Parents Set the Course for Success!

This semester in READ 6310 Children’s and Adolescent Literature, students were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Solis

Reading is an important part of your children’s development and should start at home. Begin reading to your children from day one—it is never too early to begin. Your children will enjoy the rhythm of your voice and the comfort of your arms as you read. You do not have to wait for them to start school and you do not have to stop once they have started school.

Why should you read to your children? Reading to your children has tremendous benefits. It encourages language development, it helps build vocabulary, it supports literacy skills, it creates a bond between you and your children, and it helps your children recognize and experience reading for pleasure.

Where can you find inexpensive books? You may find free or inexpensive books at your local library, garage sales, flea markets, discount stores, and/or books stores. There are always sales!

What type of books should you use? For infant and toddlers, use board books. Board books have thick pages which makes it easier for them to turn. In addition, board books can be wiped clean and endure a nibble or two. For older toddlers, use interactive books such as lift-the-flap and/or with textures.

What type of genres should you read? It is best to expose your children to a variety of books. There are assortments of genres to choose from: picture books, picture story books, folktales, fairy tales, fables, legends, myths, historical fiction, modern fantasies, realistic fiction, poetry and drama, biographies, and multicultural books.

What types of genres are best? They are all beneficial. However, begin reading picture books. As your children begin to grow older, introduce books that are of interest to them.   Then you may gradually present different genres. If your children do not like a particular type of book—it is okay. Move on to another genre and try reintroducing the books they did not like at a later time.

What books should you select? Select books that reflect your children’s interests. The best way to find out is to ask or observe. You may also select books to help generate interest in a particular topic.

For infants and toddlers, select books with: rich illustrations that help support the text, simple rhyming, repetitive phrases, and a cumulative story.

For older children, make selecting books to read fun. Turn the experience into an adventure. Go to your local library and hunt for books together. Rummage through boxes at garage sales and flea markets to find suitable books. Search through shelves at different stores for interesting and inexpensive books.

How often and how long should you read? Read to your children every day. Make it a routine. Read to them at the same time, preferably at bed time. Be sensitive to their attention spans. You do not have to read the whole selection and you do not have to read word for word. Build up to at least 15 minutes per day. The key is not to force it upon them—remember it is supposed to be a pleasurable experience.

Read to your children. Begin early, do it every day, and enjoy the experience. Set the course for success!






This semester students in READ 6306 were required to contribute a post that in some way related to the content of the course.

By Chris

Research has shown how important is it to incorporate real-life experiences with classroom activities for effective instruction.  There are various ways to help the literacy process along which involves using what children already know or are familiar with.  One way to accomplish this is by using environmental print.  Environmental print is the print and images that surround us and is found in our daily lives. 

At home print can be found on toy or game labels, on a favorite book, or cereal box.  Around the community it can be found in places where people shop such as fast food packaging material or a shopping bag.  At school, functional print, a type of environmental print, may be the sign for the office, the exits, or signs for the bathrooms.  It can also be found on traffic and community signs, food packages, logos, labels, billboards, clothing labels, and newspaper advertisements.  The list is almost endless.  It’s everywhere! 

Why Should I Use It?

Because environmental print includes symbols that create meaning, children have the ability to read print from the environment even before reading print in books.  Teachers should recognize that there are many types of literacy found in the home that students are exposed to such as receipts, comic books, bills, and pamphlets or brochures that are not normally seen at school.  Students might not be as familiar with school environmental print, perhaps the type needed to experience success, as with home environmental print and so students are missing out on making connections between home and their school experiences.  In response to a survey about a study involving teaching beginning reading skills with environmental print one teacher commented: “The students’ interest is there because the activities involve things that the students know and they are noticing the letters and sound are everywhere—not just at school.”  

Who Can Use it?

 Some people might think it is just for parents to use at home, or for pre-K and Kindergarten teachers but it can also be used with other grade levels.  Get creative with webs, diagrams, and graphs.

What Can I do with It?

There are many activities that can be used in the classroom which incorporate environmental print.  Students can bring in literacy artifacts (such as cereal boxes, movie guides, or personal cards) from home and present them to the class by demonstrating how they are read.  These are then displayed around the classroom.  Students can create a simple “All About Me” book with item brought in from home.  They can also use the print to make comparisons or find differences in print. 

