What Is Family Literacy? Discussion with Meta Potts - Transcript - 2001

What Is Family Literacy? Discussion with Meta Potts

Full Transcript of the Discussion

A. List Moderator's introduction of Meta Potts.

Welcome to a wonderful week with Dr. Meta Potts as our discussion leader for the week. Meta will come on quite shortly with a description of the discussion for us this week. Her role is to facilitate the discussion, not do ALL the work of facilitator AND "discusser." (smile) So, everyone, chip in and share your ideas about what family literacy means to you and your community.

Meta, we are blessed to have you here this week! Meta Potts served as Director of Adult Learning Services for the National Center for Family Literacy, as the first NCFL Director of the NCFL Family and Child Education Program for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and as Director of Training Research and Development before she moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1998. She heads her own consulting business, Literacy FOCUS.

Nancy Sledd, NIFL-Family list moderator
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY
Internet: http://www.famlit.org

[Note: In this Summary of our Guest Question and Answer Session, our Guest's words will be in italics.]

B. Meta's introduction to the first discussion: What is family literacy?

Spring Greetings to Everyone in our "Family."

We are seeking input from the field on the topic, What is Family Literacy?

The term, "family literacy," was coined by Denny Taylor to describe the meanings and uses of literacy in families. Taylor, D. (1983) Family Literacy: Young children learning to read and write. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann.

The term now often describes programs that promote literacy development in families. Though such programs were not new in the late 80s, their growth and national prominence was enhanced by the development of the privately endowed National Center for Family Literacy and the federally funded Even Start Act.

Twelve years later, there are thousands of family literacy programs serving thousands and thousands of families in a variety of ways. Even though there are guidelines written into the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the Even Start and Head Start Acts, as well as others, we know that programs are in place that attend to these guidelines in ways other than the popular model.

It is this variety that intrigues us. And the Family Literacy Alliance, recently structured and dedicated to the advancement of family literacy, seeks to promote, strengthen, and connect the family literacy community. The Alliance will rely on the valuable input from the field to help guide direction and services.

You are invited, this week, April 16-20, to share your family literacy voices in an open forum on what family literacy means to you and on the ways the concept is shared in your local and state policies and programs.

I am pleased to serve as guest moderator for this discussion.

Meta Potts Literacy FOCUS Glendale, Arizona

One of the best things about belonging to the family of practitioners, administrators and public policy adherents in the field of family literacy is the opportunity to meet so many intelligent (I mean brilliant) people who continually feed my need for lifelong learning. Three of these people who have written or edited books on family literacy are Ruth Handel, Lesley Mandel Morrow, and Gail Weinstein. I thank them and hope they will continue to increase our awareness and understanding of family literacy.

You may want to check these out for a more complete picture of our field:

Handel, Ruth D. (1999). Building family literacy in an urban community. New York, NY: Teacher's College Press.

Morrow, Lesley M. (Editor) (1995). Family Literacy, connections in schools and communities. A Publication of the International Reading Association.

Weinstein Shr G. and Quintero, E. (Editors) (1995). Immigrant learners and their families. McHenry, IL: ERIC, Center for Applied Linguistics.

Meta Potts Literacy FOCUS Glendale, Arizona

Subscribers' and Meta's Responses.

From: Laurie Bercovitz

... the "Reading First State Grants" includes the support of family literacy activities. Does the context of this language relate to family literacy activities as the four component programs or as periodically held parent-child activities. In many cases when people are referring to family literacy activities they are talking about family-focused events or nights to increase parental involvement. I'm concerned that the language is so ambiguous that it's going to weaken the term "family literacy" to a point it will never fully rebound to its current comprehensiveness.

What is your interpretation of how it's been used here and future ramifications to the field?


In 2000, Congress passed the Literacy Involves Families Together (LIFT) Act, which reauthorized Even Start. Among the amendments included in LIFT was one that moved the definition of "family literacy services" to Title XIV (General Provisions), Part A (Definitions) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This definitions section covers all of ESEA. "Family literacy services" is defined in ESEA as the following:

"The term 'family literacy services' means services provided to participants on a voluntary basis that are of sufficient intensity in terms of hours, and of sufficient duration, to make sustainable changes in a family, and that integrate all of the following activities:
  (A) Interactive literacy activities between parents and their children.
  (B) Training for parents regarding how to be the primary teacher for their children and full partners in the education of their children.
  (C) Parent literacy training that leads to economic self-sufficiency.
  (D) An age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences."

Unless otherwise specified, anytime the term "family literacy services" is mentioned in ESEA, then this four component definition is to be used.

