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Bridging Literacy from School to Home


literacyAlthea Beneby-Duren is an Assistant Professor of Reading in the School of Education at Florida Memorial University. Her former work experiences include employment with the Miami Dade County Public School System as a classroom teacher and Reading Coach and as an adjunct instructor at Miami Dade College and Florida International University. She has conducted Reading MATTERS and CHAT with Parents workshops at public and private schools, churches, Headstart programs, and neighborhood centers throughout the Miami-Dade County area. She and her husband of over 30 years have three adult children, and recently became grandparents. They reside in Miami-Dade County.

At six months, Greta’s ‘favorite toy’ was a small vinyl book, God’s Blessings A to Z. She would lie on her back studying the book for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, carefully turning the pages. At eleven months, she would stand at her ‘book box’ (a magazine rack consigned to her a month earlier) and throw books on the floor until she found the one she wanted. The effects of reading to this toddler were more evident when at eighteen months her last words for the day was a plea for one more book to be read to her. Trelease (1989) presented this study as an example of what can happen to a child who is systematically read to from infancy, given the appropriate materials and a literate home environment.

Not only is the sharing of books a significant way for a child to acquire early literacy skills and develop socially (Sulzby & Teale, 1996), it has been critically linked to the preschooler’s subsequent success in formal schooling (Bus, Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1995; Scarborough and Dobrich, 1994; Scarborough, Dobrich, and Hager, 1991; Smith, 1997). Wells (1985) found that the amount of time parents spent reading stories to children were positively correlated to the ratings of language ability at 5 years of age. A 20-year longitudinal study conducted with a sample of African-American children of teenaged mothers in Baltimore reported that cognitive and behavioral functioning in the preschool years can predict illiteracy in young adulthood (Bayder, Brooks-Gunn, & Furstenberg, 1993).

literacyMy interest in family literacy began in the mid 1990s when I was finishing up an advanced degree in School Counseling. As part of my internship experience, I was provided the opportunity to work with a number of teenaged parents in a small group setting, under the guidance of the school’s Trust Counselor. These high-school students were involved in the Teenage Parent Program (TAPP) of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, an outreach program offering free child care, transportation, low-cost or free Healthcare referrals, counseling and specialized curriculum to pregnant and parenting teenagers, and the sessions were a part of the services extended to the pregnant and parenting teenagers of the school.

I enjoyed talking with these young people and offering advice in terms of parenthood, as a mother of three. However, I wanted to find a way to combine my interest in reading with the specialized curriculum I was asked to implement. Hence, Reading MATTERS was birthed, workshops in which different booksharing activities are discussed and demonstrated in an interactive format. From that time to present, these workshops have taken place in schools, churches, and community centers, and now include adult-aged parents as well. The parents are asked to complete the following parent survey before the workshops and afterwards to determine changes in behaviors.

Parent/Child Reading Survey




1.   I choose books my child can understand.




2.   I sit in a position to allow my child to see the book.




3.   I point to the pictures.




4.   I point to the words.




5.   I use expression in my voice.




6.   I make motions and/or sounds when appropriate.




7.   I ask “W” questions [who, what, when, where, why] about the book I’m reading.




8.   I relate the stories in the books to real life events.




9.   I praise my child when he/she answers questions.




10. I read to my child at least once a day.




literacyIn addition, my Children’s Adventures and Technology (CHAT) with Parents workshops provide the opportunity to assume both roles of teacher and learner. As they follow the instructions provided, they coach their children through each booksharing, computer, and print-related activity. At one particular school, my main objective for the CHAT with Parents workshops was to determine how this parent-assisted activity affected their first graders’ academic performance.   

The mothers and children met 10 weeks, twice a week for one hour per day. A Poster Maze of 20 rooms with the names of two activities (a trade book, board game, or computer game) in each room was used as an organizational tool to keep the parents on track of the activities completed. Each mother-child pair chose from the adventure (task) cards that complemented each trade book, board game, or computer game. The children made progress through the Maze by mastering the tasks of the books or games.


Overall, the vocabulary scores of the children increased at an average of one (1) point per week based on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) over the ten-week period. This was a remarkable increase, considering that every 20 items on the PPVT is equivalent to a grade level. Thus, CHAT’s PPVT 10-point increase represented an increase of approximately 5 months (half of a school year) in 10 weeks. These findings indicated that the CHAT parent-child activities can have an impact on the receptive vocabulary of the children.

literacyAngelica was a student who was quite tearful when she first entered the program. However, after a few visits, this little lady and her mother were amongst the first to show up to the program. From the pictures included in this story, you can see she was quite content to have her mother by her side as they participated in the program’s activities. Her mother also showed commitment to the program, by making sure her daughter was able to attend, even though she had an infant to tend to while there.