Other activities:

  • Make an alphabet using letters found in the local community
  • Use the alphabet from the previous activity to create a book
  • Create a bulletin board of lists like: places we like to eat, things we like to eat, signs we can read
  • Use labels and logos to create graphs
  • Create Christmas or birthday wish list from newspaper/catalog cutouts
  • Create a graph using weather symbols

 To keep items organized, sort out environmental print in four ways: (a) by subject matter or themes (businesses, community), (b) by types (boxes or labels), (c) by literacy skill (color word examples), or (d) by a specific activity (travel, recipe books).  Keep in mind when using environmental print that some parents might be opposed to using or focusing on brand types such as Pokémon or other labels such as those from fast food restaurants.  

A good resource, Reading Is All Around Us: Using Environmental Print to Teach Beginning Literacy Skills, lists other activities.

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.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #7: Bilingual Parents Stand Up for Spanish-Speaking Children

By Luz Murillo and Janine M. Schall

This is the seventh 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.

Together with our students we have been documenting the literacies of bilingual children in the Rio Grande Valley. Lately we’ve been spending less time in classrooms and more time exploring what children are reading and writing in their bilingual homes and communities. Why is this? Well, after reading and studying about the importance of family involvement in children’s literacy development, we realized that while many books and articles tell bilingual parents how to support their children’s reading and writing, there aren’t as many books or other resources where teachers can find out more about what bilingual parents know and think about literacy and education.

To find out what is happening with the literacies of bilingual students, we decided to interview bilingual parents. Here’s a story shared by “Nancy”, whose seven-year old daughter started in an English monolingual classroom while she was still developing literacy in Spanish, the family’s home language:

Se le hice saber a su maestra al inicio de clases y me dijo, “Señora, no se preocupe. Usted nada más en la casa póngale televisión en inglés, libros en inglés, caricaturas en inglés, todo en inglés. Va a batallar al principio, pero ella va a aprender. Va a ver que va a aprender.” [I told the teacher at the beginning of the year and she told me, “Señora, don’t worry. At home, just make sure the television is in English, books are in English, comics in English, everything in English. She’ll struggle at first, but she’ll learn. You’ll see that she’ll definitely learn.”]

Despite the teacher’s encouragement, Nancy worried that the abrupt switch to English would mean that her daughter would learn less and fall behind her classmates. She told us “Temía que repitiera el grado y que se frustrara y le perdería interés en la escuela. [I was worried that she would have to repeat the year and that she’d get frustrated and lose interest in school.]”

As it turns out, Nancy was right to be concerned. Her daughter, who had been an A/B Honor Roll student in first grade, began getting D’s and F’s. When Nancy tried to help with her schoolwork, she noticed that her daughter was not only having dificulty learning read and write in English, she was also forgetting the Spanish literacy she had been developing. Nancy consulted with the teacher about her daughter’s failing grades many times but near the end of the school year the teacher told her “Señora, yo le recomiendo que repita el año.” [Señora, I recommend that your daughter repeat the year]. Nancy was devastated by this news. She told us, “Me sentí culpable, me siento culpable. Pero le dije “maestra, ok, mi hija no va a repetir año, yo la voy a sacar adelante.” [I felt guilty, I still feel guilty, but I told the teacher, “okay, my daughter is not going to repeat the year. I am going to work with her until she’s ready”].

By listening to bilingual parents, we’ve learned that stories like Nancy’s are common. All of the parents we’ve talked with care deeply about their children’s education. All want their children to be literate in English but we were surprised to find how many parents recognized that English-only instruction is harming their children’s literacy development and causing them to forget Spanish at the same time. Although not all parents are so brave and vocal about confronting teachers as Nancy, they stick up for their Spanish-speaking children in other ways, including keeping them out of special education and off medication for hyperactivity, as well as keeping Spanish as the primary home language for communicating with grandparents and older relatives.

We think that literacy educators working in the Rio Grande Valley should know about stories like Nancy’s. Maybe it is time for teachers to start listening more carefully to bilingual parents!


Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families # 6: Language and Dialect Issues

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the sixth 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.

