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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rethinking “family” in a family literacy program : a Canadian case study Gilman, Michelle Shenkarow


Drawing on theories of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996), identity and investment (Norton, 2013) and transformative learning (Mezirow, 1978), this qualitative case study explored the outcomes of a family literacy program in Vancouver, BC, on the identities of 12 immigrant and refugee background mothers for whom English was an additional language. The research questions addressed why these mothers became involved in the program, how their own investment was integrated into the program, and how involvement in the program influenced their identities and imagined communities (Kanno & Norton, 2003). Data were collected through participation in a six-month family literacy program and additional follow up for six-months post-program completion. Findings demonstrate how learner investment enhanced the range of possibilities available to the participants both socially and academically, which were predicated on dialogue and instruction that validated their life-worlds (Auerbach, 2001; Freire, 1981). In addition to learning literacy skills, the participants shared ideas, hopes, and advice during the program. Motherhood unified this diverse group and drew them to the program in order to become adult learners (Duckworth & Smith, 2018). The participants expressed the view that immigrant and refugee background parents need to acquire new parenting skills when they arrive in a new country by ascribing meaning to new practices through active, situated, and reflective approaches to learning (Mezirow, 1991; New London Group, 1996). In supporting these parents, the family literacy program paid particular attention to the dilemmas the participants faced in their new society, resulting in expanded and positive mothering identities (Rizk, 2019). In particular, the study revealed that the program offered the mothers a space to network with facilitators and other mothers, creating a “family” outside of their traditional families. The study concluded that a three-way model of family literacy has the potential for highly positive outcomes for immigrant and refugee background mothers. This model includes (i) a home-to-program feature, generated by the mothers’ experiences and needs, (ii) a program-to-home feature, which includes elements of the curriculum and material for home use, and (iii) a family-to-family feature, whereby the mothers build relationships and share resources in a safe and caring space.

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