Implementing Family Literacy Centers

A Proposal to Implement Family Literacy Centers

in Underserved Communities

Manager, Family Literacy Centers, inc.

FLC, Inc. helps communities establish Family Literacy Centers by offering easy-to-use materials and methods.  We also offer follow-up training to directors and center workers, a donation of startup reading and training materials, and help with internet record-keeping support.  Our main goals are to 1) focus on internalizing literacy in the family context; 2) emphasize parental involvement and commitment in helping identify children who need help in reading; 3) encourage those who can read to read more, (Mark Twain once said: "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."); 4) utilize the natural volunteers of the home — parents, grandparents, and siblings; 5) explain effective and easy-to-use assessment measures; and 6) use community resources as a means to help families establish the home as a true learning center.


Family Literacy Centers, Inc. helps establish centers in areas where they are needed.  Traveling or commuting costs to a remote literacy center may be prohibitive.  Public transportation adds travel time, weather exposure for adults and children, vulnerability to strangers, and wear and tear on the motivation to learn.  The U.S. Department of Education (1995) stated that nationally, 75 percent of adults enrolled in Family Literacy programs are dependent upon public transportation.  One study (Tice, 2000) found that 85 percent of adults in Appalachian, Ohio, felt that transportation was a barrier to participation.  One young mother of a two-year-old indicated that the worst part of her day was going back and forth to her educational program, using inconveniently- scheduled public transit.  Thus, there is a need for decentralized Family Literacy Services into the communities they serve.  Each of the communities listed above could use anywhere from 5 to 20 such centers.


Those served by these conveniently located community Family Literacy Centers include the following:

• Persons who have not learned to read adequately through the usual instructional processes (usually ages 5 through adult).  Their individual attributes are diverse.  For every 100 students, there are 100 different sets of interests, skills, hobbies, attitudes, and abilities.  Tutors receive assistance from the FLC, Inc. staff, teachers, and parents in order to create an instructional program that will effectively teach the individual learner,

• So-called "at-risk" students identified as such from the public schools,

• ESL (English as a Second Language) students,

• Students whose parents have underdeveloped reading skills,

• Students with diagnosed reading disorders,

• Students who have failed to achieve in standard school programs,

• Home-school families seeking assistance,

• Parents needing help for themselves and desiring to know how to assist their children, and

• Grandparents and family members who have reading, writing, spelling, or comprehension problems.


Assessment is an integral part of the reading instruction experienced in Family Literacy Centers.  We have two types of evaluations available to teachers for ongoing appraisals of student progress.  The first, called the Reading Placement Screen, merely gives an approximate reading grade-level assessment of the student and then places him or her in an appropriate reading activity.  The other, produced by the Lexia Company, is called the Comprehensive Reading Test, and is designed to pinpoint specific skills that a student either does or doesn't have.  It also places the student at the appropriate instructional level within the Family Literacy instructional materials.  The Comprehensive Reading Test (CRT) diagnoses reading sub-skill deficiencies, prescribes instruction and practice exercises, and makes predictions concerning a student's ability to pass standardized reading tests in the public schools.  It is a formative test rather than a summative test because it is designed to help the student learn, rather than to grade the student or compare him or her to another student.  It recommends specific practice activities and tracks progress to ensure results as students refine their sub-level reading skills.  The data collected from these two instruments is uploaded to either a computer hard drive or onto the FLC, Inc. Web site where it is put into an easy-to-read format for use in before and after comparisons.  Students are thus compared to their own growth rather than to the growth of other children.


The FLC, Inc. model removes most costs from those families who cannot afford them, making help accessible for even the poorest families.  The program is unique in cost containment: tutors are volunteers, directors are modestly compensated, and Family Literacy Centers are "folded in" to existing facilities.  A study has documented a modest cost of $35 per month per pupil, most of which is underwritten by philanthropic foundations.  


We invite donors to help us provide these services to those we have already formed alliances with and to search out many more such alliances throughout the country.  The financial areas of need for FLC, Inc. include: (1) the establishment of new centers, (2) the training of new center coordinators and volunteers, (3) first year start-up funding for new centers, (4) follow-up training and coordination for new centers, (4) revision and creation of new and updated instructional materials for parents, volunteer tutors, center directors, and students, (5) the collection of data and the dissemination of research and "best practices" to all centers in the FLC, Inc. system, and (6) the marketing of our services to new potential centers.  We regard our services as those of a "county extension" agency — only, one which gives attention on a national scale for the creation of new learning facilities, the monitoring of new literacy center implementation, and the reporting of the effectiveness of innovation in the delivery of these services to communities that cannot provide them on their own.  


