PARENTS TEACHING READING AND WRITING AT HOME: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY
Parents who actively read and write with their children engage in unique interactions that nurture a specialized kind of family learning process. Both parents and children together have the opportunity to further their own literacy growth, which involves the acquisition and development of knowledge and ideas through the activities of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Mutual sharing and discussion in a home context can expand the joy possible in the pursuit of literacy.
This study used a qualitative research approach to explore one family’s experiences as readers and writers in a home school setting. Through participant observation, the researcher experienced the family’s literacy growth and language environment from an involved, interactive position. As the community of learners within this home changed and shifted, so too did the researcher’s role in a continual dialectic of analysis and clarification. Spradley (1979) emphasizes the need for such ethnographic work because it enables the researcher to characterize cultural phenomena by learning directly from and with the participants themselves, not for the purpose of controlling variables or making comparison studies, but for the purpose of understanding the experiences of single communities or groups of people within their own natural, unique contexts. He believes this kind of qualitative research can yield a great depth of description through increased researcher empathy and insight.
This inquiry focused on how two parents and their child related as readers and writers from April to June, 1989‑‑the last three months of their child’s third grade year. In addition, each parent’s past educational experiences and attitudes as readers and writers were correlated with their present teaching. The goals of the research were: (1) to describe their learning environment, (2) to identify social and linguistic exchanges among family members during literate events, and (3) to determine how the parents perceived themselves as teachers of reading and writing.
The following excerpt introduces the eight‑year‑old child characterized in this study. It is the beginning of a monologue that she tape‑recorded and presented to me as a surprise towards the end of the study.
Hello, Aunt Elizabeth. This is Thursday, the 15th of June, and I learned a few new words today. There was domination which means overall power, and there was uh…demean, which I learned from a crossword puzzle. (laughs) Me and my Grandmother were doing a crossword puzzle today…and then there was another one. I can’t remember it. It started with an “r” and it’s ra‑bla‑bla‑bla‑bla‑bla, something like that. (laughs) It was one of those real long words. I think it had five or six syllables. Anyways, I didn’t go to the farm with my Dad. I stayed home and played around with my Grandma, and I just finished writing a letter to Kristie. You probably heard about my friend Kristie. If you haven’t, I’ll refresh your memory. Kristie is the girl that lives in the green house on our street. And…I…also did a crossword puzzle and that’s where I learned the word demean from. It was a real hard crossword puzzle…really strange clues…and we had to look at the answer and we still haven’t gotten it all finished. I looked at Pony papers most of the day. And I read a little bit out of…
This sample of oral language performance illustrates what the child could express about linguistic forms and functions. For instance, she knew that words are comprised of letters, syllables combine to make words, words consisting of five or six syllables are long ones, and sounds represent symbols. She also demonstrated her ability to engage in a communicative act by making the tape‑recording, her willingness to interact with her grandmother in a literate activity, her awareness of her own vocabulary growth, her motivation to write a letter to a friend, and her desire to read independently. While the tape‑recording reveals her linguistic competence, it also represents her desire to use language in a thoughtful, creative way. By observing closely over a specified period of time how this child’s language development was nurtured by her parents’ teaching, new insight could be gained both on the actual teaching methods of particular home school parents and on the acquisition of literacy itself.
A holistic view of language (Shuy, 1981) provided the basis for this research. This means that the linguistic environment and social context of the family were viewed from a whole to part, or constructivist perspective. Their reading and writing interactions were understood in terms of the context in which they happened. The child’s literary skills were considered from a functional viewpoint in order to comprehend their forms. This notion is based on a model of communicative competence (Hymes, 1974) that distinguishes the forms and functions of language as follows: linguistic competence involves the language forms of phonology, vocabulary, grammar and word semantics; sociolinguistic competence emphasizes the functions of language in oral interaction, specific functions, narrative abilities, referencing, and style shifting.