The current House (H.R. 1) and Senate (S.1) bills maintain this definition in ESEA, therefore, "family literacy services" in the Reading First and Early Reading First sections would still use the four component definition.

This is my interpretation, others may also have ideas...

Tony Peyton
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

From: Virginia Tardaewether

Literacy is the ability to read, write and compute. Family is defined as two or more people who share goals and values, have commitments to one another and reside, usually, in the same place (usually a dwelling). {Often these people share a common lineage or create a new one.} Therefore, family literacy is a family whose members can all read, write and compute. A family literacy program is one in which family members learn together how to become literate, increase literacy and use the power of literacy and family communication to change their lives and to meet their self selected goals. The end result is improved quality of life in their workplace, family and community.

One could say that a family literacy program is the process of uncovering great neighbors. ...

Well I can share what it means, in part, to the families who are incarcerated. They get to see their children every other week, play with their children, read to their children, hold them on their lap, hug them, write with them, create art projects together. You know....it brings the magic of PACT inside those prison walls...behind the wire

tarv (VA) writes,
Literacy is the ability to read, write and compute. Family is defined as two or more people who share goals and values, have commitments to one another and reside, usually, in the same place (usually a dwelling). {Often these people share a common lineage or create a new one.} Therefore, family literacy is a family whose members can all read, write and compute.

Virginia, What about the new definition of literacy, the expanded 16-standard-Equipped-for-the Future definition which goes far beyond reading, writing and computation? Is there a place for all four of the areas in the skills wheel in family literacy programs? Where would you include them in your work with women in prison?

Thanks for your input.

Meta Potts Literacy Focus Glendale, Arizona

From: Virginia Tardaewether

Hi Meta.welcome! Well there are many aspects of EFF that I would include in my work with fathers and mothers in prison. This is a co-ed prison, which in and of itself is unusual.

In PACT we use observe critically, reflect and evaluate, guide others, resolve conflict, cooperate, plan, solve problems and listen actively, to help up identify areas of growth in our children, to recall what they love doing, etc. Actually, looking at the EFF Standards Wheel, I don't see much that isn't used every time you do PACT. Pretty amazing huh/

Wow. This list is so full of information that my head is spinning after being out of town for a week. In addition to the standard NCFL definition of family literacy, I like to add an emphasis on family relationship skills and parenting. I see that many families are sorely lacking in this area.

Have a bright, beaming, better-than-average day!

B9. From: PKrenzke

Hi Meta-

I have been following the conversation and will add my two cents...

Family Literacy does not have one definition. The program I am fortunate to coordinate use a multifaceted approach. It certainly includes all four components and more--thanks to the talented staff and dedicated students I work with.

The "extra" we have added is a program called "Bobby's Books". This program component uses children's literature to help families cope with change, loss, and grief. It was just featured on "Heroes"--a show on FoxNews Network hosted by John Kasich. We have found that the families we serve are coping with many of life's challenges as they learn and grow...using children's literature that they have chosen is a strong tool. This project also has great personal satisfaction for me because it is named after my oldest son who died in 1985. I didn't name it--the staff and students I was working with at the time came up with the name and did the initial work.

This is perhaps a long way to say Family Literacy is a powerful tool that meets families where they are to break the cycle of illiteracy and to give families a base upon which to grow.

Thanks for listening.

This conversation just confirms the fact that family literacy programming comes in many forms and has many facets. All building on the four aspects of family literacy services. Each set of staff and families will develop it to me the interests and goals of the families within the community. I am so glad that our field is finally able to come together on the foundation of the parent education/groups; adult education/ESOL; children's education birth ->) and the heart of a family literacy PACT ( home, center, etc). It is the intensity, integration and comprehensiveness that we as program developers must address now.

Bonnie Lash Freeman
Director - Training/Special Projects
Co-Director - Head Start Family Literacy Project
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

From: MWPotts
This message was on the EFF listserv, and I am cross posting it to famlit because it gives us a look at how one family literacy program focuses its energy and extends the definition of literacy.

I have been wondering how famlit programs can use "Reading Between the Lions" to intentionally plan for outcomes in the same way that Bonnie's group uses the following:

      Our program, Families Forward Through Technology, has been using PBS' Workplace Essential Skills, which has 4 units devoted to oral and listening communicative skills, and 3 to written communication, and focuses on spirit behind the EFF standards and could easily be adapted. The series has its drawbacks as well, but it does offer a technology based component to video and workbook activities, with embedded skills instruction, and as such, is able to accomplish a lot in relatively little time.
      Bonnie Odiorne


      Adult Education Program Facilitator


      Computers 4 Kids


    Waterbury, CT

In New York, our working definition of literacy is the ability to listen, speak, read and write (I agree that the ability to compute, or numeracy, is a valuable addition) and "family" is how a group or individual identifies itself.

