Facilitator’s Guide

00_facil_guide_banner.jpgSection 1: The UPP Curriculum

UPP is a family literacy curriculum designed to be used in community-based literacy and adult upgrading programs. The UPP curriculum supports parent’s upgrading goals and Essential Skills development and informs them about how to help their young children learn.

There are nine themes in the UPP curriculum. Each theme is self-contained and includes a combination of printable teaching materials and computer activities, along with notes for the instructor. In some cases, there will be additional items that need to be gathered or prepared. The UPP themes can be done in the order listed below or the instructor can choose to do the themes that time and circumstances allow.

The nine themes are:

1.  The Family
2.  Literacy at Home
3.  Healthy Eating
4.  Shopping and Budgeting
5.  Growing and Learning
6.  Keeping Fit
7.  Sickness and Health
8.  Playing with Language
9.  The Next Step

Each theme has six sections:

  • The Instructor’s Guide
  • Materials to Print Out
  • Additional Resources
  • Links
  • Children’s Program
  • Above and Beyond

1.2 The Learner

The primary focus of this program is for parents of pre-school children, and most of the learning content has been designed with the growth, development and learning needs of this group in mind. However, the program also explores ideas for young school-age children, since many of the parents who register have both pre-school and school-age kids.

The academic demands of the UPP program tend to suit adults who have not completed all their high school credits, who want to start back in an adult upgrading program but are unsure of the status of their skills. Little or no computer experience is necessary.

This program also attracts adults where English as a Second Language (ESL) is a consideration and they need language and oral literacy experience. Most UPP participants will be parents, but parents-to-be, grandparents, aunts and uncles, foster parents and in-home childcare providers will also find the program useful.

Many adult students talk about previous difficulties or learning problems at school. A new student is usually nervous about coming to a program, especially about the prospect of their learning levels being assessed. It is essential to be sensitive and supportive while doing an assessment with a new learner. At the same time, it is important to find out more about a new student and their learning needs so that they can be integrated into the group with ease.

1.3 Learning Assessment 

Initial Skills Assessment Sheets can used for informal assessments of participants, to help teachers know more about participants’ skills and goals.

A. Initial Skills Assessment 
This assessment tool gives a quick picture of participants’ skill levels. Go through it with each participant individually before the first session begins. An appointment may need to be scheduled for this. Reassure the participant that this is not the kind of assessment they will pass or fail. Instead, its purpose is to give you an idea of how much support they will need in order to be successful in the program. It will also help you decide how to organize people to work in pairs or for small group work.

The chart on the first two pages gives guidelines for interpreting participants╒ responses. The chart that follows is for the instructor to print and use during each assessment.

Please note: Read the assessment questions out loud to the participant and write the responses. The chart is not meant to be given out to participants for them to fill in.

B. Math Screening
If more assessment information for students is required, there are many tools available. For example, go to the following link for a sample math screen for basic operational skills. The Math Screen results will show focus areas of instruction for each student.

C. Language Screening
Language screening is not as simple as general screening. For assessment purposes, a variety of reading and spelling screens can be found on the internet. If a screen found on the internet is the option chosen, use one that rates skills from approximately grade 6 to grade 10.

The following link is for an American site called LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System), which has screens for adult learners http://lincs.ed.gov/readingprofiles/index.htm. To find out more about Common Assessment of Basic Skills (CABS), follow this link http://www.lleo.ca/cabs3/index.html.

If you are looking for a tool but are unsure which one might fit your needs, here is a link to a listing of Essential Skills Assessment Tools that was put together by Douglas College http://www.aeei.gov.sk.ca/abe/essential-skills-assessment-tools.

1.4 The UPP Parent Learning Group

Parents are their children╒s first and most important teacher, and parents take this role seriously. Parents who had poor school experiences want to help their children avoid the difficulties they had in school. These parents come to literacy programs looking for help.

UPP shows parents how to help their children be more prepared for school while upgrading their own skills at the same time. Therefore, not only does UPP support parents as they help their children learn, it helps parents update their skills and prepare for the time when their children are at school all day and they begin to search for a job.

