The Importance of Home Literacies

By Claudia

Last semester I had the opportunity to work on an ethnographic case study.  This case study was intended to help us learn more about the knowledgeable ways children read and write.  We did this by keeping a double-entry journal where we would take notes as to how our participant responded to the reading and writing we were doing in class.   We worked with 10 bilingual books during a period of several months.  We allowed our participants to choose whether they wanted to read or have the book read to them.  They were also given the choice as to what language they wanted to read in.  To get a well-rounded picture of our participant we also collected information about his/her home life.  We conducted interviews with our participant’s family and we also conducted home visits. 

It was during these home visits that I became so much more aware of the importance that home literacies play on our students.  As I spoke to my participant’s mother she began to speak about the negative feelings she felt about not being able to speak English. She expressed her willingness to help her son at home with homework but since it was all in English she was just unable to do so.  She went on to explain that she has tried to find other ways in which to help her son.  She buys him many books that she finds in second hand stores.  She encourages his love for art by buying him art supplies and letting him display his art work all over their house, which I thought was wonderful!  I explained to her that although she does not speak the language she has helped her son become successful in so many other ways.    

She also spoke about how proud she was that her son was doing so well in school but that she was worried about him forgetting his first language.  She explained how she would regularly have him read books in Spanish.  She felt that this was important in order to help her son remain literate in both languages. 

After talking to my participant’s mother and listening to her concerns, I decided to ask my participant to take the next book we were to work on as a home assignment, instead.  I gave him the book Chiles for Benito, by Ana Baca, and asked him to read and discuss it with his mom.  I told him since it was in both English and Spanish he could decide which language to read it in.  He agreed. The next day he came in and told me that his mom had really liked the book.  He said that she had never seen children’s books that had English and Spanish text on the same page. My participant read the book to his mother in Spanish.  He explained how his mom helped him in some words that he could not pronounce correctly.  Overall, it was a positive experience for both of them.  During our class readings my participant would conclude the session by writing and illustrating a reflection based on the book.  Although, I did not assign a reflection for this home assignment he brought one in anyways.  I was pleased that they were able to share this literacy experience together. 

I began thinking that this assignment is something that I could start implementing with my students. Maybe assigning a book each month, where parent and child could read and come up with some type of reader response.  I know that I would have loved to have had this experience growing up.  I always felt very disconnected from my parents when it came to my schooling.  I did very well in school but it was difficult for my parents to really get involved with my everyday learning because of their inability to speak English.  Hopefully, assignments like these will help create a positive home-school connection with some of our parents that sometimes feel like they have nothing to contribute.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Home Literacies

  1. Mildreth June 29, 2010 / 11:06 pm

    Wow, such a beautiful story! I would like to thank you for sharing. It made me wish that when I was growing up I could have shared a book/assignment like that with my parents. I was the first to learn English in my family and homework was difficult sometimes because they could not help me. As an educator, I hope you don’t mind if I use your idea sometime in with my students.

  2. Melinda July 4, 2010 / 3:09 am

    This is such a great story! Thanks for sharing!
    It just goes to show how much gain comes from paying home visits. I think it’s a shame that not all teachers take the time to do this. I intend to work at the high school level where, unfortunately, home visits are even more scarce. I will definitely consider trying something like this in my classroom.

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