Our "family literacy" programs are expected to implement the federal definition of family literacy services. The outcome for many participants (parents, children and staff) is improved quality of life for family, at work and in the community. I think the truly unique contribution of "family literacy" practice is the integration and reinforcement of learning in these three arenas.

I have been wondering "How do we understand "work" for children?" Maybe "work" is a place of employment, as well as an early childhood center, a pre-school program, a school. The "workplace" is where you go for purposeful interaction and continuous growth in learning, sharing, making, doing. Maybe this will help us re-think "work" for adults, especially adults with disabilities.

Susan Perkins
Project Coordinator
NYS Alliance for Family Literacy

I like Susan ideas about children. What would happen if we thought about adults more as we think about children: children's play is their work? Wouldn't that give us more ideas for resumes and skills for our adults?

Virginia Tardaewether
Chemeketa Community College Outreach

Early Childhood Teachers,

In response to Sarah Perkins' good question about understanding work for children, please talk to us about "work time" in the daily routine of the family literacy curriculum on your side of the wall.


Meta Potts

Wonderful idea of a new definition of "work": I once had a program entitled Learning At Play. It gives the idea of transferable skills new meaning, and, most especially, allows for creative skills sets that are, sadly, missing from standards and role maps alike. I also like to think of children's roles and skills inside, obviously, the family education components of the family role map, which involves parents as well.


Just to clarify my post, and to widen the discussion, Workplace Essential Skills also includes "strands" on Reading, Math and Employment. There are many skills crossovers (related to "Common Activities" in the Standards, and to the Role Maps and Purposes) as these programs are put together, and can be used in any sequence desired.

Bonnie Odiorne Computers 4 Kids Waterbury, CT

Hello Everyone--This has been an excellent discussion. I hope someone is collecting and synthesizing the information shared--if not I will be glad to volunteer. I am not certain that we need to broaden the definition of family literacy but see more of a need to systematically capture the ways programs are implemented and the extent to which implementation is linked to family outcomes.

This year we are completed a three year statewide study of Even Start programs in Massachusetts. In this study, we have followed 300 families for up to a twenty-four month period and have studied 28 families in depth for no less than 2 to 3 years. Some preliminary results suggest that family outcomes are closely linked to the 1)degree to which programs engage in formal planning, goal setting and monitoring and 2) the extent to which program components are integrated.

The degree to which programs use an empowerment model of service delivery (recognizing the challenge they face between providing services and fostering dependency) also appears as a key factor in a family's ability to break the cycle of illiteracy. The goal of an empowerment model is independent families who are able to sustain positive gains over time, advocate for themselves and attribute their successes to themselves.

Having the skills to be empowered is not the same as empowerment. In an empowerment model the plan is to transfer responsibility of change from the staff to a family member. Empowerment needs to be a built in, purposive part of the curriculum. While we see Even Start parents make major leaps in the areas of reading, communication, math and self-esteem, large life changes often happen over the long term.

The longer we study parents attending Even Start programs the more change we see in their needs, the social support networks they use and independence. In our study, these kinds of changes are most significant after participants have been in family literacy programs 18 months or longer.

In other words, programs that have higher planning quotients have higher family change quotients.

Linda Warren
JumpStart Family Literacy/ECA

From: Virginia Tardaewether

I would think that our longitudinal study in Oregon would support that the more integrated the better, the more intense the better the results, the more we got our act together to planning and debrief the better.

It is very satisfying to talk to a 13 year old about his/her memories as a 3-4 year old and hear s/he talk about playing with their folks. "Oh yea that's the program where I played every day with Mom or Dad." These are involved teenagers.

Linda Warren's posting in reference to the statewide study of Even Start is an excellent resource for new and existing family literacy programs and correlates with the studies done by Dr. Andrew Hayes, my good friend and sparring partner, who began his research on family literacy programs in the very early days.

Since I don't want to make this message too long to read or print, I will give you only three of the points that he makes, which match beautifully with Linda's report on the study in Massachusetts.

1. Linda stated that we need to systematically capture the ways programs are implemented and the extent to which implementation is linked to family outcomes.

Andy writes that a family literacy program must adopt a strategy for change. Such an attempt to make innovative change requires the use of deliberate planned-change processes that result in:
    *adoption of a model design
    *development of the design into a system that matches the particular organizational context
    *development of commitment to the design model by any significant parties
    *training to develop capabilities needed for successful implementation
    *pilot testing to check the fit with the local organization, and to determine the match with the local needs
    *installation throughout the organization and
    *institutionalization through continued operation and support.

