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How to Recognize and Support Parents/Guardians with Low-Literacy

by Janet Lee Stinson

How to Recognize and Support Parents/Guardians with Low-LiteracyI have travelled to dozens of schools and spoken to hundreds of teachers who are shocked to learn that low-literacy is an issue in their communities. Think about the parents of your students and consider these signs of low-literacy in your community.

  Unreturned phone calls and unanswered agenda notes

  Low attendance at PTA functions

  Children complete and sign forms

  The adult always forgets their glasses at meetings

If these signs seem familiar, then you may need to consider how you will support the parents/guardians in your community who struggle with low literacy.

Forms and Letters Home-

A handwritten note is often difficult for anyone to read especially when we write it in a hurry. So, why not have students record messages on their phones or prepare to describe the newsletter in a dinner conversation? Carve out some time at the end of your day for a short phone call home. This gesture (even if you just leave a friendly voice message) will build trust and understanding. For important announcements, suggest that your Principal set up the phone system to call all the homes of the community.

No Attendance

Do not assume that the parents/guardians are uncaring because they do not attend functions at the school. Maybe they are reluctant to return to the place that was so negative for them as children. Maybe they fear you will ask them to fill out a survey or speak in front of others. Forge a personal relationship with parents by personally inviting these parents over the phone and assuring them that you will be there to welcome them when they arrive.

Tip from a Mentor-Always always always have food at school functions! Having food available will take the focus off of the anxiety of being at the school building for parents with low-literacy. For the cost of a muffin and coffee, your community will relax and understand that we are all on the same team for the success of our children. 

Completing Forms

Do not ask your community to fill out forms in front of you. Adults with low-literacy are often ashamed of their own handwriting because it is childish and unsteady. Be discreet about helping certain parents. Fill out most of the form before giving out copies. Explain the purpose of the form and assure parents about what they are signing. Asking parents to read a loud during functions will only humiliate and expose adults in front of their neighbours, friends, and children.

The most important part about supporting adults with low-literacy is to strive for a connection during the first months of the school year. Building trust with these parents/guardians could change their lives for the better. It could also make all the difference for the child who is surviving by supporting and protecting their beloved caring adult.

How do you recognize and support the adults with low literacy in your community? What difference does it make?


Janet Lee

Janet Lee has been an English teacher/Department Chair, Adult literacy advocate with Arnie Stewart, Nipissing University Reading Part 3 Instructor, Student Success Literacy Consultant, and Nelson Literacy 7-10 instructional writer and media specialist. Janet Lee enjoys maintaining her blog  This Side of the Mirror-A Journey Through Reflection  to inspire teachers and address practical issues in education. 


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  • http://corriganeducation.ca Kathleen Corrigan

    Remember that messages on an answering machine need to be short and clear. If literacy levels are low it is very hard to take notes of details.