English language study and teaching foreign speakers; Family literacy programs; Homework; Immigrant families


In response to a writing prompt asking, “What can parents do to ensure academic success for their child?” a mother with three children under the age of six wrote: “In my opinion he needs motivation from his parents and interest in his homework. [He needs] to read a lot so he will have good confidence with his friends and about everything, about his teacher.” This response was typical of those given by participants in a family literacy program (FLP) sponsored by a small urban school district. This program was originally designed to help minority language and culture parents learn functional English in the broader sense, along with strategies to support their children’s academic development through parent education focused on school practices. Parents not raised in the United States know there is a mainstream expectation to have a role in motivating and supporting their children’s learning, but they often wonder what types of support are expected in an unfamiliar school system (Paratore, Melzi, & Krol-Sinclair, 1999; Taylor & Dorsey-Gaines, 1988). Our research found that while parents in this family literacy program had an overwhelming commitment to maintaining family traditions, they also valued learning about mainstream schooling practices, or the mainstream academic discourse practices expected of students to succeed in schools for productivity in society (Gutierrez, 1995; Hicks, 1995). For the participating families, homework and other materials sent home with their children were important resources of school knowledge, as well as valuable sources of English print. Homework served as a mediator between English and Spanish language as the homework was discussed and interpreted in both languages. The daily ritual of unpacking the book bag was a collective practice that included the whole family—the school-age child, siblings, and parents. This ritual was shown to be an acknowledgement of the rich literacy resources a school offers. The contrast of what came to be seen as the collective benefits of homework and other literacy events surrounding school materials with the previously assumed more individualistic benefits of homework and school materials has implications for how teachers and schools view the practice.