In the UPP sessions, participants can look forward to:

  • Sharing their parenting experiences through discussion, reading and writing
  • Upgrading their knowledge of math and computers
  • Practising problem-solving strategies
  • Expanding their knowledge of children’s growth and development
  • Discovering the value of reading and playing with their children
  • Being part of a group that values their ideas, feelings and experiences
  • Gaining confidence in their role as their child’s first teacher

As most adult educators know, there is often a wide range of skill levels and abilities in an adult class. Each theme unit, therefore, contains materials that can be used at various skill levels. For some activities the same worksheet can be used for everyone, with the instructor giving help where it is needed so that every participant has a positive learning experience. In other activities such as writing, there will be different expectations for learners at different levels: the learner with beginning level skills might write a sentence or two, while the more advanced writer might produce three or four paragraphs.

Creative grouping is another way of working with multi-level groups. At times a person with stronger skills can work with someone who needs more support. At other times people with similar skills can work together so that everyone feels challenged.

Some of the activities may need to be adapted to suit your unique group, or you may decide not to use some activities at all. The choice is yours.

1.5 The UPP Instructor

The UPP instructor sets the tone for the group and helps participants keep motivated and engaged. Here are the key things an UPP instructor does to facilitate participants’ learning.

  • Builds a family literacy program based on respect for and strengths of the participants. Open discussion, questioning by learners and participation in the group creates rich learning experiences.
  • Focuses on the strengths of the participants/learners and what they know. Learners make decisions as to what they want to learn.
  • Works to find out the interests of program members. Rich learning comes from following these interests.
  • Makes sure participants take part in decision making.
  • Uses active listening skills – this means:
    – uninterrupted listening
    – not giving opinions, solutions or feedback
    – having no distractions
    – tries to use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ because this strategy supports positive
    communication rather than always having to get the point across
  • Continually promotes the participatory approach and makes sure the learning needs of the participants are being met. Questions the instructor reflects on include:
    – What are we doing now?
    – What is working?
    – What needs to be changed?
    – Are we being successful in delivering the short-term and long-term goals
    we are striving for?
    – If not, why? What changes would make our efforts more successful?
  • Evaluates the progress of the skill levels of the participants.

1.6 The UPP Children’s Program

A children’s pre-school program that includes songs, rhymes, poems, children’s book titles, and learning games and activities has been developed for each theme. A link to the children’s program is part of each theme outline. It is important that children have the opportunity to take part in high-quality children’s programming. This will help them enter school ready to learn.


Section 2: Program Set Up

2.1 Time Needed

This depends on how the program is delivered. There are nine themes developed in UPP. You will want to spend more or less time with some of these themes, depending on the makeup of the group. For example, some parents will need more training in supporting Literacy at Home; some might appreciate spending more time on Planning and Budgeting.

There is enough material in the units for 18 sessions (or more). If this is to be a family literacy program with a distinct beginning and end, it could be:
18 sessions / 1 session per week = 18 weeks
18 sessions / 2 sessions per week = 9 weeks

Twice a week is probably the optimal amount of time for program delivery. This gives parents a chance to go home and try out some of their newly learned parenting ideas, then come back and share them with the group.

If childcare is being offered at the same time as the adult program, then a reasonable tim frame for each session is:
2 hours in class + 1/2 hour interactive time for parents and children = 2 1/2 hours

We have found that morning sessions work best for families with young children.

If learners are spending more hours in your program each week than just the UPP sessions, they might like to link their other upgrading activities with the theme of the week. In the Above and Beyond sections, suggestions are included for follow-up activities that can be gathered and developed.

2.2 Ideal Space 

What is ideal UPP space? Sometimes location is wherever it can be found! Ideally the UPP program takes place in an adult upgrading centre which has, or can access, a children’s program room. This is a challenge for most upgrading centres. A community space, like a city recreation centre, can also work well. If the program is running with the free daycare provision, you will need both daycare space and an instruction space for the adults, as well as adequate washrooms for both. The best space would include a kitchen so participants can learn hands-on about healthy food, making bread, and creating snacks and meals for children and each other.