Celebrating a wedding anniversary with a love note from a wife to her husband


The ability to speak more than one language is not particularly valued in the United States, especially when a person’s first language is something other than English. And when someone doesn’t speak English at all, many people, including many educators, assume that a lack of English means a lack of intelligence, education, and desire to learn English. Parents who can’t speak English well are assumed to care less about their children’s education and to be less able to help support their children’s learning. These beliefs are, of course, erroneous. The Spanish-speaking families we interviewed as part of this research showed us that they believed bilingualism was an asset for their children. The families wanted their children to be literate in their home language of Spanish, but knew that literacy in Standard English was important for success in the United States. Families discussed a variety of issues related to language, including:

  • Reading bilingual books with their children
  • Parental ability to speak English
  • Parental struggles with learning to read and write in English
  • English only schooling making it more difficult for children to be literate in Spanish
  • Helping with homework in both languages
  • Children translating English into Spanish for their parents
  • The differences between “Standard Spanish”, “Standard English”, and Tex-Mex

 Mrs. Puente discussed pursuing her own education as a way to motivate her children:

 “Quiero seguir estudiando [por el GED], porque de esta manera yo estoy viendo y estoy motivando a mis hijos. Más que nada a mi hija. Yo la veo como trae mucha tarea. Yo le digo, mija pues yo no sé mucho inglés, pero lo poco que yo sepa yo te ayudo aunque sea a leer en inglés, verdad, y yo se que…y ella me dice ‘ay mami, es que a veces se me hace tan difícil, pero yo misma también me doy valor,’ dice. [I want to continue studying for the GED, because this way I am seeing and motivating my children. Mostly my daughter. I see that she has a lot of homework. I tell her, Mija, I don’t know much English, but I’ll use the little I know to help you although it’s in English, you know, and what do I know…and she tells me ‘ay, Mami, sometimes it seems so difficult but I push myself to keep going.’”] Sra. Puente

 Although Mrs. Puente wasn’t confident with her own English, she was determined to help her children pursue their English-language education. She saw her own studies for the GED exam as a way to show her children that education mattered.

 Mr. Morales shared his initial reactions to hearing Tex-Mex after he moved to the Rio Grande Valley:

 “La primera vez que vine al Valle fue a una quinceañera y se me hizo raro de que el padre aquí en la parroquia de San Martin ofreció el sermón en tex-mex y yo me quedé, ¿Qué? ¿Que es una misa bilingüe? Pero este ya aprendí que así es como se comunican aquí, nosotros. [The first time that I came to the Valley was for a quinceañera and it seemed strange to me that the priest in the San Martin parish gave the sermon in Tex-Mex, and I was like, what? Is this a bilingual mass? But soon I learned that that’s how we communicate here.]

 Mr. Morales and his family moved to the Valley from California and noted the different dialect of Spanish spoken in this area.

What does this mean for teachers and schools? The families saw literacy in more than one language as a strength and supported their children’s learning of both English and Spanish. Educators need to recognize that these families have a great deal of linguistic knowledge and awareness. That knowledge needs to be celebrated and used as a resource for language learning in school.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #5: Vernacular Literacies

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the fifth 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.


“Leemos desde la hora en el despertador. Leemos todos los recados que haya que cumplir con lo que manda la escuela. Leemos, bueno, yo en lo particular tengo mi librito de oraciones que leo, también lo hago. De repente les doy nada más un vistazo a los titulares del periódico, porque no me da más tiempo. [We read from the time the alarm goes off. We read all the notices about what we need to do for school. We read, well, I especially have my little prayer book that I read, I do that. Lately I glance at the newspaper headlines, I don’t have time for more than that.]” Sr. Sanchez

Family Calendar

Do low income, Spanish-speaking families in the Rio Grande Valley provide a strong foundation in literacy for their children? Our research shows that the families we interviewed have deeply integrated literacy practices in their daily life. This includes both school based literacies brought into the home and vernacular literacies that may not be valued by schools and teachers. Our families told us that they participated in school based literacies such as:

  • Parents helping children with homework
  • Going to the library and checking out books
  • Owning a variety of books
  • Reading alone and as a family
  • Using textbooks to study for GED exams

In the Williams family, children interacted with books from a young age:

“Desde chiquitita, desde antes de que supiera leer ella agarraba los libritos que le compraba de los de Disney. Ella no sabía leer, pero ella decía ‘aquí Mickey Mouse va al agua y está jugando con su amiguito, su hermanito.’ [From the time she was little, before she knew how to read she would get the little books that I bought her, Disney books. She didn’t know how to read, but she would say, ‘Here Mickey Mouse is going into the water and he’s playing with his friend, his little brother.’” Sra. Williams

 Mrs. Williams purchased inexpensive books based on Disney characters and her daughter began learning to read by interacting with the books and making up stories based on the illustrations.