2. Linda stated that family literacy outcomes appear to be closely linked to the degree to which programs engage in formal planning, goal setting, and monitoring.

Andy writes that for programs to be effective, the organization must adopt those new and changed goals and make commitments to them. Lack of adoption and clear commitment to them almost certainly will result in poor implementation of family literacy programs, low levels of accomplishment, and conflicts or stress among the staff.

Adoption of goals requires more than merely stating the goals and stating commitment to them. Ultimately, the goals of an organization are defined primarily by its resource allocation system and its accountability system. Additional influence over goals comes from the organizational structures that are maintained, whether deliberately or not, to support or hinder work that people try to do in the organization.

3. Linda stated that family outcomes are also closely linked with the extent to which program components are integrated. (Bonnie Lash Freeman and I could kiss you for this, Linda, as this was one of the most emphasized points we made in the very first family literacy training session in the hot August of 1989.)

Andy writes that in a high-quality family literacy model the programs for the adults should be as high in quality, intensity, and duration as the best programs serving only adults, and the programs for the children should be as high in quality, intensity, and duration as the best programs serving only children.

And all programs components should be linked to intensify the total program experience by using the experiences in each component as content for learning and reflection in other components. Learnings are generalized across contexts by having them used in any appropriate program component.

Thank you, Linda and Thank you, Andy.

Meta Potts
Literacy FOCUS
Glendale, Arizona

From: Virginia Tardaewether

Ditto Meta


Thank you for posting some of the top readings about family literacy. I need to pay tribute to the outstanding work by Elsa Auerbach who is active in this discussion. Back in 1989 she published, "Toward a Social-Contextual Approach to Family Literacy" in the Harvard Educational Review. I was just Beginning to develop a guided reading approach to children's literature for parents And preschoolers (the PAPER Project: Parents and Preschoolers - Emerging Readers) with an early childhood specialist, Theresa Prosser. Elsa's article Thoroughly documented by hunch that family members contribute to children's literacy development. but, she also convinced me to be wary of an approach to families based on the hypothesis that because a parent is poor and undereducated their parental cup is half empty. She has been a consistent, clear beacon for the family literacy movement to value each family's strengths and to design curricula that address families' social realities.

In many ways, Meta, her work is Ground Zero for EFF as an essential design component of the adult education component of family literacy.

I also bear homage to Vivian Gadsen and Patricia Edwards. These brave souls, like Elsa dare to question a national phenomenon through critical lenses. My graduate students commence the semester reading their articles and work their way toward the Kenan model once theories about families and literacies are under their belts. Pragmatic practices must be supported with solid theories about language, learning, and literacy. Both of these teacher-scholars present evidence of why and how intergenerational literacy within families "works." They also help us to understand why literacy does not emerge in many homes. A jumping off point for family literacy programs.

On my laptop I keep a copy of a short piece by Denny Taylor. She disturbs my universe when she writes in, "Principles About Families": Literacy is not always liberating, but it could and should be. Under the present political conditions working for literacy necessarily involves becoming part of the struggle for social justice. The resulting product is not some artificial measure of more "literate" parents and children, but more people working together, grandparents and parents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors, celebrating their own literacies while at the same time using the many forms of literacy available to them to find their own solutions to the problems they face within their families and communities (pp. 4-5).

Families have the right to define themselves
  * Families have members of all ages and should not be narrowly defined as "undereducated parents and their children."

When I read through grant proposals that were successfully funded, I am constantly reminded of criticism against "the great white hope" approach to family literacy. The worse we make the poor look, the more money pours into our projects. Here I must nod a salute of respect to Parents as Teachers who have avoided the triage approach of "worst first" services. Vicky Purcell-Gates has contributed to our understanding about the complexities of Families and cautioned practitioners to look and listen to families before leaping into intervention. Marian Diamond and other neuroscientists have pretty much concluded - none of us are born readers. Purcell-Gates documents that some of us are lucky enough to be born into a family of readers. It's not about the apple falling too far from the tree, but as Johnny Appleseed knew, it is about sowing the seeds and tending the seedlings.

The bottom line, lessons learned by Auerbach, Taylor, Gadsen, Edwards and Purcell-Gates that apply to family literacy program staff - enrollment in a family literacy program does not signify parental incompetence that dooms children's success in schools. Family literacy programs should not aim to create more school like home literacy environments, or prescribe daily doses of teaching literacy for parents. The enriched language environment of a four component comprehensive family literacy program do prevent a child from experiencing reading difficulties in school. The programs do prepare adults for meaningful jobs and community involvement. Just how this works, so that these programs are the norm rather than the exception to our national model of education - remains to be understood.