Accordingly, a holistic view of the family interprets ordinary, daily conversations and teacher/student interactions during reading and writing events in terms of the social situation in which they occur. The sociolinguist, Halliday (1978), says, “In the development of the child as a social being, language has the central role. Language is the main channel through which the patterns of living are transmitted to him (p. 9)…How else can one look at language except in a social context?” (p. 10). The home school setting is a specialized social context for the teaching of literacy because it involves family members shifting roles as readers, writers, speakers, listeners, learners, and teachers.
The concept of family is defined as a system of people connected by tradition, history, and experience that operates through transactional patterns and consists of ongoing interactions that establish how, when, and to whom to relate (Minuchin, 1984). According to such a definition, each family member is affected by other members in an ongoing, inherent way. Therefore, when one member learns and changes, other members of a family will also change in a continual dynamic process. Close, shared meanings then emerge to further establish a sense of individual, yet shared family knowledge or literacy. How a family constructs their entire life system around the decision to home school reflects who they are and what they believe (Van Galen, 1987). Each family is a community of learners constructing its own reading and writing program to promote literacy growth.
Any home is a unique context for learning. The social scientist, Gumperz (1986), considers educational settings in general from an interactional sociolinguistics viewpoint when he suggests looking closely at instructional activities identified during ethnographic observation because he thinks they play an important part in the educational process. His goal is to study “the interplay of linguistics, contextual and social presuppositions which interact to create the conditions for classroom learning” (p. 65). When that classroom is the home, added dimensions of these aspects are introduced. More specifically, interactions between parents and children during reading and writing activities can be studied in order to understand the conditions for learning created in particular homes.
This connects with Taylor’s (1983) theory on the transmission of literacy style within the family . Her research of family literacy suggests that the “interplay of the individual biographies and educative styles of the parents becomes the dominant factor in shaping the literate experiences of the children with the home” (p. 23). Parents hold attitudes, beliefs, and experiences that they will communicate to their children through their language interactions. The research of both Taylor (1983) and Knowles (1988) suggests that parents’ past school experiences will be communicated directly or indirectly to their children.
Parents are usually the first and most important teachers and models in the life of a child (Potter, 1989). Often they have set the stage for teaching reading and writing at home and in so doing, have designed the child’s first context for academic learning. If language is thought to be an interactive process between an individual and a social context, and if there is indeed a correlation between learning and development (Vygotsky, 1978), then the home school setting would seem to be a natural place in which to study how the older child, who has already acquired language, continues to develop literacy skills through reading and writing events with parents in the roles of teachers.
Significantly little home school research focuses on the development of literacy within specific homes. To this researcher’s knowledge, there is only one other case study of a single home school family (Benson, 1981) and its focus is primarily on how to establish a home school. Now that the body of home school literature has successfully formulated a solid foundation of demographic information, much more qualitative, in‑depth research needs to be directed toward understanding the nature of teaching happening in individual home schools. Reading and writing processes are the very elements of educational growth, and yet thus far, home school research has given minimal attention to these areas. Literacy acquisition through parental teaching represents a new, important dimension of home school research. Much more case study work must be done to learn more about how parents teach literacy to their children at home.
This investigation is an exploratory case study of the home school family previously portrayed. To best capture the complexity and spontaneity of their ongoing, everyday language behavior during reading and writing events, a qualitative methodology was selected. The case study form of inquiry offered a natural, in‑depth, holistic way to view the sociolinguistic context of this home school family setting.
The participants consisted of a family of two parents and their daughter, the researcher, an educational psychologist, and a state auditor. My relationship with the mother harkens back to elementary years spent together. When she and her husband consulted me about this form of education as an alternative to public school education because they were seriously considering it, I grew intrigued. By observing firsthand how these parents taught their child, not only could I watch the teaching of reading and writing processes from an inside perspective, but the research would achieve rich depth because of my prior relationship with this family. Having a close rapport enabled me to participate as a facilitating influence, which is an essential dynamic in qualitative research, and to perceive as fully as possible the experiences of the participants.
An educational psychologist, who teaches psychology at the graduate level part‑time and maintains a private practice in her home, conducted a psycho‑educational evaluation at the close of the research period on the child’s cognitive ability and reading/writing achievement.