Nutritional Information on Food Packages

Families also described a wide variety of literacy practices that would not necessarily be recognized and valued by schools:

  •  Reading nutritional  information on food packages
  • Reading instructions for medications
  • Reading and paying bills
  • Entering sweepstakes
  • Reading newspapers
  • Reading a variety of magazines
  • Collecting and using cookbooks
  • Reading and discussing self-help books
  • Creating shopping lists
  • Budgeting
  • Running home-based businesses such as selling tamales and candied apples
  • Keeping detailed calendars and schedules 

The Gomez family described reading product information:

Sr. Gomez: Mi esposa lee mucho lo, los, ¿como se llaman? La tabla… [My wife reads a lot, the, what do you call it? The table…]

Sra. Gomez: La información nutricional de los productos. [Nutritional information for products.]

Luz: Todas las mujeres. [All women do that.]

Sra. Gomez: Si, soy muy fan de hacer eso. [Yes, I’m very much a fan of doing that.]

Sr. Gomez: Si, este, lo que contiene; en el caso de las medicinas, por ejemplo, este, lo que nos va a ayudar a bajar la fiebre de la niña, o a quitarle la tos. [Yes, well, what it contains, in the case of medicines, for example, well, what’s going to help us lower our daughter’s fever or help her stop coughing.]

 They read product labels and information to make informed decisions about what foods were healthy and what medicines were useful when their children were ill.

 What does this mean for teachers and schools? It means that assumptions about a lack of literacy in low income homes are very often mistaken. Educators need to reconsider stereotypes about low income, Spanish-speaking families and to learn about the home literacy practices of their students. Once teachers know about the rich literacy practices that go on in student homes, they can build on the literacy knowledge that their students bring to school.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #4: Digital Literacies

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the fourth 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.

Travel DVD player

“Mi hija, la mayor ahorita [usa el internet] para las tareas. Los muchachos…el otro niño también busca información ahí para las tareas también, y pues a veces como todo muchacho, verdad, pues se ponen ahí a platicar por, con medio de sus amigos…pero más que nada también para eso. [My daughter, the oldest, right now uses the internet for homework. The boys, the other boy also looks for information for homework and at time, like all children, you know, well, they begin to talk with all their friends. But more than anything it’s for homework.]” Sra. Puente

Digital literacies are increasing in importance as technology becomes more deeply embedded in daily life. While the families involved in this research are all working class or low income, parents recognize the importance of technology and digital literacies pervade family life. The families told us that they:

  • Paid bills online
  • Used computers at home or at the library
  • Made online purchases
  • Searched the internet to get ideas for home businesses
  • Used the internet for homework
  • Used social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace
  • Used chat programs to talk with friends
  • Played videogames online

 In the Llanas family the children used computers and the internet for homework:

“Ahí van [a la biblioteca] y hacen sus trabajos en la computadora. O antes, si tenían su computadora, y nada mas íbamos a imprimir. [They go to the library and do their homework on the computer. Or before, when they had their computer, we went only to print.]” Sra. Llanas

 Because the family didn’t always have internet access or the necessary technology at home, they also depended on being able to use computers at the public library in their town.

The mother of the Puente family described her major use of the home computer:

 “El internet; bueno, lo que pasa que yo lo, la uso más que nada para buscar, este, ideas como hacer arreglos florales porque me apasiona, me gusta mucho eso. Hago cualquier tipo de arreglo floral, tanto para arreglos para eventos, para piñatas, para baby showers, despedidas de solteros. Me apasiona, eso me gusta mucho también…y próximamente mi, mi meta, mi, mi proyecto es, este, poner negocio de eso. [The internet, well, what happens is that I use it more than anything to look for, well, ideas for floral arrangements because I love, I like that very much. I make any kind of floral arrangement, like arrangements for events, for piñatas, for baby showers, bridal showers. I love it, I enjoy it very much…and next my goal, my project is to set up a business for this.]” Sra. Puente

 As she prepared to open her own small business, the computer became necessary for both creative ideas and business information.

 Mr. Morales shared how the internet serves various purposes in his family:

 “Y utilizamos el internet para buscar esa pieza, la ordenamos, y la pagué, y pues yo diría que lo uso primordialmente nomás para, pues como para tipo research, como dirían. O también noticias, o de vez en cuando utilizar el facebook. [And we use the internet to look for this item, we order it and pay for it, well, I would say that I use it primarily for some type of research, like I said. Or also news, or sometimes I use Facebook.]” Sr. Morales

 In the Morales family, use of the computer and the internet has been integrated throughout daily life, as a source for communication with friends and family, a way to keep up to date on the news, for shopping purposes, and to learn new information.