Hats off to the critical friends of family literacy - who ask tough questions that remind us all to think, question, act and reflect on our work.

Jeri Levesque, Ed.D.
Associate Professor, Webster University
Program Evaluator, LIFT-Missouri

Kudos to Jeri Levesque for giving an excellent historical context for the discussion about family literacy. I especially appreciated her citing Denny Taylor's "Principles about Families," where literacy is linked to social justice. Do you have a complete reference for Taylor's work? Thanks

Margery Freeman
YMCA Educational Services
New Orleans, LA

From: Laura

The complete reference for Denny Taylor's book, Taylor, D. (Ed.) (1997). Many Families, Many Literacies: An International Declaration of Principles. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann Trade.

Thanks, Jeri for your balanced view. For some reason, I did not receive your original message, so I'm thankful to Laura B. for including the whole of it in her reply.

Each of the author/researcher/practitioners you mentioned (except Taylor) has a chapter in Lesley Mandel Morrow's book, Family Literacy: Connections in Schools and Communities. Taylor is referenced so often by other authors in the book that it seems as though she has chapters, as well!

I hope we will continue to hear from all the voices in our field. We may not agree on everything, but as my grandpa used to say, "by gum, we're family, and we support each other."

When we look at the family role map in the Equipped for the Future material, we see a Broad Area of Responsibility: Strengthen the Family System. That's what I hope this discussion will do for us as a group of professionals who care about families and each other.

Meta Potts
Literacy FOCUS
Glendale, AZ

In keeping with the direction suggested by the work of Denny Taylor, Elsa Auerbach and others, I want to call attention to an excellent resource developed by Suzanne Smythe and Lee Weinstein.

Weaving Literacy into Family and Community Life: A Resource Guide for Family Resource Programs consists of a package of four books, totalling 200 pages. It includes:
      * principles and activities that guide the family literacy movement in Canada
      * strategies for promoting early literacy development and adult literacy
      * case studies of family literacy partnerships involving family resource programs and literacy organizations
      * tools for identifying and addressing literacy barriers and literacy needs in your organization
      * ideas for supporting bilingual families
      * strategies for adopting and adapting family literacy models
      * resource sheets to support fundraising, partnerships and community literacy activities
      * annotated bibliographies...and much more!

As well, links to FRP Canada, and other sites (including the National Adult Literacy Database, with a rich collection of resources related to intergenerational literacy) can be found at


Janet Isserlis
Literacy Resources/RI

My hat is also off to Jeri Levesque who "spoke" quite eloquently herself!

I met Elsa in the late 80's while we both had Title VII Family English Literacy Grants (remember those!) and she helped shape my whole approach to family literacy. Many Families, Many Literacies by Denny Taylor is a book I continually reread when I need to remind myself who/what family literacy is all about. Challenging ourselves to question what we are doing is important or complacency will set in and the field will stop growing.

To continue the discussion, is family literacy an art or a science?????

Laura Bercovitz

C. Second discussion: Is family literacy an art or a science?

Laura Bercovitz asks

Is family literacy an art or a science?????

Please don't let this one go by, folks. What do you think?

If it is a science, are there general truths? And for what theories are you willing to go to the mat?

If it is an art, where are the virtuosos?

Meta Potts

Subscribers' and Meta's responses.

Is teaching an art or a science?
Is parenting an art or a science?
Is psychotherapy an art or a science?
The simple answer is they are both an art and a science.
When Meta asks about vituosos, I could nominate a few, including herself. We are an evolving practice. The art is in the sensitive evolution; the science allows us to share the successful practice.

Sarah Beaman-Jones
Family Literacy Specialist
St. Louis, MO

> Is family literacy an art or a science?????

Having a bachelor's and master's degrees in biology and botany, I certainly don't see family literacy as a science. Science involves testing hypotheses using control and test groups. This is not what is done in family literacy, and I sure hope family literacy doesn't come to that!

I see family literacy as a smorgasbord where families can come to a program, choose what suits them and use it in way suitable to their needs. Certainly I can't tell a family what they need. I may make suggestions, but they know their situation better than I.

Millie Kuth Hamilton City ABLE Hammilton OH 45011

From: Virginia Tardaewether

I don't know if I agree Millie. I think a good teacher does a lot of scientific research...you try one thing to see how it works, change it adapt it, redo it, come up with new ideas retry them...it is a constant hypothesis testing arena ... action research every week.