There is a growing consensus and mounting evidence that parental involvement in a child's education is the one indispensable ingredient in helping children learn to read, write, learn, and thrive.  Therefore, an important solution to the grave problem of illiteracy lies in helping parents assume their proper teaching role with their children.  Some parents assume this role easily, as they have experienced preparation through training from their parents, but others need and appreciate help.

Results of recent research on the brain and learning provide a theoretical basis for helping parents become usefully involved.


Early childhood experiences form the neural circuitry of the brain, so that by adulthood, a person may have as many as 100 trillion connections which "give the brain its unrivaled powers" (Sharon Begley, "Your Child's Brain,"  Newsweek 127 [February 19, 1996]: 56).  They "are so powerful . . . that they can completely change the way a person turns out" (Ibid.).  The more a child hears, the faster he or she learns to speak and read; hence the importance of parental conversation, oral reading, and secure family relationships.

Recent early brain research suggests the need to stimulate children soon after birth (Chandler, 1997).  Parents and teachers need to be aware of these needs when their children are young — not when they are labeled as "failures," at age 16 or older.  Research now shows that early intellectual stimulation is essential to optimal brain development and later achievement (Chambliss, 1997), that preschool years are the most prolific learning years (Chandler), that children can learn to read and write before the first grade, that parents are a child's most influential teachers, and that family literacy development combining one-to-one tutoring with help from home promotes success, prevents frustration, strengthens families, and helps prevent social and behavioral problems (Carly, 1998).


Positive parent-child interaction is crucial to language development and progress in reading and learning skills.  The National Commission on Reading claimed that "parents play roles of inestimable importance in laying the foundation for learning to read" (Marilyn Binkley and Trevor Williams, Reading Literacy in the United States, 1996, p. 39).

Other recent studies confirm that "the home learning environment accounts for more than half the difference in IQ test scores among children" (New Strait Times (Malaysia), October 25, 1995, p. 18).  Another, an IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement) report, indicated that high versus low parental involvement accounted for a gap of 44 points in fourth grade reading comprehension (Binkley and Williams, p. 47).  


The preceding data led to the conclusion that "creation of a network that ties the parents, the community, and the school together will enhance the ability of students to read well" (Ibid., p. 50).  The Family Literacy Works pilot project in Great Britain likewise found that family literacy programs where parents, grandparents, and children work together produced striking and lasting results in improving reading and writing skills.  The number of students struggling with reading was halved from 67 to 35 percent.  The National Association for Educational Research assessment of the project found it was one of the most effective initiatives ever seen in raising reading and writing skills.  Alan Wells, Great Britain's Basic Skills Agency Director observed: "Family Literacy works.  It reaches children who might otherwise fail.  It starts early, when there's more impact, and it lasts.  It is a major contribution to preventing failure and will, in the long term, save a good deal in expensive and often ineffective remedial action" (The Daily Mail [London], March 21, 1996, p.24).

Two important factors have emerged as most important in achieving reading success in small children.  One is the one-to-one personal attention an emerging reader receives in the tutoring process; the other is the daily required involvement of parents to reinforce what is taught and practiced in the centers.  


The emphasis of FLC, Inc. is on sound principles presented simply and clearly, accompanied by practical ways of implementing them.  Family Literacy Centers can help educate volunteers and parents in a community to work with children at very early ages as well as with adults.  Some parents will need help with reading as well and the materials we use for adults learning to read will be used with them.  The materials produced by FLC, Inc. incorporate the best of recent academic research.  They are clearly founded upon and teach the following basic principles with regard to younger children:

• Early intellectual stimulation is essential to optimal brain development and later achievement,

• Preschool years are the most prolific learning and civilizing years,

• Children can joyfully learn to read and write before the first grade,

• Parents are a child's most influential teachers, and

• Learning as a family unit promotes success, prevents frustration, strengthens families, and stems social and behavioral problems.

Both the theory and the technology are in place.  Over the past few years we have been studying and developing an improved instructional system based on computer technology.  We have also studied the main elements of existing literacy programs.  New findings indicate that a creative synthesis of balanced literacy programs is feasible.  We will continue to study the many programs that are available, distill from these programs the common, most helpful strategies, and help parents determine what they can do to help their child read in spite of what they might face during their children's K-12 experience.

FLC, Inc. is cooperating with scholars, literacy practitioners, and other innovators to develop literacy resources and training for students, parents, tutors, and center directors and to improve its present programs.  It is reaching out to civic, service, and church groups to help them train their own members to become literacy facilitators.  And it is collaborating with a broad spectrum of private and public organizations in our state to bring the technology and print-based materials to more of those who need it. This training is now being prepared for use on the Internet at a very low cost.  Training and implementation for the creation of more centers will occur in the future "on-site," with no need for central staff to travel to conduct the training in person.  Two-way video training will be developed to deliver and supplement the self instruction available in print that is correlated with video DVDs.