Local foundations or the United Way may provide funding to pay for space and the children’s program staff. Partnerships with existing children’s or family resource programs in the community could be created. In Ontario, partnerships might be possible with programs such as Ontario Early Years Centres, Parenting and Family Literacy Centres or future Best Start Centres.

2.3 Learning Set Up

The learning setup should include:

  • A clustered central table group for a typical class up to 10
  • Side table areas for computer set up (which may be a couple of laptops brought to each class by the teacher) or access to a permanent computer station with internet
  • A side table for coffee/refreshments if necessary
  • Binders 1 -1/2 to 2 inch per student
  • A ‘tool tray’ or a small bin with – sharpened pencils, erasers, coloured markers, scissors, a few rulers, some paper clips, highlighters, a date stamp, some ‘post it’ notes, calculator’s’, three-hole punch, etc.
  • A large white board for instruction (a portable one for the teacher could work if necessary); consider individual whiteboards for the students (Dollar Store quality); a variety of white board markers
  • Lined and unlined paper; adult dictionaries
  • Teacher provides copies of work pages from content binder or as she/he creates them, as needed for the students

2.4 Snacks and More 

If children are spending the whole morning in your childcare program, they will definitely need a healthy mid-morning snack. Be sure to plan ahead for this.

If the facilities and funds allow for it, why not provide lunch for everyone – parents, children and staff – at the end of the morning╒s class? Most parents will appreciate not having to rush home and rustle up a quick meal for their hungry children.

The other built-in advantages of sharing a meal:

  • Sitting down to enjoy a meal together builds a sense of community within the group.
  • You can introduce families to new and healthy food choices and food preparation.
  • Parents will be able to share good ideas about food and learn from each other.
  • You can show how healthy food does not have to be expensive.
  • It provides positive role models for parents and children who often experience meal time as a power-struggling battleground.
  • It reassures anxious parents that their picky eaters really are getting enough to eat.

Be sure to discuss and plan menus with the group in the first session. Find out if there are any food allergies among the adults and children. As well, there are certain foods that some people may not eat for religious or cultural reasons.

Check out the Early Literacy and Nutrition Activity Cards at the Centre for Expertise in Family Literacy website for fun food ideas and rhymes that go with them.

Here you will find a collection of recipes.

Use Canada’s Food Guide when planning balanced meals and age-appropriate serving sizes.

There is also a Canada’s Food Guide – First Nations, Inuit and Métis for Aboriginal families in your group.

If your group is multicultural, you can use a feature on the Canada’s Food Guide website to customize the guide with foods from many different cultures. It is also available in several languages.


2.5 Useful Paperwork

Here are a few items we that might be helpful to use in a new UPP program.

  1. Publicity Poster
    This poster can be used to recruit participants for your UPP program. You will need to add details of time, place and so on.
  2. Registration Form
    If your program does not already have a registration form, here is one to print. It includes an interest questionnaire that may give some idea of what has motivated people to come to a family literacy program. Use the responses to help you decide which areas to emphasize. Some participants may need to have the questionnaire read to (or with) them.
  3. Word Search Template
    Use this blank template to create vocabulary exercises whenever you think participants would enjoy them. Fill in the words all over the grid. List the words below the grid. To make it more challenging, you may have the words running up, down, from left, from right and diagonally. Also, instead of giving a word list, you could give clues.

Section 3: The Instructor 

3.1 Structuring the Three-hour Learning Module

This program was piloted and run as a two-morning per week program. A three-hour learning module is about the optimal time period for this learner group and works really well if accompanied with a half-day daycare provision.

Engagement is the most challenging issue for the learners. The content of the program is interesting to the learners, but they need a variety of activities and various ways to participate to maintain their interest and involvement.

3.2 Warm Up

When students arrive and the instructor is ready to begin, consider some kind of warm-up activity. A warm-up is usually a brief activity (5–15 minutes) to get things started.

“Morning Message” is a popular approach. With this, you leave a brief message every morning on the white board which requires student response. It can be a paragraph about the day or just an interesting message from you to your students. To involve the students, try leaving out letters and/or punctuation and expect them to make some corrections. Structure a few questions as review from the previous day’s work, or pose some theme-related sayings and get them to interpret the meanings.

