Noche De La Lectura/Literacy Night
In response to challenging the written word as the only form of literacy, I tried to include as little reading and writing as I could for my literacy night. Instead, I focused on oral storytelling through a series of interviews between families and their children. At the conclusion of the interviews I invited the students and their families to draw a picture of each other to add a visual element to their storytelling.
As a bit of background, I am a kindergarten teacher in a Spanish dual-language immersion school. Many of my students are native Spanish speakers with a few students who are Spanish language learners. Many families are also native Spanish speakers, and often only speak Spanish. I also have families who speak Mam, an indigenous Mayan language that is not always written. Therefore, not only does my responsibility to challenge the written word lie in this single night of literacy, but as a constant practice to maintain equity in my class and with my families. This is not to say that I am always successful nor consistent with this practice.
I held my literacy night via Zoom. At first, I felt I would be extending their distance learning into the evening. I did not want this. I wanted to build an experience that would help family members and students connect to each other through storytelling. Additionally, I hoped that families would be able to make connections with each other through sharing out their stories.
I opened my literacy night with an ice breaker that asked families to share their favorite thing to do with their student. In addition to asking this question orally, in Spanish and English, I included visuals to help families come up with ideas and support families that aren’t fluent in either language.
I learned that many families like to watch movies together, bake, play sports, and have dinner together. Only a few families responded that they like to read together. I found through various home visits, conferences, and check-ins families felt obligated to say they read with their child and tried to minimize the amount of playing and movie/tv watching they do. It’s as if literacy is in conflict with television and movies. While reading is a great way to expose a child to literacy, it doesn’t have to be the only way. In fact, I sometimes hear how parents struggle and even fight with their child when it comes to reading.When establishing a foundation for literacy, I’ve learned it is most important to establish a love for literacy, especially in kindergarten when children are just beginning to shape their identities as readers. It’s also important to expand the definition of literacy beyond just reading and writing. I see it as storytelling.
As we finished the ice breaker I moved into the interviews where students conducted an interview with a family member. I had a list of questions I read aloud for students to ask their family member. The questions ranged from, “did you go to kindergarten?” to “what do you hope for me to do in school?”
I watched as many students giggled at the thought of their family member in kindergarten. One mother said this was the first time she talked about this with her daughter, and a few other family members agreed. Some family members shared their fears of their first day, which weren’t so different from the student’s experience. Other students came to find that their parents didn’t like math but the student loved math. The same went for reading. I hoped that through sharing each other’s childhood experiences, families and students would bond together. That they would experience the magic of storytelling.
Then it was the family’s turn to ask the student some questions about their experience in school. These questions ranged from “what are your favorite and least favorite things to do in school?” to “what do you hope to learn in school?” I included these questions because I felt it was important for family members to hear from their students what it is that they want to learn and to hear what they don’t like. As their teacher, I wanted to dedicate time to talk about things they don’t like about school, which I don’t think is often given space. One parent told me that this was the first time he heard his child talk about her struggles. He said he doesn’t get to see or hear about what she does in class because he’s working and it was nice to hear what she likes to do and he found out where she struggles.
I’d never had so many parents in my classroom as with distance learning. I saw how hard it was for families to see their children struggle, and for so many reasons, but I’m mostly talking about academic struggles. Parents were doing their best, and without them, I wouldn’t have experienced nearly as much success I did. But at times I so badly wanted to reach through the screen and tell them their student’s work does not have to be perfect. It’s okay to struggle. As the year progressed, we all learned and I experienced the most support I’ve ever had as a teacher, and quite possibly the most I ever will. The struggle of distance learning brought us together.
To wrap up the night, I asked family members to draw something they learned about their student during the interview and I asked the students to draw something they learned about their family member in the interview. I wanted families to see themselves as illustrators and how much beauty pictures bring to a story.
I concluded the night talking about how literacy does not have to be limited to reading a book or writing. Literacy is storytelling and anyone can tell a story regardless of their reading and writing abilities. Asking a set of questions about a student’s day, field trip, or favorite things is an opportunity to build their literacy skills. I understand that after working all day and taking care of a family, reading for 20 minutes isn’t always going to happen. Instead they can have a conversation like this over dinner, in the car, or even in the line at the grocery store. These bonding moments not only build students storytelling abilities but build a love for learning.