A state auditor represented the school district in which the family resided. She was a trained “pupil personnel worker” with background in speech pathology, special education, counseling, child development, and school law. Her responsibility was to visit home school families in her district twice during a given school year. For this family, she visited once for a period of an hour, and agreed to have the session tape‑recorded. A second audit was not conducted as planned because the public school year ended before it could be done.
Data Collection: Roles and Procedures
A combination of data collection procedures was used to capture the primacy of this family’s ongoing language experience. Characteristically, qualitative research involves more than one data collection technique (Marshall & Rossman, 1989). Thus, data were obtained during formal, or scheduled “school” time, and informal or spontaneous teaching sessions. To reach a full sense of the specific context in this study, and to observe the complex sociolinguistic processes of home school teaching, twelve methods of data collection were utilized.
Data were collected by both the researcher and the family in a collaborative manner for a period of three months from March to June, 1989, although researcher contact with the family had been formalized in September, 1989. An ethnographic method of inquiry allowed the researcher to participate directly, and promoted open communication. The family and researcher interacted in an ongoing dialectical process, sharing verbal and written observations before, during, and after home visits. Meanings were co‑ created and co‑constituted through this process of thinking aloud together, which allowed for data analysis to be done while it was being collected. This method of qualitative data analysis is described by Miles and Huberman (1984):
Analysis during data collection lets the fieldworker cycle back and forth between thinking about the existing data and generating strategies for collecting new‑‑often better quality‑‑data; it can be a healthy corrective for built‑in blind spots; and it makes analysis an ongoing, lively enterprise that is linked to the energizing effects of fieldwork. (p. 49)
By requesting that the family participate in the research process and also collect data, I recognized them as co‑researchers. My intention was to invite their full involvement, and accordingly, their full response in both written and verbal form. Thus, data collection and procedures could be discussed openly and understood together at any time. Being able to question or comment freely engendered a trust in the research process and sustained a natural relationship between the family and researcher. Through such interactions, the research process became a mutual exploration.
My research role was a participant observer making weekly visits to the family’s home and taking field notes. Each home visit extended from Tuesday evening to Wednesday late morning, which allowed for observation of informal and formal teaching sessions. During the 12‑week research period, I was present for approximately 30 hours of formal teaching time, and an equivalent amount of informal, nonteaching time. Data were collected in the form of field notes, interviews which were all tape‑recorded and transcribed, video‑taping, a psycho‑educational evaluation of the child, a statewide home school conference, informal “chatting” with family members, transcriptions of audio‑ recorded material, and protocol analysis of the child’s writing.
The family kept a dialogic journal and the mother maintained a teaching log started in September, 1989 when the home schooling had begun. Audio‑tape recordings of teaching sessions were made by the family and then given to the researcher each week. They were asked to record at least two hours of teaching a day, five days a week, and they could determine which sessions to tape. The researcher transcribed a sampling from the tapes and returned with one transcript each week for the parents written review and comment. Each transcription consisted of one teaching session; the length would vary. A cover sheet provided space for the parents to write summary thoughts on their own teaching process and summary thoughts on their child’s learning process was attached to each transcription. A double‑entry transcription format provided space for the parents to write comments next to their own texts and dialogues as they reviewed them. The child’s documents were saved and given to the researcher. She also filled in a sentence completion sheet given to her by the researcher. Each parent submitted two writing samples: a reading/writing autobiography and a home school summary. Finally, two questionnaires of open‑ended questions were filled out by each parent individually.
Method of Data Analysis
All data were read and analyzed for the purpose of formulating a reliable description of how the parents interacted with their child while teaching reading and writing. Data were then examined to identify styles of interaction and patterns of language observed during teaching sessions. Finally, they were triangulated to establish internal validity.
Written documents produced a qualitative depth to this study. The parents wrote a total of 15 double‑spaced pages of text. They completed 15 face sheets on transcriptions, and wrote responses on 82 pages of transcribed teaching sessions and on 44 pages of transcribed interviews. This writing was correlated with the child’s writing, the two questionnaires, the family journal, and the mother’s journal. An Epilogue written by the mother six months after the research period ended represented a more longitudinal perspective and helped to contextualize the study. Also, the dissertation itself was given to the family to read as an ultimate form of triangulation. They responded positively with interest and enthusiasm during a final post‑research interview, which was tape‑recorded and transcribed.