"Is Family Literacy an Art or A Science" reminds me of a discussion I had (way) back in my undergraduate days as part of pilot Independent Study program. The bone of contention then was around "social sciences". And it was boooring! But the issues remain the same. In order for work to be valid, there needs to be hard data to support both approaches and methodologies, but in reality, that simply translates out to "what works," or best practices. But the "art" comes in the creativity of the family dynamic, which is awesome when activated, and the compassion, empathy, and flexibility of the instructor/facilitator. The ability to react quickly and pull out best practices for a given situation or purpose is what turns science into art, as I believe any good scientist whose research-based yet intuitive hypothesis uncovers an new entire area of investigation would attest. Then outcomes, while quantifiable by any assessment rubric, formal or performance/portfolio that you wish to use, would become the representatives of peoples' behavior in a constantly changing dynamic interaction. And that, for me, is that unexpected pleasure when families, parents and children together, come up with their own unique approach to a seemingly simple project (such as the creation of a "family mascot"): that shiver of discovery when they begin to teach me.

Bonnie Odiorne, Ph.D.
Adult Education Program Facilitator
Computers 4 Kids

Art or Science?

Truly, a beautiful description from Dr. Odiorne! I appreciate her words very much!

I would like to caution our deliberation on the question of art or science as the discussion turns to evaluation practices. Not always is art or science quantifiable through means of evaluation. Dr. Odiorne expresses: "Then outcomes, while quantifiable by any assessment rubric, formal or performance/portfolio that you wish to use, would become the representatives of peoples' behavior in a constantly changing dynamic interaction."

I understand Dr. Odiorne's point (and a good one it is!), but I worry that current evaluation methodologies are not suitable to represent the benefit of the complex interactions that Dr. Odiorne writes of: ..."for me, is that unexpected pleasure when families, parents and children together, come up with their own unique approach to a seemingly simple project (such as the creation of a "family mascot"): that shiver of discovery when they begin to teach me."

Even more intimidating is that our national systems for funding and support lean so heavily on forms of evaluation that are often inadequate. Our society and educational system as a whole is moving towards standardized testing and national systems of accountability that challenge the art of family literacy. I don't have the answers to

I believe in accountability - much of my work here at the National Center depends on accountability and valid research. However, The art of family literacy is also the heart of family literacy - and we must recognize and honor that in families' lives and our staff's work.

Jon Lee
Training Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

From: Virginia Tardaewether

Well said. This is one of the rich possibilities with EFF. Maybe we'll create a tool that gets more closely to assessing what we really do in basic skills programs. Other agencies and employers are saying more and more that soft-skills are the skills most lacking in workers. I want to know how we assess those and how we sell to funders that "soft-skills" are part of what we work on here every day.

Bonnie is on the right track in my way of thinking

I agree whole heartedly! EFF is the way to go. I have also enjoyed the "EFF Assessment Report" it seems to form a strong foundation for the future of authentic assessment practices.


Art or science?
I would say both. Like a beautiful painting and like a scientific discovery you begin with what you have and with a dab of insight here, a revelation there, some thoughtful evaluation and planning a beautiful flower blooms. Is it only the careful planning or just the right environment that makes this biological wonder/awe inspiring bloom develop fully? A rough analogy, however to me it is both and with scientific planning and a faith in human development we are allowed to witness the beauty of parent and child growing in so many ways.

Connie Archambault
HPS Family Literacy Program

From: MWPotts

Thank you to all the eloquent voices who responded to the question, Is family literacy a science or an art?

It has been my privilege to witness how both the science and the art of family literacy happens.

It happens when Virginia Tardeawether in Salem, Oregon takes one-inch cubes from the early childhood classroom and stacks them expertly to show adults on the other side of the wall the meaning of square root.

It happens when a grandmother sets up her loom in Torreon, New Mexico to help parents and children develop weaving skills and, incidentally, learn counting and geometry.

It happens when Etta Shirley teaches horticulture on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona, and the parents and children respond by building a greenhouse and harvesting vegetables and flowers.

It happens when language and literacy skills pour out of a dad and into a computer program and off the printer with a love note to his daughter in St. Louis, Missouri.

It happens every day in family literacy programs everywhere.

Cheers for the scientists and artisans. And thank you, Laura, for asking that question.

D. Other Comments:
Questions and responses about the Family Literacy Alliance.

Could you explain what the Alliance is and which organizations belong to it, as well as how one can become a member? Is there a set of guiding principles?
Thanks, Elsa Auerbach

I have the same questions Elsa has. What is the Alliance and how does one become a member. Linda Warren

Hello Elsa and others who are wondering what the Family Literacy Alliance is all about. I was hoping that the mention of this network would spark some interest and questions. I will give you a somewhat brief answer and then let Debbie Nichols, who is the one who really knows the particulars, fill in the blanks.