FLC, Inc. has integrated what has been learned with years of experience in designing and implementing interactive video and computer-based instructional programs in various subjects and for a variety of clients.  Much of this previous work has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institute and ComputerWorld Magazine as some of the most innovative and effective use of educational technology in the world.

As an effective means to help solve the illiteracy problem, our program trains parents and volunteer tutors in the basic principles of reading instruction.  It is simple, practical, and based on sound research.  Also, because of the positive impact technology can have on learning, we are delivering the instruction through advanced computer technology.   The training program uses interactive CDs, supported where necessary by printed materials for review or training.  We have also produced a linear video model of the instruction for use in homes.  The DVDs, videos, and a user's guide are packaged together for easy checkout from the centers.  They can also be viewed by parents in the centers as their children are being tutored.


As has been stated previously, the purposes and goals of individual centers are to:

1. Significantly increase community involvement in public and private instruction by recruiting senior volunteers and retirees to help tutor children and adults at all times of the day.
2. Utilize and train the "natural" volunteers of the home — parents, older siblings, and grandparents in addition to neighbors in the community to focus on internalizing literacy in the family and home context.  Those who have learned to read reinforce each principle by teaching it to another in a family or community.
3. Emphasize and increase parental involvement, commitment, and follow- through in family literacy efforts.
4. Develop reports and instructional methods and materials that foster character
education and promote students who take responsibility for their own learning and, in turn, learn to help others.
5. Use effective assessment measures to determine how well the family has achieved acceptable reading levels and what to teach next.
6. Expand the family's view of the learning environment by looking at family
literacy centers not as an end in themselves, but as the means to help families establish their homes as a literacy and learning center.

This initiative for the development of Family Literacy Centers from the view of FLC, Inc. has several additional specific goals and objectives which are summarized below:

1) We will help create 15 new Family Literacy Centers over the next year.  Our first priority is to help minority groups (African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) across the U.S. and on several Indian reservations.


2) Using a retrofitted bus to serve remote Indian clans on the Navajo Indian reservation in New Mexico, we will create a portable Family Literacy Center.  It will be equipped with a computer lab of 8 computers, a generator, a satellite dish, and FLC tutoring tables and supplies.  The expected number of pupils helped (largely children), will be a minimum of 400.  Expected grade levels of improvement at 2.2 per child will be 880.  Thus, in Year 1, this initiative will provide results equal to one year of schooling for 880 pupils on the reservation!  


3) Create improvements to a new training certification program for tutors, directors, and parents.


4) Revise our Web site to be more user friendly and finish our data gathering capability.  


5) Finish and print new reading practice storybooks for math.  


6) Finish and print a new practical technical writing program for use in most jobs — writing memos, proposals, vitae, instructions, — for use in our centers as well as for use in schools.  


7) Develop a home-based program that would teach parents how to help their children improve reading skills.  As indicated earlier, FLC, Inc. has already produced a comprehensive reading program that is inexpensive, research-based, effective, values-oriented, and parent-friendly.  The goal would be to create an interactive DVD (which could be downloaded from the Web as well) that integrates all of the best strategies available in the current FLC, Inc. reading support products.  Inexpensive enough for home purchase and use, it would contain a home menu that could include training in topics such as the following:


The Concept of Family Literacy: An Introduction

How Other Families Have Applied These Principles

Assessment Tools for Family Use

Deciding How to Help Struggling Readers

An Introduction to Standardized Tests in Reading

Selecting Good Books to Read

Avoiding the Aliteracy Problem

Opportunities for Families to Serve Others in Literacy

Opportunities for Individuals to Serve Others in Literacy


Represented here are more specific instructional objectives that relate to the methods and materials used in the Family Literacy Centers.

Objective 1: Pinpoint student deficiencies as they occur in each literacy center and provide remediation to help overcome the deficiencies.

The extensive database created by collecting each student response on computerized tests and from practice exercises will be used not only to report student progress, but also to help make improved instructional-method decisions.  In Family Literacy Centers, skills which can be taught are viewed as a necessary component of reading; a child's skill level is evaluated once he or she enrolls in the program and periodically afterwards.  These evaluations pinpoint any skill deficiencies, which are then addressed.  The tutor knows the student well enough to be aware of how much skill instruction is "excessive," is encouraged to create interest in the lesson, and builds enthusiasm through praise and encouragement.  The phonics booklets are interesting to most children (although, admittedly, possibly not to the more mature critics who can already read), and the stories relate to life experiences.  

