Promising Practices for Engaging Families in Literacy

reviewed by Sirad Shirdon - March 16, 2015

coverTitle: Promising Practices for Engaging Families in Literacy
Author(s): Holly Kreider, Margaret Caspe, Diana B. Hiatt-Michael (Eds)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623962986, Pages: 160, Year: 2013
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Promising Practices for Engaging Families in Literacy is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the importance of families in the literacy development of children. In the midst of the current national discussion on how to raise student reading levels—as well as achievement more broadly—the attention has shifted to the role of families. The discourse on family engagement in children’s learning has focused heavily on culturally diverse and low-income families, and has mostly been framed within a deficit lens, often portraying home literacy environments as deprived and in need of fixing (Souto-Manning & Swick, 2006). The tide is slowly turning, and researchers are increasingly focusing on family funds of knowledge in supporting children’s literacy learning. In this book, which mostly draws from a socio-cultural lens, families are championed as strong partners in children’s literacy development. Children come to us from all different backgrounds, and it is important that the home cultures are celebrated, and learned from, in order to ensure that our support for children’s literacy development is culturally responsive.

The book is quite accessible; it successfully marries research and pedagogy, and outlines practical steps that educators can use within their classrooms. The book’s editors—Holly Krieger, Margaret Caspe and Hiatt-Michael—present the book as a follow-up to Hiatt-Michael’s (2001) Promising Practices in Family Involvement. The revised edition expands, extends, and elaborates on parent-child literacy, and considers how family-child literacy programs have grown to include math, science and technology. The text is organized into three sections: Effective Interventions and Approaches for Engaging Families in Children’s Literacy, Honoring and Incorporating Parents’ Expertise in Children’s Language and Literacy Acquisition, and New Approaches to Engaging Families in Children’s Literacy.

Part One provides the reader with a grounding in some of the predominant themes in family engagement and literacy. Kennedy and Caspe make the case for intergenerational family literacy programs as an intervention approach that engages various members of a child’s family. Sullivan and von Witzleben review the literature on shared read-alouds, which result in numerous benefits, including positively impacting a child’s oral language development, early literacy skills, socio-emotional well-being, and a child’s motivation to read. Foster-Cohen, van Bysterveldt, and Gillon conclude the section, with a discussion on the emergent literacy skills of children with Down’s syndrome. While children with Down’s present with difficulties in joint attention, expressive language, syntax, and verbal working memory, research shows that early reading exposure will actually translate into improved oral language skills. As a clinician who has worked extensively with children with Down’s syndrome, it was refreshing to see the researchers reiterate the strengths of these children where early literacy is concerned.

In Part Two, the discussion transitions to the particular practices families employ in supporting their children’s language and literacy development. Framing the discussion within a language socialization paradigm (i.e., a framework to understand how children are socialized into a given culture through language), Melza, Schick, and Bostwick review the language and literacy practices of Latino families; they conclude that inherent in Latino culture is a strong tradition of sharing oral narratives, which not only supports children’s early literacy development, but also fosters strong socio-emotional bonds between a child and their family members. Researchers also caution against generalizing the Latino community: language and literacy practices are shaped by a number of factors including educational backgrounds, literacy levels, and differences between urban and rural families. Lyutykh and Shumow explore the importance of heritage languages to immigrant families, and the advantages of bilingualism and biliteracy in a child’s literacy development. The chapter concludes with a discussion on ways to support children’s heritage languages. Such research promotes a wholesale reconsideration of the popular belief that immigrant children’s English language acquisition will be hindered if there is interference from other languages. Norton-Meier and Whitmore discuss the importance of engaging parents—not just as informants, but co-researchers—in the quest to understand a child’s language and literacy learning. The section concludes with the importance of family dialogue journals. Rather than static, traditional journals, which are one-way communications meant to inform parents about student’s homework, these family journals serve as a community conversation among a student, a teacher, and the family. Such journals enable teachers to learn about students’ families and home cultures, and ultimately result in increased student engagement.

Part Three is perhaps the most significant contribution to the existing literature on family engagement and literacy. In Part Three, researchers look at how we should re-envision family engagement in children’s literacy learning in science and informal learning spaces (e.g., Literacy Space), as well as address the role of technology. McCreedy and Skolnik discuss the importance of making use of informal spaces and engaging communities in promoting children’s science and literacy learning. Tuten and Jensen advocate for community tutoring clinics—spaces that can be used to engage families and communities, and support children’s learning. Finally, the section concludes with a conversation on the opportunities and constraints of using technology to increase family engagement with a child’s literacy learning. Opportunities include raising awareness about family engagement and early literacy among parents, increasing access to books through the use of digital books, and using applications to improve parent-child relationships. The most significant constraint relates to the digital divide: due to limited financial resources, there are still number of families that simply cannot afford monthly internet fees or even a computer.

All in all, this book provides a terrific overview of the existing literature on family engagement and children’s literacy learning. The book addressed family engagement in literacy learning as it relates to various under-researched groups, including immigrant children, English Language Learner children, and children with Down’s syndrome. Each chapter ends with a list of practical recommendations that busy practitioners will find useful.  

Families are crucial partners in our collective quest to educate children, particularly from marginalized communities. While this is certainly not a new topic, this book is a necessary contribution to the growing literature on the importance of families in children’s learning. For future editions, researchers should consider important intersections like the role of family in the literacy learning of special needs children from culturally diverse backgrounds.


Hiatt-Michael, D. B. (2001). Promising practices for family involvement in schools. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Souto-Manning, M. & Swick, K. (2006). Teachers’ beliefs about parent and family involvement: Rethinking our family involvement paradigm. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(2), 187-193.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 16, 2015 ID Number: 17900, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 9:46:44 AM

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