What is the Family Literacy Alliance? (I am quoting from the flyer that was distributed at the Family Literacy Conference in Dallas) The Family Literacy Alliance (FLA) is a diverse network of family literacy practitioners and supporters dedicated to the advancement of family literacy.

As the field of family literacy has evolved and grown during the last few years, family literacy supporters and practitioners have expressed the need for a cohesive partnership. The FLA will meet this need by bringing together the many different program areas that make up the family literacy field.

Elsa, I believe that Debbie can speak to your question about guiding principles, but I will list the objectives of FLA:

FLA will strive to:
    Represent the interests and needs of FLA members to elected officials, policy makers, business partners and community leaders
    Advance the family literacy movement by unifying and recognizing the field
    Promote networking and collaboration
    Strengthen and promote family literacy advocacy efforts
    Ensure continued growth and success in family literacy
    Provide a forum through which key program areas in family literacy can be heard and supported
    Connect members with resources that support family literacy.

The FLA. is a network of members. Debbie can explain how to join.

Thanks for the question, and I hope it will encourage a lot of people on this list to become members.

Meta Potts, Guest Moderator Literacy FOCUS Glendale, Arizona

My question regarding the alliance is: how are family literacy advocacy issues identified and by whom? Are members regularly surveyed concerning issues and possible solutions?

Laura Bercovitz

Great questions, Laura, because we all want the issues to be identified by more than one person or group. The application for the FLA asks potential members to answer 6 questions:
   (1) How can the FLA best support you?
   (2) What would be the strongest reason for joining the Alliance?
   (3) What would be the least attractive reason for joining?
   (4) What kind of networking format would be the most useful to you?
   (5) What type of Alliance-related offerings would most interest you?
   (6) What topics of interest would you want the FLA to address?

In these early stages of organization, the FLA is trying to assess areas of need, interest and support.

Meta Potts
Literacy FOCUS
Glendale, AZ

Hello everyone -
Thanks to Meta Potts for so wonderfully describing some of the goals and functions of the Family Literacy Alliance (FLA), a new membership network sponsored by the National Center for Family Literacy. Officially launched at the recent National Conference on Family Literacy in Dallas, the mission and guiding principle of the Family Literacy Alliance (in response to an inquiry from Elsa Auerbach) is as follows:

The Family Literacy Alliance, the national leadership voice for practitioners and supporters of family literacy, seeks to promote, strengthen, and connect the family literacy community.

Since the family literacy field encompasses many different program areas, membership in the Family Literacy Alliance is open to all those who practice family literacy or who support the cause of family literacy. For example, this could include adult educators, early childhood educators, parent educators, Even Start, volunteers, GED instructors, Head Start practitioners, elementary school educators, ESL instructors, just to name a few.

In one of her last postings, Meta mentioned some of the goals of the Family Literacy Alliance. I'll list these out again.

The Family Literacy Alliance will strive to:
    -Represent the interests and needs of FLA members to elected officials, policy makers, business partners and community leaders
   -Advance the family literacy movement by unifying and recognizing the field
   -Promote networking and collaboration
   -Strengthen and promote local family literacy advocacy and awareness efforts
   -Ensure continued growth and success in family literacy
   -Provide a forum through which key program areas in family literacy can be heard and supported
   -Connect members with resources that support family literacy

Current Family Literacy Alliance benefits are as follows:
   -Free subscription to quarterly publication and family literacy updates
   -Opportunity to attend FLA regional one-day forums
   -Recognition as a family literacy supporter with membership certificate
   -Eligibility to purchase FLA items (t-shirts, mugs, etc.)
   -Knowledge that membership builds the foundation of supporters that strengthens family literacy advocacy
   -Networking through the FLA Member Directory

In response to the list question from Laura Bercovitz, the Family Literacy Alliance will be soliciting input from members on a continuing basis through member surveys, regional forums, and an FLA Advisory Panel (which will represent many different program and geographic areas).

Please let me know if you have further questions about the Family Literacy Alliance or about membership details. The membership fee structure will be made public in the very near future and I will post the fee structure and application process to this list as soon as it's finalized. Continue to check NCFL's Web site at www.famlit.org during the next few weeks as information is added about the Family Literacy Alliance, along with information about membership application.

If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader software, you should be able to access an FLA information flier I have attached. For those of you who do not currently have Adobe Acrobat Reader, I have included a link for you to download the free software. http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readermain.html

[NIFL List: I just realized the Family Literacy Alliance information flier attachment is not accessible to the list. If you would like me to send the attachment to an individual e-mail address, please e-mail me at: dnichols@famlit.org.]

