lesen: Historical Perspectives on Literacy and Schooling," Review of Educational Research 54 (1984): 472- 500; John Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Susan Harari and Maris A. Vinovskis, "Rediscovering the Family in the Past," in Family Systems and Life-Span Development, ed. Kurt Kreppner and Richard M. Lerner (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1989), pp. 381-94; and David B. Smith, "The Study of the Family in Early America: Trends, Problems and Prospects," William and Mary Quarterly 39 (1982): 5.

41 William H. Teale, "Parents Reading to Their Children: What We Know and What We Need to Know," Language Arts 58 (1981): 902-12; and National Center for Family Literacy, The NCFL Newsletters (1993): 8.

42 Scott G. Paris and Karen K. Wixson, "The Development of Literacy: Access, Acquisition, and Instruction," in Literacy and Schooling, ed. David Bloome (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1987), pp. 33-54.

43 Durkin, "Six Year Study"; Teale and Sulzby, Emergent Literacy; Urie Bronfenbrenner, "Ecology of the Family as a Context for Human Development," Developmental Psychology 22 (1986): 723-42; Heath, "What No Bedtime Story Means," pp. 49-76; Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines, Growing Up Literate, pp. 23-47; and Snow et al., Unfulfilled Expectations, pp. 9- 16.

44 Maryann Nuckolls, "Expanding Students' Potential through Family Literacy," Educational Leadership 49 (1991): 45-46.

45 Lisa Delpit, "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children," Harvard Educational Review 58 (1988): 280-98.

46 Patricia A. Bauch, "Is Parent Involvement Different in Private Schools?" Educational Horizons 66 (1988): 78-82.

47 Sharon L. Kagan, "Home-School Linkages: History's Legacies and the Family Support Movement," in America's Family Support Programs: Perspectives and Prospects, ed. Sharon L. Kagan et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), pp. 161-81; and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Elizabeth Schnur, and Valerie E. Lee, "Are Head Start Effects Sustained? A Longitudinal Follow up Comparison of Disadvantaged Children Attending Head Start, No Preschool, and Other Preschool Programs," Child Development 61 (1990): 495-507.

48 Richard D. Hess and Susan D. Holloway, "Family and School as Educational Institutions," in Review of Child Development Research: The Family, ed. Ross D. Parke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 179-222.

49 Joyce L. Epstein, "Longitudinal Effects of Family-School-Person Interactions on Students' Outcomes," Research in Sociology of Education and Socialization 4 (1983): 101-27; Kathryn Au, "Participation Structures in a Reading Lesson with Hawaiian Children," Anthropology and Education Quarterly 11 (1980): 91-115; Michele Foster, "Constancy, Connectedness, and Constraints in the Lives of African-American Teachers," National Women's Studies Journal 3 (1991): 233-61; and Shirley B. Heath, Ways with Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

50 Epstein, "School and Family Partnerships."

51 Kurt Kreppner and Richard M. Lerner, "Family Systems and Life-Span Development: Issues and Perspectives," in Family Systems, ed. Kreppner and Lerner, pp. 1-13.

52 See Judy Dunn and Carol Stocker, "The Significance of Differences in Siblings' Experiences within the Family," in Family Systems, ed. Kreppner and Lerner, pp. 289-301; and Sally I. Powers, "Family Systems throughout the Lifespan: Interactive Constellations of Development, Meaning, and Behavior," in Family Systems, ed. Kreppner and Lerner, pp. 271-87; David C. Rowe and Robert Plomin, "The Importance of Nonshared (E1) Environmental Influences in Behavioral Development," Developmental Psychology 56 (1981): 517-31.

53 Society for Research in Child Development, Roundtable on "Children of Poverty," co-chaired by Hiram Fitzgerald, Barry Lester, and Barry Zuckerman (New Orleans, 1993).

54 Kreppner and Lerner, "Family Systems," p. 18.

55 Family Impact Seminar, "Family Resource Support and Parent Education Programs: The Power of a Preventive Approach" (Background briefing report). (Washington, D.C.: Family Impact Seminar, October 1991), p. 5.

56 Willett and Bloome, "Literacy, Language, School and Community," pp. 35-57; Concha Delgado-Gaitan, "Mexican Adult Literacy: New Directions for Immigrants," in Becoming Literate in English as a Second Language, ed. S. R. Goldman and Henry Trueba (Norwood: Ablex, 1987), pp. 9-32; Gail Weinstein-Shr, "Literacy and Second Language Learners: A Family Agenda" (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, April 1991), p. 2-8; and Vivian L. Gadsden, "Giving Meaning to Literacy: Intergenerational Beliefs about Access," Theory into Practice 31 (1992): 328-36.

