Reviewed by Alex T. Valencic
Way back in the early 1980s, social workers recognized the need for family engagement in the treatment process. By the 1990s, this focus on family engagement had expanded to the field of education. Teachers and administrators have worked tirelessly to find ways to cross cultural barriers and bring families into the schools and into the work of educating children.
Of course, there have always been parents who have understood their role in teaching their children at home, but the idea of connecting home and schools in a partnership has been relatively recent in the grand scheme of things. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has been active in advocating for increased family engagement.
And in June 2015, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education for the United States of America, announced an initiative to promote family engagement with the development of a Family and Community Engagement website that builds on last year’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships. Secretary Duncan will be hosting Twitter chats about parent involvement. Clearly, involving families in student learning is becoming an increasingly important component of public education.
A useful, step-by-step guide to empowerment
With all this in mind, it should not be surprising that I was really excited to get a chance to read and review Empowering Families: Practical Ways to Involve Parents in Boosting Literacy Grades Pre-K-5 by Judy Bradbury and Susan E. Busch.
Written from the experiences of two veteran teachers, this book is the most useful tool in promoting student literacy at home that I have ever come across.
It starts with an overview of why schools should be seeking to empower families, followed by a step-by-step guide to leading staff development sessions to help teachers learn how best to work with students’ families to establish a strong home-school connection. At the end of the staff development section, there is a checklist for home engagement activities for school leaders to consider when planning activities.
Literacy Booster activities for family nights
The bulk of this book, however, is the Parent/Caregiver Literacy Booster series. Many schools, especially those that receive federal Title I grant money, are expected to host a series of family nights each year. As a teacher who has served on family night planning committees for several years, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to coordinate these events and come up with ideas that will engage families in partnering with our school.
The Literacy Booster series outlined by Bradbury and Busch takes care of the lion’s share of this work. With sessions focused on the theme of “Why should I read to my child (and how, when, and where)?” the authors provide detailed plans for leading three 90-minute sessions around the topics of getting started, reading with older children, and having everyday literacy discussions (with a special focus on poetry).
For those who feel like they have the fundamentals of family engagement down, there are a series of additional ideas, including boosting executive functioning skills and avoiding the homework hassle, finding gifts that both entertain and support learning, celebrating cultural heritages, and – a personal favorite for me – ways to specifically break traditional gender stereotypes by involving male role models in the learning process.
Celebrations and ideas to stem the summer slide
Empowering Families ends with suggestions for end-of-the-year celebrations with ideas for reducing the “summer slide.” The entire book is full of reproducible handouts and resource packets that can be copied from the book or downloaded for free from the authors’ website. And, of course, there are pages and pages of age-appropriate book recommendations for all students!
I am looking forward to implementing the suggestions in this book as my school engagement team plans family nights in the coming year and encourage parents and teachers alike to use this guide as they find ways to work together to improve students’ literacy skills.
Alex T. Valencic is a fourth grade teacher in Urbana, Illinois. He has taught professionally for seven years. When not teaching, Mr. Valencic can be found reading, riding his bicycle, or spending time with his family. While he typically has a full head of thick, curly hair, he keeps getting it shaved off to encourage his students to tackle academic challenges such as collectively reading 1,000,000 minutes or completing 1,000,000 math problems! You can learn more about his adventures in teaching fourth grade by visiting his blog at http://teachingfourth.wordpress.com or by following him on Twitter @alextvalencic.