Debbie Nichols
Outreach Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY
Web: www.famlit.org Family Literacy Alliance "Connecting the World of Family Literacy"

Questions and responses about Equipped for the Future.

Can someone please provide me with an explanation/definition of EFF (the 16? parts), or a comprehensive web site on the subject?

Thanks in advance,


Dana Eness, Assistant Director
Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
Louisiana Humanities Center/Turners' Hall
New Orleans, LA


The correct Web site for the NIFL-sponsored EFF Initiative (Equipped for the Future) is -- http://www.nifl.gov/lincs/collections/eff/eff.html.


William B. Hawk LINCS Associate Director National Institute for Literacy 202-233-2042

From: Megan Byard

I just looked this info up myself on the web... you can find EFF info at http://www.nifl.gov/lincs/collections/eff/eff.html

Good luck!!

For information about the EFF Standards go to:

Then click on the Web Page reference near the bottom of the page!

Jon Lee
Training Specialist
National Center for Family Literacy
Louisville, KY

Dana and others who are interested in the Equipped for the Future Standards and how they can be incorporated into a family literacy program,

There are specific sites you can visit on the WEB, but the easiest for me is to go to www.nifl.gov and follow the links to Equipped for the Future. I'll list the 16 Standards here for those of you who are interested:

  Communication Skills:
      Read with Understanding
      Convey Ideas in Writing
      Speak So Others Can Understand
      Listen Actively
      Observe Critically

  Decision-making Skills:
      Use Math to Solve Problems and Communicate
      Solve Problems and Make Decisions

  Interpersonal Skills:
      Guide Others
      Resolve Conflict and Negotiate
      Advocate and Influence
      Cooperate with Others

  Lifelong Learning Skills:
      Use information and Communications Technology
      Learn through Research
      Reflect and Evaluate
      Take Responsibility for Learning

Many family literacy programs are using these standards as the basis for their adult education curriculum. As you can see, they correlate beautifully with the early childhood language and literacy, as well as the social/emotional development curricular focus.

Meta Potts

E. Farewell message from Meta Potts, and subscriber comments.

And so, this is the end of my watch as guest moderator. Thank you for sharing this time with me. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves with such good counsel.

I realize that with all the knowledge gained from the research and all the wisdom gained from experience, we are still in our infancy in this field of family literacy. We still have a lot to learn. But we are getting there. We are growing light.

I share a poem written by George Ella Lyon and contained in a wonderful book given to me by my very good friend and fellow traveler, Sharyl Emberton. The name of the book is Where I'm From: Where poems come from and the name of the poem is "Growing Light."

I write this poem
Out of darkness
To you
Who are also in darkness
Because our lives demand it.

This poem is a hand on your shoulder
A bone touch to go with you
Through the hard birth of vision.
In other words, love
Shapes this poem
Is the fist that holds the chisel
Muscle that drags marble
And burns with the weight
Of believing a face
Lives in the stone
A breathing word in the body.

I tell you
Though the darkness
Has been ours
Words will give us
Give our eyes, opened in promise
A growing light.

p.s. If this isn't legal, I'll deny that I did it!

Meta Potts Literacy FOCUS Glendale, Arizona

Meta, Thanks for sharing with us all this week. This poem is quite a way to go out. Very moving and appropriate for all of us in the literacy field.

Debbie Nichols

Great poem! Thanks so much for sharing! And thanks for moderating!

Nancy Ann Wartman Usborne Books

F. Closing by the List Moderator.

For those of you already on the NIFL-Family listserv, you have been reading the great discussion moderated by Meta Potts this week. This has been THE best discussion on the list since I took it over more than two years ago.

IF you are not currently a subscriber to this list that is focused on family literacy, you can join the other 954 subscribers out there around the country. Go to www.nifl.gov/lincs/discussions and click on "Family Literacy Forum." Once you get to that page, go to the left-hand side menu option for "subscribe" and join on. That is all there is to it. It is easy to do and free! IF you are on this list and ready to move off for a while, you can also unsubscribe by going to the same website, click on "Family Literacy Forum" and then go to the option for "unsubscribe." It is that easy as well.

Thanks to all of you who have also posted responses this week. It has been fabulous. IF you want to go back and read the discussion this past week, go to the same website and click on "Family Literacy Forum" again and then click on the menu option for "archives." You can go back and follow the rich discussion that has occurred this past week.

Meta has done a marvelous job of being open and responsive and stirring up some great thinking! Thank you, Meta.


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