Family Literacy and Social Justice: Using Storytelling to Develop Bilingual Identities

Family Literacy and Social Justice: Using Storytelling to Develop Bilingual Identities

Shartriya Collier-Stewart (California State University – Northridge, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3943-8.ch011
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The new Common Core State Standards are shifting education in a powerful way. Specifically, they are now tasking university teacher educators, K-12 administrators, and teachers to equip students with lifelong literacy skills. Students must learn skills such as how to develop effective argumentation and analyze and interpret complex texts. While such tasks can be quite daunting for the average monolingual speaker, they are even more challenging for children and families who do not speak English as a first language. This chapter examines the development of an eight-week intergenerational family literacy program: Teaching the Acquisition of Language Through English and Storytelling (T.A.L.E.S.). Through the use of the arts and storytelling, families were able to cultivate their bilingual voices and celebrate their multicultural identities. This chapter explores how such programs may be used as a vehicle for social justice, designed to integrate a community literacy model in which all stakeholders are accountable.
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Essential Questions

  • 1.

    How can the arts be used to scaffold language development in family literacy programs?

  • 2.

    What strategies are most effective for helping parents of second language learners to support the academic development of their children?

  • 3.

    What strategies can be used to support bilingual development in family literacy programs when parents and children have varying degrees of language proficiency?

  • 4.

    How can bilingual family literacy programs be used to address social justice?

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. -Emilie Buchwald



The African proverb, “It takes a Village,” has now become the engrained mantra for many teachers, administrators, and teacher educators. Yet, in order to engage “the village,” we must first pose several questions: Who exactly is the village? What resources are available to the village? Moreover, when the role of “the village” is defined relative to language and literacy development, the questions become more complex. What does literacy look like in my village? What language/s are valued in my village? Are intergenerational oral traditions utilized in my village? If so, in what ways and how can I tap into these pre-existing literacy structures and use them as a tool to support lifelong literacy?

More than ever, such questions must be answered. The era of Common Core Standards (CCS), New Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the plethora of revised educational policies has advanced the imperative to discuss how literacy is defined. According to Webster, literacy has been defined traditionally, on the most basic level, as “the ability to read and write.” In the field of education, this has been expanded to a more comprehensive view of literacy. In alignment with authors and researchers such as James Gee and Lucy Calkins, sociocultural perspectives of literacy suggest moving beyond viewing reading and writing as discrete, isolated, unconnected skills. Adherents of this perspective view language and literacy as social practices that embody a broad range of multiple literacies as one enters a classroom (Calkins, 1994; Caraballo & Souto-Manning, 2017; Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996; Graves, 1994; New London Group, 1996, 2000). This view allows educators to focus on making connections between the real world and academic discourses. It also addresses the institutional constructs that encourage or inhibit families in becoming literate and achieving success in their prescribed communities of practice (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). Literacy is not only a mechanical process; it is also deeply connected to the internal construction of one’s identity (Gee et al., 1996).

Historically, immigrant parents have faced many challenges in seeking to support their children in school (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Ovando & Coombs, 2014; Valdes, 2002). A variety of factors influence participation by parents of bilingual and English Language Learner (ELL) students, such as work commitments, cultural factors, socialization, and, most importantly, language (Soyoung, 2005). In order to create an optimal environment for bilingual and second language literacy development, curricula must be implemented that celebrate the bilingual identities of both parents and children. Pavlenko and Blackledge (2004) argued that bilingualism often requires speakers to perform and enact multiple identities, which can at times be conflicting. For example, Norton’s (2002) landmark study of four bilingual women demonstrated that the mothers were strong and confident in their native language (L1) but often felt silenced, disempowered, and ignored as second language speakers of English (L2). Teachers and administrators in K–12 settings must learn how to support and nurture development of bilingual literacies, so students and families can excel in multicultural and multilingual school environments.

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