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Running Head: PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN LITERACY EDUCATION

Parental Involvement in Literacy Education


Bridgette E. Buhlman
University Nevada Las Vegas

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN LITERACY EDUCATION

It is the first day of a brand new school year for kindergarten teacher, Ms. Smith, and
twenty bright eyed students. Ms. Smith awaits the arrival of students and parents, and anticipates
the inevitable language and cultural barrier that make her feel, year after year, as if she never has
the opportunity to truly know and understand her students and their parents. As the parents and
students arrive, Ms. Smith smiles warmly, extends her hand for a welcoming embrace, and
sincerely greets every parent and child. Parents return the greeting, the smile, and tightly hug
their child, then carefully release them into the care of Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith recognizes
multiple languages floating through the air, and she begins to lead the line of kindergarten
students into the school building and away from the parents; some experiencing this departure
for the very first time.
As parents look on, Ms. Smith can read the body language and expressions painted with
true emotion on the faces of the parents as they watch their child begin this new journey. She
reads, I am so proud of you. I want the best for you. I have devoted my life to you. I want you
to have a better life and education than I had. You are loved. Ms. Smith feels the desire to
reassure parents that this journey will be wonderful, but she does not. She continues to smile,
wave, and guide the children inside. The obvious language barrier builds a wall between the
parents and Ms. Smith. As the door closes behind the last student, Ms. Smith makes an
unspoken promise to herself, her students, and their families; I promise to get to know you. I
promise to include you. I promise to value your child, your life, your culture, and your
experience. I promise to learn from you. I promise to share with you what I know. Every day, I
will attempt to climb the wall that stands between us.
Ms. Smith knows that pursuing this promise will be challenging. She also knows that
effectively involving parents is crucial to maximizing the overall success of every child. After
ten years of teaching in Title I schools, with significant English language learner (ELL)
populations, she has come to the realization that the parent/teacher relationships and parental

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involvement she has experienced thus far, are no longer the relationships and involvement she
wishes to have in the future. She wishes to understand and know her students and families on a
deeper level. She wants to tap into their interests, experiences, culture, home life, and language
and use them as a way of forming relationships, involving parents, and increasing student
success, specifically in literacy. If she is to keep her promise, she must acquire new strategies,
tools, and knowledge so she has the ability to follow through.
Like many other teachers across the nation, Ms. Smith is faced with language and cultural
barriers that can, if left to chance, create an ever-standing wall between teachers and parents,
which ultimately affects the students. The language and cultural differences, or the wall, should
not be brought down; instead the wall should be transformed into a bridge-like structure that
allows teachers, parents and students to share their knowledge and experiences in a way that
cultivates relationships and academic success while making all cultures feel valued.
Within this paper, I will highlight ideas and research surrounding parental involvement
and early literacy development, specifically with ELL populations. In order to employ parents as
supportive and active in their childs education, educators must determine the most effective
ways to build relationships and provide parents with valuable knowledge and strategies to foster
early literacy development. Both are significant to the undertaking of transforming the wall and
maximizing early literacy success.
The Growing Need for Effective Parental Involvement
In order to place parent involvement at the top of the priority list as educators, we must
be aware of the substantial research supporting the idea that parental involvement plays a
significant role in the academic, social and emotional development of a child. Henderson and
Mapp (2002) point out the decades of research findings to support the positive results of parent
involvement, which are (a) higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates, (b) better school
attendance, (c) increased motivation, better self-esteem, (d) lower suspension rates, (e) decreased

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use of drugs and alcohol, and (f) fewer instances of violent behavior. Such findings suggest
students experience greater success when schools and parents work simultaneously in the best
interest of the child. Furthermore, large-scale studies that postdate Henderson and Mapps
review, further strengthen these findings (Paratore, Edwards, & OBrien, 2015). For example,
researchers Houtenville and Conway (2008) sought to determine both educational and economic
effects of parent involvement. They analyzed a large data set of 10,382 eighth-grade students
from the National Education Longitudinal Study and found parental effort to have a significant
positive effect on student achievement (Paratore et al., 2015).
Additionally, as the population of ELL students and families entering U.S. schools
continues to rise, building relationships and forming partnerships is becoming increasingly
critical. The demographic profile of the United States student population has changed
significantly in the past twenty-five years with the fastest growing segment of school-age
population being English Language Learners (Arias & Morillo-Campbell, 2008). Schools and
educators attempt to meet the needs of the rapidly growing and diverse populations but encounter
multiple barriers that must be overcome in order to employ parents as an active part of their
childs early literacy development. When schools, educators, parents, and students are all active
contributors to the learning and development of literacy skills, success is likely to be the result of
the collaborative effort.
Early Literacy
The essential goal of literacy instruction is to develop students who are able to read and
write with deep understanding (Gambrell, Malloy, Marinak, & Mazzoni, 2015). The Common
Core State Standards (CCSS) set a high bar for students, but it is one we must achieve,
particularly for literacy skills that provide the very foundation for all academic learning
(Gambrell et al., 2015). A United States Department of Education (2012) research report,
produced the following findings, which form the basis of evidence-based literacy practices:

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Instruction that focuses on students strengths and needs in the five core elements
of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and

comprehension;
Instruction that is systematic and sequenced;
Instruction that uses materials that are engaging and relevant to the students

needs;
Instruction that is continuously monitored to gauge effectiveness. (Gambrell et al.,
2015, p. 6)

Additionally, the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP) conducted a synthesis of the
scientific research specifically related to early literacy development from birth through
kindergarten. The variables found to be essential to early literacy instruction were (a) oral
language: expressive and receptive, (b) knowledge of the alphabetic code, (c) phonological
awareness and phonological memory, (d) invented spelling, (e) print knowledge, (f) writing:
letters and name, and (g) other skills such as rapid naming of letters and numbers, visual
memory, and visual perceptual abilities (Shanahan & Lonigan, 2008).
Furthermore, The National Reading Panel (National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, 2000) issued a report that also identified five areas critical for effective reading
instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Reading is
a combination of all the aforementioned skills, which are interconnected and interdependent on
one another (Brown, 2014). Language and literacy develop simultaneously and impact one
another. What children learn from listening and talking impacts their ability to read and write
and vice versa. For example, childrens phonological awareness is an important predictor of
success in reading comprehension (Strickland & Riley-Ayers, 2006).
As children move through the developmental process of learning to read, most follow a
similar sequence and pattern of reading behaviors that develop early and serve as the foundation
for later competence and proficiency (Brown, 2014). The Common Core Reading Standards for

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K-5 outline a set of foundational skills that students must master before they can become fluent
readers and comprehend what they read. The initial foundational skills identified are print
concepts, phonological awareness, phonics and word recognition, and fluency (Brown, 2014).
These early skills are building blocks that children learn to utilize to develop subsequent, higherlevel skills in order to become proficient readers (Brown, 2014).
Effective educators that provide comprehensive reading instruction have a broad vision of
literacy that is constantly informed by evidence-based best practices. Such educators understand
literacy well enough to adapt methods, materials, and the learning environment to meet the needs
of particular students and situations. Ultimately, comprehensive literacy instruction rests on the
shoulders of teachers who make informed decisions about the instructional and assessment
practices that are most appropriate for each student (Gambrell et al., 2015).
Additionally, preschool education plays a vital and significant role in promoting literacy,
preventing reading difficulties, and preparing young children for kindergarten (Brown, 2014).
Preschool children, however, differ in what they bring to the preschool setting, which often
impacts what they will gain from the experience. For example, some children start preschool
with an abundance of experiences with text, books, and written materials. These students are
more likely to have visited interesting places, engaged with creative play and problem solving,
and participated in thought-provoking conversations and activities. The aforementioned factors
and practices expand a childs general knowledge and intellectual development, which provides a
foundation for success (Strickland & Riley-Ayers, 2006). The rich linguistic and experiential
backgrounds of these children, prepare them to benefit from a curriculum that reinforces and
expands the rich reservoir of skills and knowledge they possess. However, children who have
not been exposed to such interactions and experiences prior to entering school, may need
additional, differentiated instruction to specifically target their learning needs (Strickland &
Riley-Ayers, 2006). Likewise, even for English speaking children, the language and culture of