Another popular warm-up is ‘word brainstorm’. Place a theme-related word on the board and ask students to find as many small words as they can from using only the letters in the posted word.

If possible – try to let the students take the lead and manage the responses to the early morning warm-up by themselves.

3.3 Content Lesson/Themes 

The best time to introduce the important theme content of the day is right after the warm-up. This is the time when a topic from one of the themes in the content binder can be featured. Be aware that the themes are best completed as a whole, BUT they do not necessarily need to be completed in the order set out in the binder. You may want to involve your students in determining the order of the themes. There is also no set time to be spent with each theme. Timing can be determined according to how the students respond to each theme. Some may be as brief as a week/two weeks OR a theme may go on for a month. As the instructor, the guiding questions are:

  • Is there interest?
  • Is there material?
  • Are they learning?

3.4 Skill Work

The UPP program is different from the typical LBS program, because there is a framework and a content binder. At the same time, as instructor, you still want to advance the individual skill sets of each of your students. So, along with the content of this program, you will also focus on areas where students show obvious skill weaknesses or gaps in learning.

It is easy to incorporate skill work in this program. Many of these students will benefit from some direct teaching or specific review of certain language or math skills. LBS programs expect a level of assessment or skill inventory prior to starting a program as described on page 4 of the Instructor’s Manual or follow the link to Initial Skills Assessment.

Introduce some personal reading along with the content reading and a review of some basic study/research, grammar and writing skills for language literacy skill instruction.

Content and skill work should be the bulk of your UPP program. If you are skilful, content and skill development will interconnect. The skills can relate to the content, and there are many examples of that in the core program document. Computer literacy activities can fit with the content quite easily – especially when practicing computer word processing feature skills.

Be aware some skills require a direct teaching experience for your students. For example, it may be important to take the time needed to teach your students how to do long division, with all the steps involved. Remember, students need to learn it now to upgrade because they didn’t get it the first time!

3.5 Interactive Journal

There is great value in including journal writing in the UPP program on a fairly regular basis. If students write to about opinion questions or topics you provide, you can note their writing development. You can subtly remind, correct and suggest change. You can encourage and gently push your students forward too. Interactive journals can be a private conversation between you and the student. They will look forward to your return response – which may be a suggestion, a further question or simply encouragement as needed.

3.6 Join the Children’s Circle

If your program is fortunate enough to have the childcare component for your parents/students – make ‘circle time’ the last activity of the module. The adult instructor and the children’s program teacher are a team. In ‘circle time’ the daycare teacher can continue to directly model ways of interacting with the children through songs, games, music and stories. This is a very positive way to end the morning or afternoon.

3.7 Break

Your adult instructional program should include a 10–15 minute break at some point during the instructional period. It can be at a regular time point – or when a good natural break point occurs. It is nice if you are able to provide coffee or tea.

3.8 Learning Atmosphere

Remember, you, as the instructor, set the tone for the learning atmosphere. You will need to be friendly, welcoming, humourous when there needs to be a laugh and focused when there needs to be focus. If you hit it right – you knit together a community of learners that respect and care for each other. Often much needed friendships develop and extend well beyond the class room.

3.9 Additional Ideas for Consideration – Student Reading Habits 

In order to increase students’ literacy skills it is a good idea to develop reading in two areas.

  1. Content Reading
    Reproduce and use the UPP theme content starting at Theme 1 – The Family along with any additional theme material you find and select to augment it with
  2. Personal Reading
    It is a good idea to encourage parents’ personal reading habits. We want our parents/students to understand the importance of being good literacy role models for their children. This can be pursued by making magazines, newspapers, parent web articles and books available and a part of the program.
  3. Book Club
    If your students read novels as part of their personal reading, consider incorporating a book club approach. The hope is students will develop life-long reading habits that will carry on beyond the program. Book club involvement might be one of those habits.

Each book club group can consist of 2–4 students who each read a common book. Allow them to determine a name for their group and when possible select their book (even if from a group of 2–3 books you have predetermined to be appropriate). Let students decide how much they can read at a time and when all members should be prepared for chapter discussion. They can read the books at home. It works quite well if you have students discuss their book every 2–3 chapters. Many books will have reading guides available online or you can create thinking/opinion questions per chapter.