 What does this mean for schools and teachers? Not only do are children from these families experienced with traditional print texts, they are also experienced with digital texts. While they may be immigrants to the United States or the children of immigrants, in terms of digital literacies they are natives and likely know more about technology than their parents and teachers do. Schools should be building on this knowledge and helping students learn to use both traditional texts and digital texts in more sophisticated ways.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #3: Religious Literacies

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

This is the third 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.


“Los ponen a hacer trabajos, los ponen a leer también algunos pasajes de la Biblia, y en base a esos hacen trabajos, y le gusta mucho también ir. [They give her work to do, they have her read passages from the Bible and based on these they do work, and she really likes to go there.]”

The Gomez parents discussing the literacy in their daughter’s Sunday School

Prayer written in notebook

While some people claim that Spanish-speaking, low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley lack experience with literacy, during our year-long study of family literacies family after family shared the various literacies that they participated in. These families didn’t lack literacy—they were immersed in it. In this post we will discuss some of the religious-based literacies that the families shared with us.

 Every family we spoke with participated in some form of literacy based in religious practice. For most of these families, religion was extremely important and their church played a central role in their family life. Families told us that they:

  • Read the Bible in church and at home
  • Discussed, questioned, and constructed meaning from Bible readings
  • Memorized and recited prayers
  • Sang hymns in church
  • Read religious magazines
  • Listened to religious radio stations
  • Used study guides when reading the Bible
  • Prepared lessons and taught Sunday School classes
  • Took notes as they read the Bible

 The Llanas family participates in church activities at least three times a week. In their family it is common and expected to read the Bible at home and at church:

 “Sí, tienen sus Biblias. Todas sus Biblias…Leo mi Biblia, todos los días leo mi Biblia. Escribo, tengo apuntes.[Yes, they have Bibles. Everyone has a Bible. I read my Bible, every day I read my Bible. I write, I take notes.]” Sra. Llanas

 This family values reading the Bible so much that they own multiple copies, one for each member of the family. Sra. Llanes also participates in a Bible study group that involves reading, discussion, and note-taking.

Mrs. Puente sharing a religious magazine.

 The Puente family describes the multiple literacies that they access to express their religious beliefs:

“Recibo también por correo una revista verdad, este, pues, que se llama En Contacto, es una revista cristiana…. Supe de ella por medio de la radio cristiana. Radio Manantial, si, y ahí fue donde yo la ordené. Entre, verdad, a la página de internet, lo busque y le dije a mi hijo, verdad, porque no tengo mucha habilidad con la computadora, pero le dije a mi hijo que me ayudara a inscribirme. [I also receive a magazine through the mail, this, well, it’s In Contact, it’s a Christian magazine. I learned about it through a Christian radio station. Radio Manantial, that was where I ordered it. On an internet page, I looked for it and told my son, well, because I don’t have much ability with the computer, but I told my son to help me subscribe to it.]”  Sra. Puente

 This family reads religious magazines, listens to religious radio, and uses the internet to access religious material. Later in the interview, Sra. Puente also discussed how she shares the information and advice in the magazine articles with her children and friends.

If children and families are immersed in literacies based on religious beliefs, what, then, does this mean for schools and teachers? It means that children are entering school with deep experience and knowledge of various religious texts. From these experiences, children know that reading is important and purposeful, that printed text holds meaning, and that it can sometimes take work to understand a text but such work is worthwhile. It means that children have experience with difficult texts and vocabulary. It means that children know that the act of reading and understanding a text is often social.

 Schools need to recognize the knowledge that their students bring with them. Schools also need to acknowledge that children are willing and able to tackle difficult text—the Bible is hardly easy reading—when there is a clear purpose and a strong motivation to do so.

Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #2: An Overview of the Family Literacies Project

By Luz Murillo and Janine M. Schall

This is the second 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.

 What are the family literacy and numeracy (math) practices of bilingual learners in the Rio Grande Valley? We explored this question for the purpose of helping our students understand the richness of home literacies. Although researchers have asked this question in other bilingual settings, we couldn’t find research from the Rio Grande Valley. We hoped that our answers would help these future and current teachers see bilingual family practices as legitimate forms of knowledge, and motivate teachers to use them as resources in literacy and math instruction with bilingual learners.

