Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #8: Revaluing Our Students and their Families

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the eighth and last post in a series that shares results from a year-long research project exploring family literacy in the Rio Grande Valley. This research was funded by the UTPA C. Bascom Slemp Fellowship.


“Desde siempre yo he sabido de la importancia de la lectura. [I’ve always known how important reading is.] Sr. Gomez

In the seven previous posts about our family literacy research project we’ve shared the rich literacy knowledge and strengths within low income, Spanish-speaking homes in the Rio Grande Valley. While many people believe that children raised in this sort of family face challenges in becoming literate, we’ve shown that these families are sophisticated users of many kinds of literacy.

As we conclude this series, there are three major points that we hope readers will reflect upon:

1) It is more productive to focus on what families do and have, not on what they lack.

One of the values of ethnographic research is that it focuses on what is there, not on what is lacking. When we examine home literacy practices and ask “What is this family doing? What does this family know?” we see that families are competent and strong literacy users. When we understand that families don’t need to be fixed, we free ourselves to focus on ways schools can use family knowledge as a resource for teaching more traditional school literacy practices. 

2) We need to examine our assumptions about low income, Spanish-speaking families and value their strengths.

Negative stereotypes and deficit thinking have a deep and abiding hold on many educators.  Although it can be painful to interrogate our own worldviews and confront stereotypes we may hold, it is necessary for educators to examine our beliefs about low income, Spanish-speaking families. When we can revalue our students and their families, we can use what we know about their strengths to revise our schools so that we are more effective educators for this type of student.

3) Teachers and schools need to actively work to integrate student and family strengths with the curriculum and school culture.

 Revaluing is a necessary first step, but true educational change will occur when teachers and schools begin to transform school culture and curriculum by building upon student and family strengths. This means examining what currently happens in school—from how parents are welcomed into the building to how reading is taught—and working to eliminate aspects that are based in deficit thinking. This is hard work, but our students deserve it.


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