3.10 Helpful Teaching Approaches 


No matter what size your class is you may well have quite a variety of students and learning needs. How do you meet all the students’ learning needs yet teach each one the same content as a learning group? Be aware that most of the students are with you because they have not been very successful before in a traditional learning program.

It is your primary job to make each student feel successful and want to come back and learn more. As you get to know your students, you will learn what they are capable of, how much help they need, who needs lots of practice, who can move on more quickly, who needs more of your attention or a peer helper and who does not. With this understanding, you can tailor your response expectations from each student.

Take journal writing for example. You may expect a student in your group to start by simply writing single words. In the same group you may expect another student to start by being able to use jot dots. Another may be able to start by writing sentences. Others may be able to write paragraphs.

Use care and thoughtfulness to assess your students’ needs accurately so that:

  • Your expectations match what the student is capable of doing.
  • You preselect math and reading material suited to the level of the individual student.
  • You learn what to do a bit differently for each student.

This is differentiation.


Scaffolding is how the learning is structured in order to move the students from what they already know to new learning. Think of the analogy of a building scaffold. The builder stands on the scaffold to reach from where he or she has already built to the next or new area to be built.

It is the same for ‘at risk’ students. They need a support or scaffold from something they already know to help them reach the next step of understanding and learning.

Make sure your students are firm on their learning scaffold. In other words, they need to be comfortable and solid with what they know. It is important that they do not reach too high to the next level of learning. If the learning reach is too great, students will experience learning difficulty and become discouraged.

This technique does take practice. By making sure you start from what your students already know and by linking that to the new learning, you will help students make a huge difference in their understanding and consequent learning.

3.11 Relate Learning to Life Experience

New learning takes on meaning as adults relate it to their life experience. Instructors need to create learning situations where learners plan and rehearse how they are going to use new learning in their day to day lives. How Adults Learn, Muller J., CYC-Online Issue 60 January 2004.

Section 4: Essential Skills

4.1 Is UPP an LBS/ES Program?

The UPP Program is a Literacy Basic Skills (LBS) hybrid. LBS programs are usually based on the presenting learning levels and learning needs of the students/clients. This is true for the UPP program as well. The difference is that the UPP program provides a basic curriculum of content to be followed. UPP provides a different ‘hook’ for people who need or want to get back into a learning focus. If you attract people with something they know a little about and may want to know more about – such as the parent friendly curriculum of UPP – you have a good base from which to attract and maintain interest while promoting ongoing learning.

Be aware that in teaching UPP you are not confined to the content in the UPP curriculum. It is important to continue to review the needs of the individual learners and support learning gaps with additional instruction related to the key topics as much as possible.

Family literacy does not usually come to mind when we talk about Essential Skills. But, on second look, the UPP curriculum has many essential skills imbedded in it. It is important that the instructor highlight the essential skills within the curriculum and add to the essential skills instruction as he or she learns more about the participants and their goals, both academic and employment. This will help the instructor devise learning plans that include family literacy learning and essential skills development, and respond to the stated goals and needs of the participants.

If your group is not familiar with the term Essential Skills, introduce the topic with the Essential Skills Mini-Lesson provided. It is probably best not to do this in the very first session. It may be easier to capture the attention and interest of your participants by diving straight into the parenting topics. Later, when you have completed a few lessons, deliver the mini-lesson and then use the Essential Skills Check-In Chart, which is found on the last page of the Essential Skills Mini-Lesson, to show participants how many Essential Skills they have been using all along.

Each person is an individual; few people have the exact same skills profiles. One person may have strong writing skills but may struggle with math. Another may have a lot of trouble reading a short article from the newspaper but may have skills at getting information from a brochure or a webpage. Focusing on Essential Skills can be a way of increasing learners’ self esteem. Someone who has always seen themselves as ‘not good at school’ comes to realize, Hey, I may be a poor reader but I am a great problem solver, oral communicator and team player. Labelling these skills gives them more credibility.

You will see in the following sample of a training/learning plan that the UPP program does focus on Essential Skills (ES) development.