Using ethnographic methods to open our eyes to the new and the strange, including in our own practices of literacy (Nabi, Rogers & Street, 2009), we visited with families in border colonias and other communities in the Rio Grande Valley to document their everyday literacy and numeracy practices. During our visits we interviewed bilingual parents and children and documented a range of different uses of reading, writing and math at home, including parents helping children with homework; religious literacy practices in the home and in church; digital literacies such as using cell phones, text messaging, and playing videogames; and the literacy and numeracy practices required for household management. In return, we gave for parents on workshops on how to read and write at home with their children using bilingual books.

The results of our study support what other researchers’ have found about bilingual children: those who read and write with their families in the language(s) they speak at home become more accomplished readers in English as well as developing academic biliteracy (De la Luz Reyes, 2001; Reyes, 2010; Flores, 2007; Moll & Dworin, 2001). We learned that children in bilingual families are often exposed to and sometimes participate in the math and literacy activities that take place in their homes. Sometimes, these activities were based on school practices, such as doing homework and using computers and the internet for school projects. At other times, children were involved in family financial literacies that involved an integration of reading, writing, and math, such as making tamales and candy apples to sell at school, or deciding whether to invest in a special permit to cross the border without waiting in long lines every day.

Another finding that we think is important for teachers to know about concerns bilingual parents’ advocacy for their children’s education. We often hear teachers claim that bilingual parents in the Rio Grande Valley don’t participate in or support their children’s literacy learning. The reasons we have heard teachers give include that bilingual parents cannot contribute because they speak only or mostly Spanish and the schools teach only or mostly in English, or that because many immigrant parents attended school in a different system (Mexico) or dropped out of school for financial reasons, that they are uncomfortable talking to their children’s teachers. Finally, we’ve also heard teachers and students repeating deficit theories about immigrant and working class bilingual families (Flores, 2005). We are happy to report that in our study we found many examples of bilingual parents and families directly supporting their children’s literacy and math development and learning in general.

The next posts in this series will focus on different kinds of literacy practices we documented, including religious literacies, digital literacies, and family literacies. We will also discuss how these families advocated for their children and supported their school-based educations. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a discussion of what this all means for Rio Grande Valley educators.


Flores, B. (2005). The intellectual presence of the deficit view of Spanish speaking children in the educational literature during the 20th Century.” In P. Pedraza & M. Rivera (Eds.) Latino Educational Research Agenda. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Flores, B. M. (2007). Biliteracy as social practice in schooling: A bilingual first grader’s journey in learning to read and write in L1 and L2. In Yetta Goodman and Prisca Martens (Eds.), Critical issues in early literacy. Research and pedagogy (pp. 31-46), London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Understanding the Literate Lives of Borderlands Families #1: Rejecting the Deficit Perspective

By Janine M. Schall and Luz Murillo

The borderlands that we live and work in are located in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas along the Texas/Mexico border. This is one of the poorest areas of the United States, with large numbers of immigrant families. One of the reasons that this area struggles economically is because the population is undereducated, with school dropout rates that approach 40%. The Rio Grande Valley is also one of the most bilingual regions of the United States: while many people speak English at work and/or at home, almost 80% of the residents speak Spanish at home.

Many people look at the facts in the paragraph above and immediately focus on what the children growing up in local families lack. Many don’t have educated parents, they probably don’t have academic English, they don’t have the economic resources that provide travel and books and computers at home. And often people go on to make further assumptions: the parents are uneducated, so they must not be able to help their children with school. The families speak Spanish at home, so the children will struggle with learning English literacy. The families lack financial resources, so they must not be able to care for their children. The deficit perspective is alive and well in public schools in the United States, including in the borderlands. Speaking Spanish is a problem; it gets in the way of learning English. Being poor makes a child “at-risk” for school failure. Uneducated parents don’t care about their children’s school success.

While the deficit perspective is deeply engrained in U.S. schooling, it is misguided at best, and is often deeply damaging to children and their families. When schools and teachers believe that children are deficient—for whatever reason, including their economic status, home language, or cultural background—it leads to lower standards, watering down the curriculum, and accepting poor quality work as ‘the best they can do.’

 And, of course, the deficit perspective is 100% wrong.

 In September 2010 we were named UTPA College of Education C. Bascom Slemp Faculty Fellows. This fellowship funded a year-long research project focused on family literacy in the Rio Grande Valley. Throughout the month of September we will publish  eight blog posts that share some of the findings from this research. We will discuss the rich literacy experiences of borderlands families and show how parents support the education of their children. Finally, we will explore what these findings mean for teachers and schools in the borderlands.

Our thanks to the University of Texas-Pan American and the C. Bascom Slemp Fellowship for supporting this research.