57 Ednodio Quintero and Carlos Velarde. "Intergenerational Literacy: A Developmental, Bilingual Approach," Young Children 45 (1990): 10-15.

58 Lily Wong-Fillmore, "Latino Families and Schools" (Unpublished manuscript, 1990); and idem, "Early Education for Children from Linguistic and Cultural Minority Families and Cultural Minority Families" (Unpublished paper prepared for the Early Education Task Force of the National Association of State Boards of Education, 1988).

59 Vivian L. Gadsden, Joel Hardman, and Ludo C. P. Scheffer, "Notes from the Parent-Child Learning Project" (Field note documentation, National Center on Adult Literacy, Unversity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1992).

60 Patricia A. Alexander, Diane L. Schallert, and Victoria C. Hare, "Coming to Terms: How Researchers in Learning and Literacy Talk about Knowledge," Review of Educational Research 61 (1991): 315-43.

61 Auerbach, "Toward a Socio-Contextual Approach."

62 Powell, p. 10. "Strengthening Parental Contributions," p. 10.

63 Glen H. Elder, "Household, Kinship, and the Life Course: Perspectives on Black Families and Children," in Beginnings: The Social and Affective Development of Black Children, ed. Margaret Spencer, Geraldine Brookins, and Walter Allen (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1984), pp. 80-136.

Table 1. Literature Categories

Information will be presented in the following order:

Study Category; No. of Studies; Type of Study: Ex-S; Type of Study: T-R; Type of Study: CS-E; Type of Study: PC; Major Issues Addressed.

Brackets denote subsets.

Parent-Child Relationships and Reading; 8; 8; -; -; -; mother-infant relationships, reciprocal interaction, sibling-sibling problem-solving tasks.

Parent-Children Early Reading; 40; 18; 17; 5; -; attachment and emergent literacy, parent-child book reading, literacy before schooling.

Parent/Family Beliefs and Socialization; 19 [Parent and Family, 9] [Socialization issues, 10]; 9 [Parent and Family, 6] [Socialization issues, 3]; 10 [Parent and Family, 3] [Socialization issues, 7]; -; -; parental values and expectations, analysis of beliefs and attitudes, family influences on cognitive development.

Family and Intergenerational Literacy; 39 [General Issues, 10] [Family Literacy Models, 11] [Family Literacy Programs, 18]; 3 [General Issues, 2] [Family Literacy Models, 1]; 16 [General Issues, 5] [Family Literacy Models, 5] [Family Literacy Programs, 6]; 1 [General Issues, 1]; 19 [General Issues, 2] [Family Literacy Models, 5] [Family Literacy Programs, 12]; intergenerational literacy, benefits of family literacy, home and school influences on literacy.

Family Involvement/Family-School Connections; 29 [Parent Involvement, 18] [Family-School Connections, 11]; 12 [Parent Involvement, 9] [Family- School Connections, 3]; 13 [Parent Involvement, 6] [Family-School Connections, 7]; 2 [Parent Involvement, 1] [Family-School Connections, 1]; 2 [Parent Involvement, 2]; parent's attitudes, school policy/parent involvement, parents as educators.

Family and Parent Education; 26 [Family Programs, 15] [Parent Education/Parent Learning, 11]; 6 [Family Programs, 3] [Parent Education/Parent Learning, 3]; 10 [Family Programs, 7] [Parent Education/Parent Learning, 3]; -; 10 [Family Programs, 5] [Parent Education/Parent Learning, 5]; history of family and human development, family education programs.

Contextual/Cultural Issues; 12; 2; 8; 1; 1; relationships between home environment and school performance, literacy and cultural identity, ethnographic perspectives on literacy acquisition.

Total Number of Studies; 173; 58; 74; 9; 32.

EX-S: Experimental Studies or Surveys. T-R: Theoretical Papers or Reviews. CS-E: Case Study or Ethnography. P-C: Program Models of Curricula. Source: Vivian L. Gadsden, Ludo C. P. Scheffer, and Joel Hardman. Children, Parents, and Families: An Annotated Bibliography on Literacy Development in and out of Program Settings, Technical Report 94-04 (Philadelphia: National Center on Adult Literacy, University of Pennsylvania, 1994).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 96 Number 1, 1994, p. 58-86
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 50, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 12:57:28 PM

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