The Impact of Family & Community Diversity on Literacy

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine how diversity in the home and community impacts student literacy through its effects on attitudes, experiences, and social interactions.

Cultural Influences

How did your childhood experiences shape the way you feel about learning? Experiences such as going to the library, following recipes, and writing shopping lists are common in some households, but not in others. For teachers to make maximum impact on students, they need to understand how each student's family and community culture affects his/her adaptability, engagement, and learning. Diversity describes the differences between students in your class. Let's discuss how diverse parental attitudes, student experiences, and social interactions affect literacy.

Parental Views on Literacy

While some families will begin reading to their infants before they are even born, there are some cultures that hold books in such high esteem that children are not allowed near them. Similarly, there are some parents that push memorization of phonics rules and sight words, while others praise children that engage in the enjoyment of literature.

Educators may be prone to thinking that parents should be taught research-based methods for teaching reading skills to their children, but research shows that this type of education has not had an impact on changing the beliefs of parents. The jury is still out on how to best address the disconnect between parents and educators regarding literacy.

Background Knowledge and Experiences

The number of literacy experiences a child receives at home has a profound effect on later learning. Explicit learning experiences, such as providing books and activities that promote literacy, provide a foundation for literacy. However, other experiences, such as watching an older sibling or parents model learning, also impact students.

The most successful students come from homes that provide opportunities for students to engage in meaningful conversations. Vocabulary development comes primarily through discourse (conversation) that may be included as part of reading, playing games, or daily activity.

Research has shown that socioeconomic factors and the level of parental education are the primary factors that determine the degree to which a child will engage in relevant literacy experiences at home.

Social Interactions

Each culture has its own set of rules that determine how people interact with one another. Look at the examples below:

  • Some cultures value talkativeness, while others value silence.
  • Some cultures allow interruptions, while others value active listening.
  • Some cultures allow children to participate in adult conversations; others expect children to be silent.
  • Some cultures expect students to ask questions; others view questions as an insult to the teacher.
  • Some cultures expect teachers to be directive, but others are offended by this approach.

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