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Family literacy practice and research in Canada. Yvon Laberge Éduk Alberta, Canada Overview. Setting the table: The Canadian geo-political context Family literacy practice - examples from Alberta Research in Family Literacy Two cases studies explored. Huge landbase.

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family literacy practice and research in canada

Family literacy practice and research in Canada

Yvon Laberge


Alberta, Canada

  • Setting the table: The Canadian geo-political context
  • Family literacy practice - examples from Alberta
  • Research in Family Literacy
  • Two cases studies explored
  • Most of the population concentrated along the 49th parallel
  • Officially bilingual - French and English
  • Canada is a land of immigrants
  • Aboriginal populations are the fastest growing
  • Largest cities are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver - all cosmopolitan
  • Rural areas tend to be more ethnically homogeneous
political organization two tier system
Political organization: Two tier system
  • National government (federal government)
  • Provincial and territorial governments (10 provinces and 3 territories)
  • Roles and responsibilities defined in the national constitution
division of responsibilities
Federal government

No direct involvement in education

Redirect funds to provincial/territorial governments for adult education

No program delivery mandate - only peripheral support

Provincial/territorial governments

Education - raise taxes, define curriculum, etc.

Manage adult education systems

Responsible for direct delivery of adult/family literacy

Division of responsibilities
  • No national literacy strategy (one of the few industrial countries lacking such a strategy)
  • 13 different approaches to literacy delivery
  • Little or no transferability between programs from one province/territory to another
  • Generally poorly funded adult/family literacy programs
literacy levels ialss results
Literacy levels (IALSS results)
  • Examined three forms of literacy: prose, document, quantitative
  • Five levels
  • Level 3 is the level the OECD and Statistics Canada consider to be the minimum required to be able to function effectively in a modern society and economy.
literacy levels ialss results1
Literacy levels (IALSS results)
  • 42% of the working aged adult population was at levels one and two on the IALS prose scale
  • Represents approximately 9 million Canadians
literacy levels aboriginal population
Literacy levels (Aboriginal population)
  • Prose literacy performance of the Aboriginal populations surveyed is lower than that of the total Canadian population.
  • Younger Aboriginal people have higher scores than older ones but all age groups score lower than non-Aboriginal people.
literacy levels francophone population
Literacy levels (Francophone population)
  • The proportion of Francophones with low literacy is higher than the proportion of Anglophones with low literacy - 52% across the country
  • 56% in Québec
  • 66% in New Brunswick
literacy levels immigrant population
Literacy levels (Immigrant population)
  • Overall, immigrants of work age performed significantly below the Canadian born population.
  • Immigrants whose mother tongue was neither English nor French have lower average scores in all four domains compared to immigrants whose mother tongue is one of the two official languages.
unexpected results
Unexpected results
  • Little improvement in the overall literacy proficiency of adult Canadians between 1994 and 2003
improvements had been expected because
Improvements had been expected because:
  • Retirement of older, less educated workers;
  • New immigrants tend to be more highly educated;
  • Growth in the proportion of the Canadian-born population with postsecondary education
impact of these results on family literacy
Impact of these results on family literacy
  • Family literacy policies tend to focus on children who are in “at risk environments”
  • Target immigrant populations
  • Target aboriginal populations
  • Federal government has targeted francophones in a minority context
in the province of alberta
In the province of Alberta
  • Parent-child literacy strategy
  • Family literacy initiative fund
parent child literacy strategy
Parent-child literacy strategy

Focuses on intergenerational educational approaches that integrate adult literacy development and early oral language development for children aged 0 to 6 for economically and socially disadvantaged families.

parent child literacy strategy objectives
Parent-child literacy strategy: Objectives
  • Enhance the oral language, early literacy and social interaction skills of children aged 0 to 6
  • Strengthen and build the basic literacy skills of parents.
  • Support and foster the involvement of parents in their children’s learning
  • Develop and enhance community-based partnerships
parent child literacy strategy 5 strategic axis
Parent-child literacy strategy: 5 strategic axis
  • Awareness Raising
  • Assessing Need
  • Program Delivery
  • Training
  • Evaluation
parent child literacy strategy key activities to date
Parent-child literacy strategy: Key activities to date
  • English Express Special Issues
  • Parent-Child Literacy and Home Visitation Partnerships
  • Intensive Family Literacy Pilot and Evaluation (Learning Together Study)
  • Training
  • Family Literacy Initiative Fund
parent child literacy strategy home visitation pilot project
Parent-child literacy strategy: Home visitation pilot project
  • Support home-visitors in providing family literacy programmes in the home.
    • Training
    • Materials and programmes
    • Evaluation
parent child literacy strategy innovative projects
Parent-child literacy strategy: Innovative projects
  • A number of innovative projects are supported including the Classroom on Wheels (C.O.W.)
sample family literacy programmes supported by the flif
Sample Family Literacy Programmes supported by the FLIF*