4.2 Using the UPP Training Plan

A sample UPP Training Plan: Learning Plan has been provided for use with this program. It was designed with consideration of the expectations for a basic LBS/ES Training Plan. It is intended to be a one-page double-sided document to be initiated for each theme in the UPP program. This document responds to accountability and record keeping, and needs to remain student friendly as the teacher should discuss the content with the student and have them respond to it.

The Training Plan/Learning Plan provided clearly outlines the five Essential Skill Competency areas as well as the key task Groups in each area. Instructors can highlight the areas of focus as they work through each theme. Performance Indicators or Activities is a fill-in section for key work-tasks.

Comments/indication of Growth similarly is a “fill in” related to the performance tasks listed. An indication of levels can be included here. The reverse side of the page has space to record: key Core Demonstrations, Personal Reflections or student self evaluation and ongoing goal setting via Transition/Destination Path. In addition, there is plenty of space on the page to record any other information deemed to be important – such as a disruption in attendance or other skill learning that does not fit in the categories, for example, specific learning through an Occupational Curriculum.

As with any LBS/ES Training Plan/Learning Plan, is important that both the instructor and the student are very comfortable speaking to and about the plan. Most importantly – this is the student’s plan. The instructor does record the growth, but the student must assume responsibility for their learning and direction. This kind of personal reflection may take time and guidance to develop but is essential for self direction and goal setting.

4.3 The Essential Skills

Essential Skills (ES) are the skills people use to carry out everyday life and work tasks, and as such are reflected in adult education and job readiness training. mom_daughter_iron.jpgThese skills are:

  • Reading Text
  • Document Use
  • Writing,
  • Numeracy
  • Oral Communication,
  • Thinking Skills
  • Working with Others
  • Computer Use
  • Continuous Learning

The Essential Skills are thoroughly described and defined at the HRSDC website. Follow this link and have a look at the videos presented on the OLES website.

For the most part, the UPP learning materials are written for adults who are working Essential Skills levels 1 and 2. Some activities may give opportunities to use Essential Skills at level 3.

While the Essential Skills framework was first developed to define skills used in the workplace, it is also applicable to other aspects of daily life – studying, socializing, volunteering, running a home and raising a family. Essential Skills are the foundation for most other skills. They are – essential.

Today’s workplace needs workers who have good essential skills. Changes in the workplace are constant and workers need to be able to respond to these changes quickly. However, it is difficult for employed workers to return to school and upgrade their academic and essential skills. Therefore, it is important that workers have good essential skills before they enter the workplace. More adult basic education programs are moving to a structure that combines literacy development with essential skills training so that students are better prepared to succeed in employment and to take advantage of upward movement in the job market.

Today’s workplace needs workers who have good essential skills. Changes in the workplace are constant and workers need to be able to respond to these changes quickly. However, it is difficult for employed workers to return to school and upgrade their academic and essential skills. Therefore, it is important that workers have good essential skills before they enter the workplace. More adult basic education programs are moving to a structure that combines literacy development with essential skills training so that students are better prepared to succeed in employment and to take advantage of upward movement in the job market.

4.4 Suggested Prose, Document and Writing Skills for Instruction

Here are more language and communication skills you can add to your UPP program:

  • Skimming, Scanning and Highlighting Skills
  • Writing Good Sentences: Fragments versus Sentences versus Jot Dots
  • Sentences Types: Declarative, Interrogative, Imperative and Exclamatory
  • Basic Sentence Punctuation
  • Nouns: Common and Proper
  • Action Verbs
  • Adjectives and Adverbs
  • Capitalization, Basic Punctuation/Editing
  • Writing Good Paragraphs > Following Paragraph Sandwich Format
  • Identifying Main Idea
  • Figurative Language: Similes and Metaphors
  • Descriptive Language
  • Tips For Public Speaking
  • Writing a Friendly Letter
  • Organizing a Portfolio and Writing a Cover Letter
  • Effective Praise*
  • Making Lists*

(* taught as successful behaviours)

4.5 Suggested Numeracy Skills for Instruction

Here are most numeracy skills you can add to your UPP program:

  • Review of the four main operations > add, subtract, multiply and divide to the level of capability
  • Review of linear, solid and liquid measurement, to include area and perimeter
  • Review of fractions to the level of capability