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the school may differ greatly from the language and culture of their homes. Teachers need to be
mindful that a childs prekindergarten classroom may be the first sustained contact with a new
culture and will set the stage for success or failure in early schooling (Strickland & Riley-Ayers,
2006).
The issues associated with the growing diversity of linguistic and cultural backgrounds
present a significant challenge for early literacy educators and curriculum developers. As a
result of the inability for a specific curriculum to meet the needs of each student within a vast
and diverse population, an even greater responsibility falls on teachers to make necessary
adjustments to ensure instruction is responsive to all students needs (Strickland & Riley-Ayers,
2006). In an effort to provide such instruction, educators must evaluate and select strategies that
make the task manageable and meaningful. Gambrell et al. (2015) elaborates on this topic:
Our student needs and deserves instruction that embraces the richness and complexity of
literacy processes as well as instruction that is both evidence-based and comprehensive.
This is no easy task. It requires commitment, time, and knowledge. It begins with a
teacher who is a visionary decision maker, one who can identify strengths and needs of
each individual child and plan instruction accordingly. It begins with a commitment to
provide comprehensive, differentiated literacy assessment and instruction for all students.
While the challenge is daunting, the rewards are great as we nurture and support students
in becoming engaged lifelong readers and writers. (p. 28)

As educators strive to provide comprehensive and differentiated literacy instruction, the idea of
scaffolding is likely to prove beneficial for both teacher and student. Scaffolding is an
instructional strategy where the learner receives multiple layers of support as new learning is
introduced. As the students shifts from new information to internalized information, the layers
of support are gradually eliminated, allowing the learning to become independent (Good, 2011).

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Moreover, effective educators make it a priority to learn about the cultural and linguistic
backgrounds of the children and provide instruction that fosters respect for each childs
background and experiences and provide continuity between home experiences and those within
the early childhood program (Strickland & Ayers, 2006). Educators should view the cultural and
linguistic backgrounds of all students, as assets opposed to deficits.
The Deficit View Leads to Marginalization
In the policy brief, Promoting ELL Parental Involvement: Challenges in Contested Time
(2008), Arias and Morillo-Campbell list the deficit perspective, a unidirectional approach to
parental involvement, and a negative school climate as the school-based barriers for ELL
parental engagement. Arias and Morillo-Campbell (2008) elaborate on the deficit perspective by
explaining further:
Schools serving diverse populations have long been criticized for having a deficit view
of ELL parents and communities. Some critics assert that the deficit perspective leads
educators to view culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families as the
problem rather than to consider and remedy their own deficiencies in working with
diverse populations. ELL parents are frequently perceived as lacking resources (e.g.,
experience, know-how, and education) to provide and support home educational
experiences for their children. This deficit perspective suggests that fault and
responsibility lie with the ELL population rather than the school, and that the role of the
school is to change the ways families interact with schools. Many educators assume that
lack of parental participation is evidence of lack of parental interest. (p. 8)
Research also suggests many schools and individual teachers tend to adopt an approach
to family literacy based upon deficit assumptions, unequal power relations, and hierarchical
structures that marginalize parental voices and efforts (Ortiz & Ordonez-Jasis, 2005, p. 115).
Many teachers view the language environments of ELL students as a factor that limits literacy

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acquisition and academic success and feel that very little valuable literacy learning occurs in the
home (Ortiz & Ordonez-Jasis, 2005). These beliefs are symptomatic of a cultural deficit
explanation for minority failure. Those who follow a cultural deficit point of view assert that
minority home environments do not provide sufficient intellectual stimulation for normal
development of their children (Daniel-White, 2002, p. 31). This is a view that only sees the
majority norm as valuable. Proponents of this view advocate the linguistic and cultural
assimilation of minority populations to the majority norms, which are positioned as neutral,
objective, and standard (Daniel-White, 2002). When ELL parents fail to assimilate to the
expected degree, they are made to feel marginalized. Teachers perceive their behavior as a lack
of concern for, and involvement in, their childs education.
For example, language minority parents are often locked out of participation in school
due to language differences. Because of limited proficiency in English, they are unable to help
their children with homework but often take an active role in monitoring their child as they do
the homework. However, these efforts are rarely acknowledged because it does not mean the
homework was done correctly (Daniel-White, 2002). As students progress in grade level, parents
often become increasingly unable to assist their child with homework. In the beginning of a
childs education, language minority parents may have enough English proficiency to assist their
children with basic reading and math, but when their child moves on to higher grades parents are
often unable to help. This gradual separation distances parents from the education of their
children (Daniel-White, 2002).
Furthermore, although much research points to tangible barriers as a cause for a lack of
parental involvement, such as a lack of access to computers, lack of child-care, and lack of
transportation, the research also suggests that even when difficult, parents are likely to navigate
these challenges. However, researchers Yoder and Lopez (2013) explain an even greater barrier:

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Instead, it appears as though the greatest barrier to parents ability to engage in their
childs education is marginalization. The parents low-income statuses caused them to
feel fear, guilt, and shame, and consequently, they were less involved. Feeling alienated
from society prompted them, in turn, to alienate themselves from their childs educational
institutions. The stigma associated with being low-income made parents fear making
waves. Power differentials were clearly evident between the parents and society, with
the parents feeling powerless due to their hierarchical placement. The parents attempted
to address power differentials and feelings of hopelessness through jumping through
hoops. They would be required to combat numerous hurdles when asserting prowess in
the school systems. The responses from the school system were often unconstructive and
served to intensify feelings of shame. Therefore, jumping through hoops only reinforced
feelings of powerlessness and marginalization. (p. 429)
However, it is important to understand that a marginalized status does not mean that ELL parents
do not care about their childrens education. In fact, research continues to confirm that
linguistically and culturally diverse groups share a deep concern about the education of their
children (Yoder & Lopez, 2013). Therefore, educators must take the opportunity to engage
parents and use them as a powerful way to positively impact their childs literacy development.
Effective Parent Support in Literacy Development
Parents play a significant role in the language and literacy development of children.
Regardless of a parents language, education, or literacy level, they have the ability to positively
impact their childs learning. Although it may be difficult for non-English speaking parents to
assist their child with certain aspects of schooling, there are many things they can do to promote
learning, while using their native language. In fact, ELLs benefit when they develop solid
literacy skills in their first language before learning to read in a second one. Through the use of
the first language, they are developing key language and literacy skills that may enable them to

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become excellent readers in English (Colorado, 2015). Therefore, parents can promote literacy
development in the first language by focusing on excellent development of the primary language.
Also, research suggests that the amount and quality of language interactions between children
and parents is directly related to childrens vocabulary size and rate of vocabulary learning
(Espinosa, 2013).
In addition, the diversity of language usage, the proportion of rare words, the syntactic
complexity of parental speech as well as the level of responsiveness and use of gestures
all influence a childs vocabulary development. Parents also influence a childs
development of narrative skills by discussions about the past and future. In general,
children who experience rich linguistic input and language interactions with their parents
from the first years of life develop more extended vocabularies and greater syntactic and
narrative skills than other children. As these oral language abilities underlie later reading
comprehension skills, young children with enriched early language learning opportunities
are better prepared to master the challenges of reading comprehension. (Espinosa, 2013,
p. 5)
Therefore, regardless of the language spoken, the richer and more frequent the discussions
between parents and children, the greater positive impact they will have on the literacy
development of the child.
Additionally, parents can develop their children's vocabulary and oral language skills
through storytelling. Parents can encourage children to add to stories or make up their own
(Colorado, 2015). Parents can also read books in Spanish or read wordless picture books. Doing
so can be a fun and exciting way for parents and children to read books together and talk about
stories. Through such activities, children can learn how stories progress, make predictions, and
develop a love for books (Colorado, 2015). Parents can also sing songs and say rhymes with
their children, visit the public library, and watch educational television programs (Colorado,

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2015). All of the aforementioned activities help foster the development of oral language and
literacy.
The Shift From Deficit to Asset Perspective
Furthermore, it is important that educators and schools identify the ways in which they
can engage with parents, build relationships, and have conversations that open the door for
sharing helpful information and strategies that will allow parents to actively participate in their
childs education. While some traditional methods of parent involvement are important,
educators must move beyond those means of connecting with parents. We must try nontraditional means of engaging parents since the traditional strategies are not yielding the
engagement that educators are seeking. Instead, schools and teachers must take initiative to learn
about the ELL population and to create a culture of respect for ELL families. Learning about
ELL students and families provides a vital foundation on which to build all else within the school
setting. A basic understanding of students ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, or the situations
from which they have come, can prove useful. Teachers are unaware of many things regarding
their students or families that could be immediately helpful in the classroom (Moll, Amanti, Neff,
& Gonzalez, 1992).
Funds of Knowledge
Researchers use the term Funds of Knowledge to refer to the historically accumulated
and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual
functioning and well-being (Moll et al., 1992, p. 133). Furthermore, when teachers take on the
role of learner, instead of expert, they begin to know their students and their families in new
ways (Lopez, 2006). For example, educators can begin to realize that their students households
contain rich cognitive and cultural resources that can and should be used within the classroom to
provide meaningful culturally responsive lessons that activate students prior knowledge. The
information that teachers acquire about their students through this process is considered the