*The following slides on

programmes have been

reproduced with the

permission of the Centre for

Family Literacy

books for babies
Books for Babies

Provides resources to families

Encourages parents to read to their children

Builds strong foundations in literacy


Building Blocks

Literacy builders work with families in their homes

Builders work with parents and children,with parents gradually taking over

Builders provide follow-up support by telephone

help your child to read and write
Help Your Child to Readand Write

For parents of school-age children

Provides strategies for parents to usein helping their children withreading and writing


Literacy and Parenting Skills

Provides literacy and parenting skills workshops

Groups choose from 14 parenting topics

Parents learn to model good literacy practiceswith their children


Two programmes in French

  • Grandir avec les livres
    • Parents and caregivers of children birth to 4 years old
    • Workshops increase awareness of early learning andfoster interest in reading
  • Contes sur roues
    • Follow-up to Grandir avec les livres
    • Parents and caregivers of childrenup to 4 years old
    • Home or daycare visitor modelsreading activities, leavesresources for family or daycareto use

Parent-Child Mother Goose / Rhymes That Bind

For parents and veryyoung children

Develops oral language through rhymes and songs

Promotes positive parenting



‘Sacks’ contain a story book, toys, and props

Language games and ideas for use arealso included

They can be used in families, daycares, libraries,and other settings

pcls supports a training strategy
PCLS - Supports a Training Strategy
  • Foundational training
  • Models training
  • Training sessions designed to meet the specific needs of key stakeholders
foundational training
Foundational training
  • Offered in person or on-line
  • Covers 10 topics considered essential to organize and offer a family literacy programme
  • Each topic is presented in a three hour session
  • Participants are given a manual that covers all the information presented and more
  • Currently being adapted as a credit course through a community college
10 chapters 10 topics
Understanding Family Literacy

The Practice of Family Literacy in an Unjust World

The Dynamics of Working with Parents

Understanding Children and their Development

Understanding Emergent Literacy

Working with Families in a Family Literacy Setting

10 chapters - 10 topics
10 chapters 10 topics1
Working with Communities

Administering a Family Literacy Project

Evaluating Family Literacy Projects

Best Practices in Family Literacy

10 chapters - 10 topics
models training
Models training
  • Training is provided on specific programme models
  • Offered during a two or three day institute in a central location - or in the community
targeted training
Targeted training
  • Training is provided to targeted groups requiring a specific emphasis. Examples of such groups include:
    • Community health workers
    • Day-care workers
    • Home-visitors
  • Introductory session on Family Literacy (2-3 hours)


  • General state of research in Family Literacy in Canada
  • Two case studies
general state of research
General State of Research
  • Traditionally, priority placed on applied research.
  • NLS is moving away from applied research
  • Rapidly developing area of research by the academic community
  • Research tends to be in specialized areas
  • A clearinghouse for research is CLLRNet
cllrnet canadian language and literacy research network
CLLRNet (Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network)
  • Multidisciplinary research program integrates contributions from the many sectors involved in children's language and literacy development, including basic and applied scientists, educators, clinicians, students, parents and caregivers, and industrial and government partners.
cllrnet canadian language and literacy research network1
CLLRNet (Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network)
  • Currently more than 50 projects
  • For more information on CLLRNet and the research programmes:
ontario study french

“For my Child:A Study of the Impact of French-Language Family Literacy Programs on Francophone Families in Linguistic Minority Settings in Ontario

“Pour mon enfant d’abord: Étude de l’impact de l’alphabétisation familiale sur les familles vivant en milieu minoritaire en Ontario”

for my child purpose
For my Child: Purpose

To assess the changes observed in literacy habits and in use of French among parents and children who have been involved in one of the French-language literacy programs offered by seven French language literacy centres in Ontario.

for my child methodology
For my Child: Methodology
  • Semi-directed interviews with the participating parents, their literacy trainers, and the directors of these centres.
  • Questionnaire used to guide the interview
for my child methodology1
For my Child: Methodology
  • Interviews with participants conducted at the start of the programme and at the end - using the same questionnaire.
  • Interviews with facilitators and coordinators conducted at the end of the programme
for my child methodology2
For my Child: Methodology
  • Cohort 1 - a total of 52 families involved
    • 52 women and 10 men interviewed
  • Cohort 2+3 - a total of 177 families
    • 161 women and 31 men interviewed
for my child typology of programmes cohort 1
For my Child: Typology of programmes - cohort 1
  • Six programmes had direct parent and children involvement
  • Three programmes had direct parent involvement and indirect impact on the child
for my child typology of programmes cohorts 2 3
For my Child: Typology of programmes - cohorts 2 + 3
  • Six programmes had direct parent and children involvement
  • One programme had direct parent involvement and indirect impact on the child
for my child findings
For my Child: Findings
  • Few adults with low literacy skills participated in these family literacy programs.
  • More parents and children spontaneously used French in daily literacy and non-literacy related activities
for my child findings1
For my Child: Findings
  • Children increased French vocabulary
  • Children were more likely to comply with a routine and follow instructions.
  • Children developed a feeling of belonging with the French language and associated it with pleasant activities.