In light of the current emphasis on standardized testing, family literacy has taken on a new form including workshops related to test-taking skills in school-community settings to multimedia programs that can be downloaded and used by parents to ‘teach the test’. As a result, I have developed scripted lessons that will allow parents to engage their children in best reading practice techniques related to phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, as a means of bridging home literacy practices with reading techniques used in the elementary classroom (see sample lessons below) and will be used in future research.

Sample scripted lesson related to vocabulary development

Dewdney, A. (2005). Llama llama red pajama. New York: Viking.

Description: After the baby llama kisses his mother llama goodnight, he feels lonely and also wants a drink. Baby llama calls downstairs to his mama. She acknowledges him and says she’ll be up to see him soon. However, the phone rings and she forgets to go up to him while talking. He frets, moans, cries, stomps, pouts, jumps, shouts, and finally weeps and wails loud enough to get her to run to his rescue. Mama llama reprimands him gently for such ‘llama drama,’ but also reassures him that she’s always near. She then kisses him as he snuggles deep into his pillow and blanket and falls asleep.
Skill focus: Scaffolded silent reading

Explanation of skill to parent: Scaffolded silent reading can be used with books your child has found easy to read. If you need help with finding books that are easy for your child to read, ask his or her reading teacher, the media specialist at his or her school, or a librarian in your neighborhood’s library. After the book is chosen, have the child read the book for a total of 20 minutes (this can be broken up into two 10-minute segments for kindergarten to second grade students). As the child reads the book silently, stop the child at various spots throughout the book and ask him or her to read that page (or a portion of it) aloud. In addition, ask the child “Wh” questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why) about that section to determine if he or she understands what was read.

Sight Words: a, with, at, up

Sample related to Phonics

Strickland, P., & Strickland, H. (2002). Dinosaur roar! New York: Puffin.

Description: Dinosaurs are used to emphasize opposites and also to make “munching” sounds that the young reader would enjoy repeating. There are a number of rhyme words and quite a few interesting words such as “meek” and “slimy” that can be taught in context and with the aid of illustrations.
Skill focus: Discuss the opposite terms in the book.
The book has many examples of opposites. This includes "Dinosaur weak, dinosaur strong," "Dinosaur short or very, very long," and “Dinosaur spiky, Dinosaur lumpy.”
Parent focus: This can be followed by the parent pointing out items in the kitchen that represent opposites. Here are some suggestions:

cookie - round           block of cheese - square                       
faucet - cold              faucet - hot
foil - thin                     kitchen towel - thick
straw - long                toothpick - short
sugar - sweet             salt - bitter
water - clear               milk - not clear
fork - rough tip           spoon - smooth tip
cabinets above          cabinets below
light on                        light off

The parent can show other items and their opposites such as a hard bottom to a chair versus the soft cushion of the sofa or the small speaker on the phone in contrast to the large speaker of the stereo.

Bayder, N., Brooks-Gunn, J. & Furstenberg, F. (1993). Early warning signs of functional illiteracy: predictors in childhood and adolescence.  Child Development, 64, 815-829.

Bus, A.G., Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Pelligrini, A. D. (1995). Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of Educational Research, 65, 1-21.

Scarborough, H. S., & Dobrich, W. (1994). On the efficacy of reading to preschoolers. Developmental Review, 14, 245-302.

Scarborough, H. S., Dobrich, W., & Hager, M. (1991). Preschool literacy experience and later reading achievement. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24, 508-511.

Smith, S. S. (1997). A longitudinal study: The literacy development of 57 children.  In C. Kinzer, K. A. Hinchman, & D. J. Leu (Eds.), Inquiries in literacy: Forty-sixth Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp. 250-264).  Chicago: National Reading Conference.

Sulzby, E. & Teale, W. (1996). Emergent literacy. In R. Barr, M. Kamil, P. Mosenthal,
& P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research: Vol. 2 (pp. 727-757).

Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Trelease, J. (1989). The read-aloud handbook (4th ed.). New York: Penguin.

Wells, G. (1985).  Preschool literacy-related activities and success in school. In D. R. Olson, N. Torrence, & A
Hilyard (Eds.), Literacy, language, and learning (pp. 229-255). New York: Cambridge University Press.

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