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students funds of knowledge (Lopez, 2006). If teachers take the initiative to access the funds of
knowledge of their students and families, then the shift from a deficit perspective to an asset
perspective will begin to take place.
Traditional Parent Involvement Practices
Schools have often taken on traditional modes of achieving parental involvement. One
example of intentionally opening communication with ELL parents is to offer multiple modes of
communication in their preferred language. For example, providing adult bilingual interpreters,
who are able to translate spoken and written communication among schools, parents, staff, and
students, is an essential service that welcomes parents into their childs educational experiences
(Colorado, 2015). The interpreter is able to translate parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school
nights, PTA meetings, and regular communication. The interpreter should also be available to
translate written notes and newsletters. Schools should also strive to translate report cards,
homework and all necessary paperwork so that communication is clear and intentional
(Colorado, 2015).
In addition, ELL parents need to be educated on the United States school system. In
order for ELL parents to best support their childs education, they need to understand how the
U.S. school system and culture work (Colorado, 2015). Schools and teachers should educate
parents about school hours, holidays, rules, school trajectory from pre-kindergarten through high
school, and the schools administrative hierarchy. Parents should also be educated about school
curriculum, standards, benchmarks, and materials. Teachers and schools must also explicitly
notify parents of the expectations regarding helping with homework, finding tutors, reading
books, telling stories, taking their children to the library, visiting the classroom, and becoming
involved in school (Colorado, 2015). The aforementioned elements will provide ELL parents
with a better understanding of how the U.S. school system works and what is expected of them
as parents.

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Because urban schools tend to have a significant population of parents with low
education levels, schools must attempt to instill the value of education within parents in order to
positively impact students. Schools can teach parents about the importance of education, active
parental involvement, and setting high expectations for their childs education. The indicator that
most consistently predicts a childs academic achievement and social adjustment are parent
expectations of the childs academic attainment and satisfaction with their childs education in
school. Also, parents of high-achieving students set higher standards for their childs educational
activities than parents of low-achieving students (What research says, 2002).
Furthermore, Gonzalez-DeHass (2005) recognize the important relationship between
parental involvement and motivation. Parental involvement increases effort, concentration, and
attention. Students are more inherently interested in learning, and experience higher levels of
perceived confidence. Consistent praise and encouragement is linked to intrinsic motivation in
students (Gonzalez-DeHass, 2005). Therefore, schools must offer parents the opportunity to
learn how to increase parental involvement in their childs education. Also, it is important
parents realize not all parental involvement needs to take place within the school; in fact, the
most powerful parental involvement exists within the home.
Increasing parental involvement benefits both children and parents. Children display
higher achievement, self-esteem, and motivation. In addition, parents benefit by experiencing
more interaction with their child, which tends to increase responsiveness to their childrens
social, emotional and intellectual needs. Parents also gain understanding of school curriculum
and develop more positive perceptions of the school (Olson, 2010).
Additionally, when schools maintain a higher level of parental involvement in and out of
school, teachers and principals are more likely to experience higher morale and earn greater
respect for their profession from the parents. Consistent parent involvement improves
communication and relations among teachers, parents, and administrators. Teachers and

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principals also have the opportunity to acquire a better understanding of families cultures and
diversity. Schools that actively involve parents tend to establish better reputations in the
community, and therefore, experience greater community support (Olson, 2010). Because of the
positive and powerful impact parental involvement has on education, we must intentionally and
actively implement it within our schools. According to Henderson and Mapp (2002), When
schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do
better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more (p. 73).
Furthermore, in order for parents to make meaningful contributions, educators must be
willing to listen, learn, and intentionally design instruction that builds on their strengths and
needs. By building on students and families strengths, students will see that the teacher is
making an effort to reach out to their home life, and this can become a source of pride for the
child and the family as well. The more educators seek to build relationships, understand the
valuable assets of their students and families, and share literacy knowledge with them, the more
evident it will become that a transformation is taking place. The wall will gradually be
transformed into a bridge.

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