(as observed by parents)

for my child findings2
For my Child: Findings

Family literacy programmes had a major positive impact on parents in two respects:

  • on the parents’ parenting skills,
  • on their learning and their use of French.
more specifically the parents who participated in these programs now
More specifically, the parents who participated in these programs now:
  • apply the parenting strategies that they have learned, especially as regards disciplining their children and encouraging their interest in reading and writing;
  • say that they are better equipped to play their role as parents;
  • have become aware that any activity can be a learning activity;
  • have a better grasp the importance of using French in the home;
  • engage in more activities with their children, especially in French.
for my child findings3
For my Child: Findings

Family literacy programs play an important role in the growth and development of the Francophone community.

  • Increased enrolment of participants’ children in French schools
  • Increased participation in community activities

Learning Together

The Learning Together program offers sessions for parents, an early childhood development program for the children, and then joint sessions in which parents and children interacted around literacy events.

The Learning Together program was developed as part of a longitudinal study conducted by the University of Alberta. The results were published in a book: Family Literacy Matters: A Longitudinal Parent-Child Literacy Intervention Study Linda M. Phillips, Ruth Hayden, and Stephen P. Norris

Data presented in the following slides is drawn from this study.


Learning Together

  • Eight key units for each:
  • Adult component
  • Early years component
  • Joint sessions component
  • * Programme developed by the Centre for Family Literacy borrowed heavily from BSA (Basic Skills Agency) programme model, taken from the book - Family Literacy Works (Brooks et al. 1996)
learning together themes for each unit
Learning Together: Themes for each unit
  • Creative play
  • Developing language and literacy
  • Games
  • Beginning with Books
  • Early reading
  • Writing and drawing
  • Environmental print
  • Advice and guidance
learning together themes for each unit1
Learning Together: Themes for each unit
  • Facilitators advised and encouraged to “respect and build on parents’ existing skills and abilities within each of the units…”
  • Facilitators required expertise and skills in their respective areas - working with adults and working in early childhood development.
learning together timeframe
Learning Together: Timeframe
  • Three mornings or afternoons per week
  • Over three month period
  • Total of 90 hours
learning together timeframe1
Learning Together: Timeframe
  • Separate adult session
  • Separate early-years session
  • Each has its own facilitator
  • Last 30 minutes each day, parents are paired with their child. Facilitators remained in the room to oversee.
learning together methodology
Learning Together: Methodology
  • 13 week pilot study helped refine programme model and research tools
  • Treatment groups of children and parents compared with control/comparison groups
  • 158 children participated in five sites - 3 urban and 2 rural
learning together assessment tools children
Learning Together: Assessment tools - Children
  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
  • Test of Early Reading Ability(TERA - 2 Forms A & B)
  • Test of Early Reading Ability(TERA - 3 Forms A & B)
learning together assessment tools adults
Learning Together: Assessment tools - Adults
  • Canadian Adult Reading Assessment (CARA)
  • Graded Word List
  • Graded Passages
learning together interviews and observations
Learning Together: Interviews and Observations
  • Pre and post programme interviews conducted with all participants
  • Yearly follow-up interviews conducted around the anniversary of the completion of the programme
  • Each programme observed by one of the researchers for a minimum of 2 hours
learning together findings
Learning Together: Findings
  • The program had a positive influence on all children except those who were already in the top 20 – 30% at the pretest stage.
  • Participant parents acquired and implemented more frequent and varied literacy activities at home than the control group parents.
  • Participant parents also reported being more confident and secure in their own ability to help their children.
learning together findings1
Learning Together: Findings
  • The program was most effective for children with the greatest need.
  • No specific increase in the parents’ literacy levels because of the short length of the program
  • There were qualitative improvements in the parent’s ability to advance the literacy levels of their children.
learning together lessons learned
Learning Together: Lessons learned
  • Recruitment of participants, especially for the control group was very difficult and required a significant amount of resources (staff time and money)
  • Particularly difficult to identify and recruit control group participants that mirrored the treatment group.
  • Require a longer and more intensive adult literacy component to make a difference.
  • Need to examine impact of less intensive programmes
learning together lessons learned1
Learning Together: Lessons learned
  • Need to better understand cultural and social differences and how they effect literacy development
  • Need to use the research to develop policy and practice that best utilizes limited resources and ensures the use of the most appropriate strategies for a given group