Quick Tip Tuesday: Bridging home and school

January 25th, 2011

In her book Family Literacy Experiences, Jennifer Rowsell explores the power of the home-school connection and offers teachers multiple ways to use what already excites and motivates their students to enhance classroom learning. In this week’s tip, Jennifer gives a quick overivew of the home-school connection.

The term “family” is used broadly to define intergenerational learning that encompasses siblings, caregivers, guardians, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and extended family. There is a danger in viewing the home as an isolated domain or container that we enter and exit. Instead, I prefer to see the relationship between home and school—or, more broadly, out-of-school and in-school—as fluid. These contexts move in and out of each other and bear traces of the other all the time. In a discussion of literacy out-of-school, we want to avoid the temptation to oversimplify the differences; rather, we need to emphasize the similarities.

Invitations to Bridge Home and School
Inviting Home into School
In the years before schooling, children are, for the most part, left to their own devices, their own cultures, their family rituals and practices, and their own spaces in which to learn. This is a magical time in a child’s development, when a formative picture of how to make meaning in the world occurs. Early forms of literacy represent a medley of play, modeling, and using the materials and means at hand to make meaning.

Homes are intimate spaces. What separates home from school is the tremendous variability of homes, each complex of such factors as socio-economic background, race, religion, traditions, tastes, interests, family composition, etc. Objects, books, furniture, and spatial arrangements are meaningful to the people who occupy a home space. As teachers, we may pause to think about what our students do when they are at home, but we seldom think about a student’s home and meanings within the home that take on relevance and are rendered meaningful by a child.

Inviting School into Home
Family literacy emphasizes using the pleasure and comfort children experience with texts they use at home and out in the community to motivate them and offer opportunities to develop as readers and writers. Popular culture can be used to motivate children, and is particularly helpful to boys who show less interest in “schooled literacy practices” (Street, 1995) or literacy traditionally associated with school, such as choral reading from a basal reader, that is unlikely to take place at home. Family literacy, however, involves much more than popular culture. Family literacy involves the tacit things that we do within our home space that cast an impression of what it means to be a reader or writer.

These rites and practices strongly inform our children’s understanding of language, meaning-making, and, importantly, feeling at ease in a setting so that learning can take place. As teachers, we should know the kinds of texts and practices our students have and perform at home, honor them, and plan
around them.

Inviting Meaning-Making
Family Literacy Experiences has an agenda: to open up what we mean by literacy. Reading and writing have shifted dramatically over the past decades. The screen has transformed literacy as we know it. Although we cannot assume all children have access to computers at home or at school, they increasingly think in terms of the screen. The shift from language to highly designed visual texts and interface may seem at odds with what we think of as texts, but it is the reality of our children’s worlds. I deliberately use the term “meaning-maker” instead of “reader” to signal a shift from solely written, printed texts to texts of all shapes, sizes, and dimensions.

Inviting New Texts and New Skills
Different text genres fill our students’ worlds. There are texts that play a part in family rituals. There are texts that serve as a historical centrepiece, as mementos to remind us of our past. There are more universal texts, such as dictionaries and religious texts, that occupy a sacred place in a home. There is a sea of picturebooks of all kinds. There are interactive texts, such as video games on a computer. There are comics and graphic stories that can be read on cushions or in a comfy chair. There are movies on television or on DVD; there are cartoons.

In short, there are endless texts at home, on the street, on the Internet, in places of worship, at the mall, and at school—we are surrounded by texts. We may not be comfortable with the amount of time our children spend engaging in new media and technology; nevertheless, we need to understand new skills that emerge from use of them so that we can build on the affordances of their worlds.

With new curricula taking account of literacy skills our students have developed from computer use and exposure to multiple genres of texts, we have some way to go in bridging the gap between the sophisticated set of skills our students have and what actually takes place in school.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday

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