Objective 2: Create an effective system of instruction that will greatly increase student motivation and achievement for African-American, Asian, Polynesian, and Hispanic students.

It is true that reading instruction should not be dull and burdensome to the point that a child gives up.  But how can children gain excitement for reading if they cannot read?  A certain amount of instruction in skills is necessary to learn to read, which does not preclude applying content to the reader's life and world.  It's important to realize that in Family Literacy Centers, the one-to-one tutoring automatically makes the learning experience personal and enriching.  Tutor training emphasizes rapport, encouragement, and warmth.  Tracking student data over a 3-month period will provide the data needed to show if students and parents are adhering to the program.  Some may even graduate from the program during this period.  Another motivating factor is that our materials place heavy emphasis on comprehension.  Tutors are guided in ways to improve and evaluate comprehension from the very beginning.  The booklets that teach phonics also include discussion questions related to the story itself, as well as to the student's experiences and values.  

In addition to Lexia's computerized assessment tests and practice exercises, we are installing their new software entitled Cross Trainer.  This program is designed to help children and adults learn how to learn, be able to concentrate better, become better organized in their learning efforts, and improve various aspects of their Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test score.  Studies show a significant increase in these IQ scores (7 points or more) after only 45 hours of interaction with the Cross Trainer software.

Objective 3: Train and empower center directors and volunteer tutors in instructional methods to teach reading and writing.

The certification training program has been tried and proven, but on-going evaluations will be made to search for more effective and efficient methods to deliver the instruction.  More refinement will be made, for example, to the two-way video conferencing delivery system now in place at FLC, Inc.

Objective 4: Develop and utilize family resources to accelerate learning in the home and promote family cohesion.

With the addition of the new Parent QuickStart Training Program developed by FLC, Inc., parents will more easily be able to apply good reading-teaching suggestions at home.  In addition FLC, Inc. will create new lesson plans for older students, create practice readers in academic subjects such as algebra, and home support for practice on standardized reading tests.  

Objective 5: Make the new centers independent from us as quickly as possible so they can continue to develop and improve their centers on their own.

This will be determined at the end of the training and follow-up periods by monitoring their use of our internet record keeping and reporting tools.

Objective 6: Help communities develop funding on their own for their centers after the first year of operation and support from FLC, Inc.

This information will be provided as part of the first year's funding by FLC, Inc.  Efforts will be made through the joint efforts of FLC, Inc. and each local center to publicize student achievement results so that local support becomes possible.  Many projects are relatively short term.  When funding runs out and support is withdrawn, local people are often unprepared to continue.  This can be prevented if people at the local level are involved in the project planning, are expected to make local contributions, and are trained to continue the project, receive and disburse money, and to train others.  Self-reliance and community involvement should be the goal from the beginning.

Objective 7: Maximize the use of technology, the Internet, Web sites, and distance- learning programs in the development of new centers.

New technology makes it possible to reach people in more remote areas and can provide affordable education for the poor and for children who must work.  We can use DVD and satellite technology anywhere people have electricity.  We will continue to develop technology and expand its use, especially with computers and telecommunications.

Objective 8: Help identify and build local educational leaders who can sustain the Family Literacy Center concept.  

We plan to find local people with talent, integrity, and motivation.  These people can sustain a project by serving as models to their community, learning how a project works, and training others.  A project sustained by local people will require less continuing grant money.

Objective 9: Involve many members of the community in identifying needs, planning, and carrying out each Family Literacy Center project.  

Local participation increases the likelihood of success because a project will be better adapted to local needs, and the people involved will feel ownership.  These centers will approach problems from the bottom rather than from the top — at individual, family, and community levels.  The emphasis will be to develop the capacity of local people to access the information and education they need to improve the quality of life and the quality of education for children in their communities.  Developing local capacity and self-reliance can make a more lasting contribution than large-scale funding.  Basic to local center success is the belief that partnerships are more effective and efficient than separate attempts.  

Objective 10: Reduce costs of family literacy services through emphasis on manageable centers, volunteerism, and careful management.  

Successful projects need not be developed on a large-scale, and thus weighed down by several levels of administration.  Often all that is needed is a small corps of volunteers, local talent, and a well-designed program.

Objective 11: Promulgate universal human values—personal integrity, goodness, self- reliance, provident living, and importance of the family in the development and implementation of every center FLC, Inc. helps create.  

We will help design local educational programs for individuals that are relevant to their role in the social, cultural, and economic context of the family.  Education for men, women, and children should improve their capacity as a family member, a citizen, and a skilled worker who contributes to the economic and social well-being of the family and community.