Interviews and writing samples were used to gather information about each parent’s educational background. These were analyzed for evidence of reading and writing attitudes, and to understand each parent’s past school experiences. They were also used to answer the question of how parents transmit attitudes about literacy through the generations (Taylor, 1983). The questionnaires provided introspective data from each parent about their teaching process. They were compared and triangulated with interview and written data to understand each parent’s approach to the teaching of reading and writing, as well as their teaching relationship with their child.
Analysis of audio‑recorded data‑‑interviews, the state auditor’s visit, protocol analysis sessions, and teaching sessions‑‑was done as soon after they occurred as possible so that transcriptions could be returned to the parents for their review and commentary. In total, the family recorded 95 hours of teaching time and nine hours of interviews. The transcriptions became the first step towards making sense of the family’s home school experience and learning about the parents’ teaching of reading and writing. In addition, they provided the parents with the means to analyze their own teaching processes.
Limitations of the Study
This case study features a family willing to have a researcher enter their private domain and share their first home school experiences with them. Already having a strong, close relationship with them provided me the opening to conduct in‑depth qualitative research because both the family and I felt committed to each other, as well as to the goals of the study. The possibility for this research to be replicated depends upon the willingness of family members to cooperate completely by allowing a researcher to enter their natural, ongoing family system. The extent to which a family trusts the researcher is the extent to which a qualitative study such as this one will be meaningful. Given the same holistic approach to language and social interactions within the family setting, and given the same combination of methodologies conducted with a similar home school family already well acquainted with the researcher, this study exploring human interactions during reading and writing events would be apropos to another such study.
The three goals of this research were: (1) to describe the learning environment of one home school family, (2) to identify social and linguistic interactions among family members during literate activities, and (3) to determine how the parents envisioned themselves to be teachers of reading and writing. They suggested the following results.
The Learning Environment
This family’s home contained an abundance of print, along with many artifacts of traditions, past travels, and experiences, to create a highly stimulating visual atmosphere. Also, it could be called a “literacy rich home” (Sulzby, Teale, & Kamberelis, 1989) in that the parents had facilitated the child’s acquisition of literacy continuously from the time of her birth to the present time; she had been exposed to ample textual material and visual stimulation from the beginning. Her parents had read to her from a few months of age onward, so she sensed the value of print, as well as her parent’s deep respect for knowledge.
Reading and writing were given a high priority in this learning environment. Over the course of her first year as a home school student, this third grade child either read independently or listened to a parent read aloud approximately 74 books, the longest of which was Little Women by Louis May Alcott. In addition, she subscribed to 11 magazines and periodicals herself, and often read articles from other material belonging to her parents. She enjoyed composing short stories, poetry, and notes. One of her poems was submitted to “Highlights Magazine” for publication. The mother often would write with her, either collaborating on the child’s piece or composing her own texts while sitting side by side with her. Writing and reading aloud sessions became special, intimate times of intellectual exchange between parent and child, or focused moments of closeness for the whole family when all were present. Researcher Newman (1985) writes, “We’ve learned to recognize the importance of the social nature of learning, the role which language plays in creating the learning environment, and the extent to which language is itself determined by the social situation. We’ve learned that young children are aware of the print world and are able to make sense, in ways we’ve never before suspected, of the writing which surrounds them” (p. 7).
As a second grader in public school, the child had begun to show signs of boredom by not doing homework, being late for the bus, and harboring negative feelings about school. Her mother considered her to be a “shaky” reader with not much confidence. By the end of her home school year, these patterns changed under the direction of parents who intuitively knew her capability was high and were willing to nurture it by teaching to her specific style of learning, which they discovered through their home school teaching.
