In 1982, Denny Taylor coined the term “family literacy” to reference the ways young children and their parents interact around texts. Since then, the term family literacy has generally been applied to the practices that occur in homes to support young children as they become readers and writers. However, 30 years later, this definition negates the full scope of possibilities that might inform our understandings of the literacy practices that occur within home spaces and among family members. These possibilities reflect two important trends increasingly recognized within literacy research communities. First, technological advances have affected the ways people read and write and the multimodal literacy practices that have come to define literacy in families and homes. These developments are often the focus of New Literacy Studies as defined by the New London Group and others. Second, while generally not addressed in terms of family literacy, a substantial and growing body of research has documented the out-of-school literacy practices of adolescents and youth. Many of these literacy practices are enacted and displayed in home settings. While connections between out-of-school literacy practices and family literacy are generally not explicit, homes and families provide significant social contexts that are critical to engaging in technological, peer-informed, and popular culture practices. In short, family literacy does not end once children learn to read. In contrast, family literacy assumes new forms and involves new modalities that both echo and extend the literacy practices found within families. This is significant, as it challenges conceptions of adolescent and youth literacy as being separate from the literacy practices of families.
To extend what is meant by family literacy, it is redefined as more than traditional activities that involve young children with texts. Instead, researchers are challenged to consider the full range of literacy practices that occur among family members and within homes across time. In doing this, family literacy and new literacy studies are brought together. Thus, the term family/home literacy is used to recognize not only the literacy practices that are enacted between children and parents, but the full range of literacy practices that occur among all family members—including siblings, extended family members, and friends. In short, family/home literacy practices are intertwined with home literacy affordances, which include the texts, opportunities, and technological resources that are available and used in homes. In order to explore family/home literacies over time, children’s literacy practices, including traditional and technological family/home literacy practices, are explored. Issues raised include parental mentoring of school-age children as they encounter new technologies at home, the adaptation of available resources by children as they move into and through adolescence, and transactions involving texts (both traditional and digital) among adolescents, young adults, and their parents.
Christopher J. Wagner
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
Literate identities, reading identities, and writing identities describe the ways that a person constructs the self as a reader, writer, and user of language. The study of literacy and identities is grounded in the idea that literacy is not just about skills related to language, print, and texts, but about individuals who must develop these skills. The learning of these skills is mediated by a person’s developing beliefs about language, literacy, and the self. Successful readers and writers enter, make sense of, and produce texts through personal and relational connections. Literacy, in this sense, is not just about knowing, using, and producing language and text, but about ways of being in relation to language and text.
Processes of socialization have often been used to explain how children learn to act and think like readers and writers through the observation, guidance, or apprenticeship of others. More recently, poststructural perspectives have drawn attention to how people are continuously engaged in the construction and reconstruction of identities across contexts, and have led to an attention to identities that may differ across domains. These views have been broadened by critical perspectives that have drawn attention to how relational and structural power guide individuals to think, act, and use language in ways that reflect social structures and history, and create opportunities and constraints for people’s literate identities. These and other perspectives view literate identities as increasingly complex, malleable, and shaped by factors that are both internal and external to the person. Aspects of schooling, including literacy instruction, play a role in directing and supporting these literate identities.