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Teaching Together: Families and Teachers Team Up to Improve Children’s Literacy

When as a college senior and a business major, Tricia Zucker, signed up with Teach for America, she had no idea that this projected short-term assignment would ignite a spark that would lead her in a new direction as well as a new career. As a kindergarten teacher for primarily at-risk children, she found herself intrigued and interested in the developmental aspects of children’s learning and literacy.

This expanding interest led her to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy in Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education, and embark upon a path of research focusing on children who are at-risk for learning disabilities. Working for the Children’s Learning Institute and advancing to the position of Associate Director, Dr. Zucker has become an expert in early literacy and language through her insightful and intensive work on numerous studies. A particular research interest of hers remains that of family- and school-based interventions and expanding research into practice.  

In 2015, Dr. Zucker was awarded a development grant from the Institute for Education Science to develop a program to help parents and teachers work together to improve their children’s learning. Basing her intervention on earlier studies, she formulated Teaching Together! A Multimedia School-Home Intervention for Young Children At-Risk for Academic Difficulties, a multi-level program to support these efforts which includes a strong parenting component. The pilot intervention included aligned supplemental curricular and educational opportunities for teachers and families to improve preschoolers’ academic language and literacy skills. This intervention focused primarily on improving early academic language skills that can later lead to successful reading comprehension, along with a focus on literacy skills to support word decoding and understanding. The study team worked in 33 Head Start classrooms with teachers, and parents and students. Her team screened 426 students and studied 170 of the ones scoring below benchmarks. Notably, about 66% of the children in the study were dual language learners. The study offered these interventions in English and Spanish, but we found that many of these students primarily spoke languages other than these.

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The kits developed for this project were bright and colorful with books, posters and other aids for teachers and parents to introduce and explain new words. Other elements included such items as text messages for families to remind them of specific elements emphasized in the classroom. Dr. Zucker collaborated with the Children’s Museum of Houston to develop popular Family Literacy Workshops hosted in the schools.

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We know that academic language is an essential skill for later reading comprehension and success in school. The data collected for this project suggest that Teaching Together holds significant promise as a school- and home- based intervention for increasing language skills amongst pre-K children at risk for later reading difficulties. Dr. Zucker recently presented her findings at a meeting for the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD).

Teaching Together Presentation by Dr. Tricia Zucker at SRCD

As she stated, “We are excited by these findings that show the power of teachers and parents working together to make sure children enter school ready for success. It is going to take more than just teachers to close the 30 million word gap that many young children growing up in poverty experience relative to their peers. This study shows that parents are eager and capable of build their child’s vocabulary skills when provided with information and feedback on language building strategies.”

Reference

Zucker et al. (2019). Teaching Together: Pilot study of a tiered language and literacy intervention with Head Start teachers and linguistically diverse families. Manuscript in review.

 

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