The attitude that learning was fun and could happen all of the time pervaded this home school environment. Such an atmosphere of intellectual and social collaboration between these parents and their child contributed to her growth as a reader. Oral reading was the primary teaching method used by each parent for all subjects. Extensive talking about texts that had been read aloud engendered a general spirit of mutual learning and negotiation of meaning throughout the learning process. It placed a focus on the importance of text, and encouraged active, immediate interpretation and response. In the three‑month research period, approximately 64 words and concepts, such as spiral, Grecian urn, perimeter, Heimlich maneuver, paradox, kilobytes, trestle, buoyancy, taper, and polytheistic, were not only defined, but often remembered and discussed further during later readings, conversations, and experiences. Oral reading happened not only in the den‑‑which had been transformed into a “classroom” replete with materials, resources, and supplies‑‑ but also in the back yard, in the car during trips, and in bed. Reading aloud sessions were special times of sharing that the family enjoyed together.
The learning environment extended beyond the confines of the home. Curricular material was experienced actively in libraries, museums, historical sites, and theaters as well as events tailored to books being read or concepts being learned. For instance, the early American history theme took this family to such places as Jamestown, Williamsburg, Philadelphia, and Gettysburg. The mother was an accomplished seamstress, quilter, and cook who used her skills creatively to design relevant, integrated activities. Such informal teaching is discussed by researcher Leichter (1984) who said that families have an educational curriculum or agenda and “this curriculum is structured differently from that in school in terms of both time and space, and it should be understood in its own terms. At best, formal instruction accounts for only a fraction of the education that takes place in families. Informal instruction in the course of other activities‑‑instruction that is often not even recognized as such‑‑is essential for education within families, including the learning of literacy” (p. 38).
Styles of Interaction
Four styles of interaction were identified in this family’s learning environment. These involved generalization, questioning, collaboration, and refocusing. Members displayed these styles of interaction as they shifted from role to role as teachers, learners, listeners, and speakers.
The style of generalization begins with a focusing idea that becomes generalized and personalized into a specific pattern of conversation. Ideas are formed and shaped in myriad ways as speakers repeat and adapt them according to their own prior knowledge. For example, the family generalizes the concept of map reading when opening up a game called, “Where in the World.” The implicit question, “What is this?” leads them to recognize and identify places spontaneously during an impromptu conversation of 37 verbal exchanges.
Questioning is another style of interaction. The parents tended to ask closed‑ended questions, especially when engaged in oral reading sessions, and the child tended to ask few questions during these times, but when she did, they were often open‑ended questions which were more likely to yield subsequent conversation. Tag questions were also used extensively during teaching sessions. These were likely to elicit a verbal response that was direct, but only one or two words in length. The three types of questions were not mutually exclusive and served as a technique to invite the negotiation of meaning or to pre‑empt an immediate response.
Collaboration is the third style identified in this family’s teaching. The parents became learners along with their daughter in a spirit of “we learning.” They devised curriculum with their own interests in mind, as well as hers. At times, one of the parents would read what he or she had missed when absent from a read‑aloud session. They both expressed satisfaction with enhancing their knowledge through home school teaching. In effect, they were also modelling reading attitudes and strategies while interacting with texts out loud in the presence of their child. The family collaborated by taking many field trips, planning science experiments together, creating a family newspaper, writing in the family journal, listening to texts read aloud on trips, and participating in the home schooling process‑‑ which itself represents a family project because the parents and child needed to be closely enough connected to make it be a sustained, positive experience for all. The decision had been a joint one in the first place, and would be negotiated on a year‑by‑year basis henceforth.
Refocusing was a style of interaction that functioned to change the course a teaching episode. For instance, when the child would yawn or assume an aspect of lethargy, the teaching parent would refocus the context. The effect would be a shift in conversation or activity. This illustrates not only a high degree of awareness on the part of the parents to notice their child withdrawing or not following along, but also a willingness to be flexible and redirect their teaching.
Patterns of Language
The family systematically used four patterns of language in their teaching of reading and writing. These were examined to learn about the specific ways they interacted verbally to create shared understanding. According to Vygotsky (1978), language is “the very means by which reflection and elaboration of experience takes place…a highly personal and at the same time a profoundly social human process” (p. 126). He also says, “In the same way as children learn to speak, they should be able to learn to read and write. Natural methods of teaching reading and writing involve appropriate operations on the child’s environment” (p. 118). Repetition, comparison, definition, and identification were the four patterns identified.
