Family Literacy Activities in the Homes of Successful Young Readers: A Review
Family literacy is situated on the ways on how families, children, and extended family members use literacy at home and in their community. Examples of family literacy might include using drawings or writing to share ideas, composing notes or letters to communicate messages, keeping records, making lists, following written directions, or sharing stories and ideas through conversation, reading, and writing. In the study of Stainthorp and Hughes (2000), they presented an account of the literacy activities engaged in by the parents of 29 children around the time that the children were about to start school at Key Stage 1.
To accomplish this, they invited fifteen of the children, who were reading fluently before they began school, and the remaining fourteen were matched for age, sex, receptive vocabulary scores, pre-school group attended and socio-economic family status, but not reading fluently. The first 15 children were able to achieve at least Level 2 on the English Standard Assessment Tasks: Reading. This is the level expected of children at the age of seven years after a minimum of two full years and possibly up to three full years in primary school. The mean chronological age of the children at this time was 4 years 8 months. Of these fifteen Young Early Readers, ten were girls and five were boys. This conforms to stereotypes about girls being more likely to be interested in reading at an earlier age than boys. However, the authors would not want to make any claims about this. These children were all in the project because of parental and/or teacher report. On the other hand, families of thirteen Non Early Readers were then identified who we were able to match on the basis of age, sex, British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS) score, pre-school group attended, projected KS1 class and socio-economic status. The remaining two Young Early Readers were both going to the same school so they were matched with just one Non Early Reader giving a total of fourteen children in this group.
The longitudinal study of Young Early Readers will monitor the phonological sensitivity and the progress in literacy of a group of 15 children, who had been identified as being fluent readers before they started Key Stage 1 and a matched group of 14 children who were not yet fluent readers. The rationale for the study related to the fact that there is now abundant evidence that sensitivity to the phonological aspects of language is highly correlated with reading success, particularly in the early stages. The authors were interested to identify whether precocious readers would show the predicted high levels of phonological sensitivity at an earlier age than non-precocious readers.
Since parents were vital in accomplishing this study to ascertain that the fluent readers were not simply coming from homes where literacy activities were more in evidence, they were also asked to report on their own literacy activities. The authors deemed that it is important to investigate the literacy activities that were taking place in the homes of all the children in the study in order to rule out any major systematic group differences in adult literacy behaviors that might have influenced the group differences in performance. This is possible only when parents will respond to a loosely structured questionnaire about their own literacy habits. In addition, they were asked to complete an exposure to print test. Thus, the investigation of the family literacy activities was part of the matching process to ensure that the Young Early Readers and the Non Early Readers had had comparable experiences. However, by using this method of ensuring match will obtain a useful data on the activities engaged in by these 29 families..
All children were given the Concepts About Print Test (Clay, 1979). In administering this test, the tester reads a story from a specially designed booklet to the child and asks a series of questions that relate to concepts about printed matter. These include awareness of the difference between print and pictures, awareness of the directionality and invariance of print; understanding of the purpose of punctuation; and understanding of such concepts as `letter’ and `word’. The child can show that she or he understands about how print works without necessarily being able to read the words per se. Test scores in the ranges of 8-11; 12-14 and 15-17 were converted, respectively, into stanines scores of 4, 5 and 6. The mean score for the Young Early Readers when their mean chronological age was 4 years 9 months was 19.4 (s.d. 2.16). This converts to a stanine of 7 showing that they had superior concepts about print. The mean score for the Non Early Readers when their mean chronological age was 4 years 11 months was 11.86 (s.d. 2.93). This converts to a stanine of 5 when rounded up. When the children had a mean chronological age of 5 years 0 months, all the Young Early Readers were asked to do the British Ability Scales Word (BAS) Reading Test (Elliot, 1992) and the Neale Analysis of Reading-Revised (Neale, 1989). Readers were asked to do these standardized tests because it was considered to be inappropriate to ask them to do tasks for when they had no possibility of succeeding at them.
To identify family literacy habits, parents were asked to give examples of any reading and writing that would generally be taking place in their homes, specifying which of the parents were involved. These include information on:
1. Regular/irregular visits to the library and/or bookshops and the purchase of books.
2. Whether they took daily newspapers, Sunday newspapers, magazines and/or comics.
3. Their regular/irregular reading of fiction and/or non-fiction (with authors and subject matter where possible).
4. The use of the computer for work/leisure activities in the home.
5. Writing activities such as letter writing, making lists, cards; invitations, homework, diary keeping, writing at home in connection with work, and/or writing for pleasure.
6. Playing games with a literacy theme, such as scrabble and crosswords.
7. Reading to their child.
Upon gathering all the data, Stainthorp and Hughes (2000) indicated that there were no systematic differences in the activities of the two sets of parents. They also showed that there was a considerable amount of literacy activity evident in the homes. Since all the children in this study came from homes where they were exposed to literacy activities undertaken for pleasure and sometimes for educational or work purposes, the children were exposed to activities that included both reading and writing. There was ample opportunity for unconscious modeling to take place. In addition, all the children were read to by their parents from a very early age. The children were therefore growing up in nurturing environments where literacy was valued. This meant that the Non Early Readers were in a position to take advantage of systematic reading tuition once they started school. The authors concluded that aside from their obvious differences in early reading performance, the main difference between the two groups of children lay not in the environmental experiences, but in their individual sensitivity to the phonological aspects of language.
Although the study of Stainthorp and Hughes (2000) had a clear rationale, hypothesis and sound methodology, the problem seen in this study was basically on the chosen children, specifically the Non Early Readers group. Since this is a study about family literacy, what the researchers should have included were parents who were not actively executing literacy activities with their children. Apparently, all children experienced active literacy activities with parents that is why the results obtained have no significant systematic differences.
The vital role of the home in the development of early literacy is unquestionable. Many researchers have already found that home environments possessing the characteristics described here will generally instill in children an interest in reading and writing, a desire to read and write, and the ability to read and write early. However, there are children from homes that display all characteristics described who are not early readers and writers and have difficulty learning to read and write. There are also early readers and writers from environments lacking the characteristics described. Obviously, there are factors other than the environment that affect successful literacy development. Thus, the researchers should have explored testing various families with different types of parents and different economic conditions to demonstrate a more viable conclusion with regards to the hypothesis they were testing.
Stainthorp, R and Hughes, D. (2000). Family Literacy Activities in the Homes of Successful Young Readers. Journal of Research in Reading, 23 (1), 41- 54.