4.6 Additional Resources

Section 5: Cultural Responsiveness 

We live in a ‘globalizing’ time. Cultures are coming together for a variety of reasons such as commerce and communication. Many people come to a new country for personal reasons such as bettering their work and family’s prospects or leaving an unsafe situation in their home country. The ‘coming together’ of cultures can be an easy sharing of ideas and respecting others’ values. It can be on parallel tracks which don’t pay too much attention to the other. Sometimes, it can be a challenging and difficult collision of ideas, values and traditions. “Culture” is not only about ethnic culture but also about cultures of locality and class.

Family literacy programming needs to respond to this coming together of cultures in a way that fosters ease in the sharing of ideas and respects cultural differences. Family literacy programming cannot reflect only one culture.

The Action for Family Literacy Ontario (AFLO) definition of Family Literacy states: Family Literacy is about the ways families use literacy and language in their daily lives. It is about how families:

  • Learn
  • Use literacy to do everyday tasks
  • Help children develop literacy
  • Use literacy to maintain relationships with each other and with the community
  • Interact with organizations and institutions

The purpose of most reading and writing in a family setting is to help family members and their communities communicate. Writing is a way family members express themselves as individuals, as family members and community members. This kind of literacy training is part of the family’s everyday life. Fortunately, this greatly helps communication within a family’s daily living experience and, more broadly, with transference of a family’s culture. Unfortunately, some literacy efforts that parents share with their children have little effect on school success. Many of the creative and expressive forms of literacy used in family life are not supported through school-based efforts.

Family literacy program goals often include academic upgrading for parents, developing parenting skills and preparing children for school. The goal of preparing children for school usually focuses on specific child literacy development supports to recruit parents as home-based teachers. The culture of school literacy is passed on to parents but rarely is the culture of family literacy passed on to the school.

Literacy instruction that is only based on ‘school literacy’ may have little meaning for children and their families. This can cause friction between the family and the school. Not surprisingly, the difference between home and school literacy is less pronounced for middle-class children and adults. All students need to be comfortable with school literacy because it is important to academic success. But, school literacy is not the only valuable form of literacy. Very often, in an effort to help children succeed in school, family literacy programs promote only school literacy. This can deeply undervalue a family╒s home literacy and cultural connections.

Culturally responsive curriculum genuinely builds upon the cultural background of participants and reflects their stated needs and wants, knowledge and experience. Accepting and promoting diversity is a fundamental value of UPP.

The UPP curriculum is flexible. It can and should be used by instructors in such a way as to ensure cultural responsiveness. The curriculum should be used within a learner-centred approach that is connected to participants’ real life and history. Materials from participants’ culture and history should be added and used to illustrate principles and concepts. UPP themes can be adapted, new activities developed and existing activities dropped if that creates a more inclusive learning situation.

Better educational decisions are made and more engaging ideas are used when instructors deliberately decide to learn from their participants. Multicultural literature can be used to teach reading and writing because it means something to the students and speaks to common human connections between ethnically different people. Interestingly, books about family, community and friends seem to be favourites regardless of cultural background and gender.

Like the participatory approach, the culturally responsive program asks what the participants bring, not what they lack. This is called a wealth-based approach.

  • A wealth-based program:
  • Acknowledges the presence of culturally diverse students and the need for these students to find relevant connections among themselves
  • Is shaped by participants knowledge, experiences and interests, and uses local, outside the classroom issues, which have been chosen by the participants to concentrate on
  • Creates a trusting instructional atmosphere between instructors and participants; the physical setting is appropriate
  • Creates a situation in which participants can share, learn and communicate without fear of being chastised for their beliefs
  • Encourages parents to recognize they have literacy skills to share with their children from their own culture
  • Gives parents new skills and enhances their existing abilities to help their children learn
  • Reflects local need

To create a wealth-based program instructors need:

  • To trust participants, learn from them and embrace the idea of being a part of the same learning group
  • Determination and desire to establish a strong teacher-student relationship with each student
  • The abilities and strategies to build bridges between community culture and school culture
  • The ability to act upon the teachable moments that come up naturally within the group
  • Extensive variety of instructional strategies
  • Professional development opportunities such as, learning about successful models through demonstrations and in-service training, planning time and opportunities to review their practice from the point of view of supportive critique. (Shade Kelly and Oberg 2001)

5.1 Participatory Education

What is participatory education? “Participatory education is an educational approach where learners and staff share authority and responsibility equally regarding program decision-making and operations. Learners participate actively, as opposed to a class in which everything about and for learners is decided by instructors or administrators.” From: http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/literacy/referencematerials/

The participatory approach to learning is a key factor in family literacy programming. Adult education programs that use the participatory approach value and respect the learners’ knowledge, life experience and their stated learning needs and goals. Learners and practitioners are equals. The Foundations in Family Literacy (FiFL) embraces this philosophy. FiFL trains family literacy practitioners to develop teaching plans that build on the knowledge and experiences of participants, and respond to what participants want. A family literacy program works to overcome barriers such as childcare and transportation. Programs often have a children’s program that runs concurrently with the parent’s program. Bus tickets or taxi chits can be made available if funds allow.

5.2 Considerations

Learner-centered content helps adults learn best, but it is important to consider that it may also limit learning because of the learner’s own marginalization.

The adult educator who uses the participatory approach often has to enter into a ‘needs negotiation’ with learners. In a family literacy program such as UPP, the ‘needs’ might be about the importance of play in children’s learning or ideas about how children learn to read. During the ‘needs negotiation’, the needs understood by the learners and the needs as perceived by the adult educator must be brought together to reach a consensus on the ‘real needs’. These ‘real needs’ must match with the experience of the adult learners. If an adult gets the impression that his or her experience is not valued, he or she may feel rejected as a person.

New learning takes on meaning as adults relate it to their life experience. Adult educators need to create learning situations where learners plan and rehearse how they are going to use new learning in their day-to-day lives. How Adults Learn, Muller J., CYC-Online Issue 60 January 2004.

5.3 Program Design

The ability to look at ourselves and critique our work is essential to effective and responsive programs and services. We need to ask ourselves questions like:

  • Does our program truly embrace the participatory approach?
  • Can our program provide the resources and supports needed for instructors to provide a participatory program such as professional development and teaching tools?
  • Is our program doing what it can to reduce barriers for families such as providing child care and transportation?
  • How do government policies or popular opinions impact our assumptions and practices? For example, the term ‘school readiness’ implies that the child is not ready to enter school but rarely does ‘school readiness’ imply that the school needs to be prepared for the unique abilities and personalities of children in their first year or two of life at school
  • Are we focused on what is really important in the situation? For example, if a program is focused on reading to the child when both parent and child are hungry, it’s not going to be successful or have good outcomes for either parent or child.

Section 6: Student Assessment 

6.1 Measuring Success

Student Assessment

Family literacy programs can be assessed using standardized measure. Testing itself is not necessarily harmful to a learning practice but it is when it becomes an overriding factor.


Section 7: Program Assessment 

Evaluation is a key component to the development of quality family literacy programming. An evaluation plan needs to reflect the stated program goals and outcomes, so it is essential that these goals and outcomes are clearly stated and realistic. New tools may have to be developed so that all the data needed for the evaluation is collected. Good evaluation helps clarify what works and what doesn’t. It is vital to good decision making in terms of further program development and the deployment of resource.

7.1 Additional Resources

Quebec Literacy Working Group
My Family – QLWG – Individual Life Skills Unit 21

Literacy and the Parent

Get Set Learn

Memory Card Game

Family Literacy in Ontario – A Guide to Best Practices

Families First

That’s the Way I Like It

Section 8: The UPP Themes 

The nine themes are:

1.  The Family
2.  Literacy at Home
3.  Healthy Eating
4.  Shopping and Budgeting
5.  Growing and Learning
6.  Keeping Fit
7.  Sickness and Health
8.  Playing with Language
9.  The Next Step

Each theme has six sections:

  • upp_logo.jpgThe Instructors’ Guide
  • Materials to Print Out
  • Additional Resources
  • Links
  • Children’s Program
  • Above and Beyond