The repetition pattern involves consecutive verbal exchanges that replicate the same words. The example shown below occurred during a mythology reading session.
Mother: What’s his name, do you remember?
Child: Pegasus with the wings?
Mother: Uh. Huh.
The child’s exact wordings are repeated directly afterward by her mother. This could be a residual behavior from when the child first acquired language and she learned by imitation. Also, the mother might repeat to affirm her daughter’s correct answer. By its very nature, repetition reinforces itself as a language pattern. It was observed during reading and writing sessions with a parent and the child, as well as during informal family conversations. Each member of the family displayed this pattern consistently. They repeated each other’s exact wordings often.
The comparison pattern suggests that this family has a wealth of ideas and experiences upon which they can draw in order to illustrate by analogy. In the following example, the child has asked a question and the mother replies by using a comparison:
Child: What’s the difference between England and Europe?
Mother: Well, that’s the same as saying, “What’s the difference between a foot and a body.”
Mother: England is part of the continent of Europe. Also, it’s an island. It’s considered to be part of Europe.
The spontaneity with which family members made comparisons during teaching sessions suggests that they could access a rich repertoire of knowledge easily, and that reading and writing events served to inspire the comparison language pattern. Comparisons were often used to explain concepts according to what was familiar to the child. Thus, the parents made reference to what they knew she already recognized or understood.
Definition makes explicit understanding that might otherwise remain be tacit. Having had no prior experience teaching reading and writing, the parents exposed their child to books and other written materials to inspire her interest in words and ideas. Defining words was a favorite way for them to participate directly in her reading and writing processes, while also enabling them to share their own prior knowledge and literary experience at the same time. This delight with words may have also motivated the emphasis they placed on the definition of words and concepts in their curriculum. Oral reading seemed to invite such a focus because the chance for text‑related interactions was greater than with silent reading. Through a variety of techniques, the mother taught word meanings in reading sessions such as the following:
Mother: So, let’s see…(reads) “After he wrote the piano concerto, which is considered one of his best works, then he was commissioned to write the ballet `Swan Lake.’ [ORIGINAL CONTEXT]
Do you know what it means when they say someone is commissioned to write something? [QUESTION] (pause) That’s what our neighbor, Jim, wishes he was. [SHARED KNOWLEDGE] He wishes he was commissioned to write the book he is writing right now. (laughs) When you’re commissioned to do something, like to write a concerto, or to write a book, they pay you in advance for writing it. [EXAMPLE] So, in other words, [SCENARIO] if you were a great composer and I said, [DIALOGUE] “I want to commission you to write a beautiful concerto for my daughter’s wedding, I would pay you now, say $1,000, and then pay you‑‑
Child: That’s a lot for just a song for a wedding!
Mother: Well, I’m just giving you an example. To be commissioned means that someone is hiring you to do it. They are paying you to do it. [DENOTATION]
Child: Okay, I get it.
Mother: Okay? So, he was commissioned to write “Swan Lake”, the music we’re listening to right now.
The mother relied on six different ways to explain the meaning of the word “commission.” Interestingly, the denotation, or literal definition, was given last. Through the definition pattern, each parent personalized new concepts by translating them into a family language of shared meanings.
Identification, like definition, represents this family’s interest in referring by name to the objects, events, and interactions in their daily lives. This created a shared family knowledge or common understanding, and it also served to both formalize and individualize their learning context. For instance, the family had named many of the birds that frequented their feeder: Tuftie, Flinch, Skitsie, Red Buster, Snow Splotch, Romeo, Juliet, Chickwee, Ree Dee, Chick Dee, Scarface, and Darth Vader. They also all knew what an “imagination exercise” or a “fraction story” was, and when “Woobub Hour” happened. The child made up the word “mumblethink” and wrote about it on her sentence completion sheet as follows:
Definition of mumblethink: when you think half out loud and half to yourself, and you end up sort of mumbling the words quietly. (Always stare at something when you mumblethink.)
Such language patterns are characteristic of this family’s verbal interactions during a specific period of time. These change constantly as the system of family members expands in knowledge and experience. None of the patterns are mutually exclusive, but rather, they occur in complex combinations during verbal exchanges. Such language patterns within a family structure suggest the nature of their learning and collaboration as readers and writers.
Parents’ Perceptions As Reading and Writing Teachers
The educational backgrounds of each parent differed significantly in both the early home environment and the school context. Also, the ability of each to remember and describe past school experiences and literary growth varied dramatically. This was evident in their attitudes about reading and writing, and it seemed to influence how they taught reading and writing. For instance, the father expressed negative attitudes about his own and, accordingly, his child’s writing. Eventually, he yielded the role of teaching writing to the mother who delighted in her own and her child’s writing. Instead of dwelling on mistakes and criticizing drafts, she collaborated and encouraged the writing process. As the home school year progressed, childhood memories and prior knowledge became enlivened and parental attitudes changed as self‑confidence grew through experience. The father found that he interacted more freely and openly during informal teaching times, whereas the mother felt more comfortable teaching in an informal or formal manner.
By the end of the year, both parents expressed enthusiasm about their daughter’s progress and their own learning. Feedback from both the state auditor and psychologist served to further validate them as teachers. The auditor praised them for their successful home school, and the psychologist assured them that their child had achieved substantially above grade level and had clearly demonstrated a superior cognitive aptitude. While their sense of her ability had been confirmed, the result was that negative feelings about the institutionalized school setting were stirred. They saw more clearly how their child needed to use her imagination in a setting that was not oriented toward groups, established curricula, and rigid time frames. Teaching at home provided these parents with a unique opportunity to elaborate on practices they had already developed in their parental roles, such as reading aloud and discussing knowledge gained from reading and writing activities.
Home School Literacy
Although the parents did not envision themselves to be reading and writing teachers, but rather parents in the role of teacher, each knew the importance of the written word, and so designed curriculum to include frequent reading and writing. They created a specialized form of literacy this researcher calls “home school literacy.” It will be defined as the intellectual development of people in a family system, who grow and change while in the process of learning and sharing textual material through home schooling. Through reading and writing interactions, not only is the individual family member involved in the pursuit of knowledge, but the entire family by definition becomes involved. As any single person changes, so too, does the system in which that person is a member change in response. The home school family designs its own special form of literacy through its teaching.
This study described the learning environment of one home school family according to its physical appearance, time orientation, and curriculum. It explored how the parents’ educational backgrounds and attitudes about school influenced their teaching as they applied their beliefs and prior experiences directly and indirectly in their teaching. The emphasis on print could be noticed throughout the learning context of this family. Reading and writing were given a high priority, contributing to the interactive atmosphere of this learning environment.
Specific styles of interaction and language patterns observed during reading and writing events were identified. These suggested that the parents’ teaching was enriched by their prior knowledge, background experiences, and ability to recognize and respect their child’s unique style of learning. Findings also indicate that the parents challenged their child to learn beyond “age appropriate” materials, and thereby nurtured her into a potential versus an actual range of cognitive development. A wealth of family knowledge evolved as parents and child became active readers and writers sharing meanings together. In the process, they created their own consistent patterns of interaction while enhancing their individual and family literacy.
The parents envisioned themselves more as readers and writers than as teachers of reading and writing. Thus, they engaged in natural, ongoing learning interactions with their child to promote not only her literacy growth, but their own too. The parents showed contrasting self images as readers and writers, although both demonstrated extensive competence and curiosity about text. These attitudes seem to have stemmed from their background experiences in school and in their jobs later on. Their efforts teaching reading and writing appear to have been rewarded by the child’s continuing joy of reading and writing. According to the mother’s epilogue written six months after the study period ended, the child had emerged as “an avid writer” who carried her notebook everywhere, including to bed each night. Her reading, too, had “blossomed.” Apparently, she will read two or three hours each day. When asked what her favorite hobbies are, the child replies, “Reading and writing!”
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