superdumb supervillain: What I Learned at the NCFL

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I Learned at the NCFL

There was a lot of information to absorb at the National Conference on Family Literacy, which might be why it's taken me so long to process it all and write down my thoughts. I've been home for a little over a week and mulled over the messages I heard from educators from across the country and from the excellent speakers.* One consistent theme emerged: parents are a child's first and most important teachers. They need to be reminded of that and given the tools to help them become more engaged in that role.

I truly believe that is why the NCFL invited me to experience their annual event: parents need to realize that they are teachers. It's a simple message and perhaps obvious to some of us, who were lucky enough to grow up in families that cherished books and school and the concept of lifetime learning. It's easy to take that for granted but many don't have that background. Some parents may have struggled in school and don't think they have anything to teach their child in the realm of academia. Other parents might speak English as a second language and feel insecure about their contributions in American schools. Many children don't have parents in their lives and their caregivers are uncertain of their place in the classroom. The NCFL works with families to raise the collective bar of achievement. By empowering parents and caregivers to become active participants in the community of learning, the children are given a better opportunity to succeed. It's a win-win situation. Confident, engaged parents make for happier, more engaged kids and also stronger, more educated communities. The concept of family literacy is explained on the NCFL website:
What is family literacy? Essentially, it’s a practical solution that addresses the root of devastating social problems: low literacy rates and poverty.

The family literacy approach offers whole families educational opportunities so that every member is able to improve literacy and life skills. It is based upon the simple, but powerful premise that parents and children learn best when learning together. The benefits span generations: both parents and their children build essential skills to learn and compete in today’s economy.

Breaking it down, literacy is the catalyst that inspires families and communities to raise the achievement bar. Families act as the conduit for long lasting, meaningful change. By intertwining these two concepts, NCFL has developed a winning strategy to work with families, communities and dedicated partners that brings about change to ensure that parents and children achieve their goals for success.

Time and again, family literacy proves to break down other barriers to success, such as poverty, unemployment, poor health and inadequate housing. When parents struggle with literacy and basic life skills, their children have fewer chances for success. Family literacy reverses this destructive cycle by giving families the tools they need to thrive today, and most importantly, by helping them educate generations of tomorrow.

In addition to their many community projects and initiatives, NCFL hopes to reach out to individual families in their own homes. They are a major resource for the website, which offers a wealth of educational and literacy resources for students, parents and after-school programs including lesson plans for K-12 as well as interactive tools and reference materials. I love that they have harnessed the power of the internet to bring resources such as the Smithsonian archives to younger kids and make it fun. One example is using the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to make word art. I was tickled to see a demo of this at the NCFL conference and surprised at how many audience members had not used Wordle before! Obviously, we have to get the word out about online literacy resources.

I was so honored and excited to be given this chance to learn more about the NCFL and hope to work with them more in the future. Hopefully more parent bloggers will be in attendance at next year's conference to learn more and spread the word about family literacy.

*I mentioned many of the speakers in my NCFL recap post but the final day's speakers were fabulous, too. Sir Ken Robinson was erudite and drily hilarious in a way that only British people seem to be. He spoke about the perceived rift between intelligence and creativity and the importance of realizing that they have a symbiotic relationship. Monica Holloway managed to simultaneously elicit giggles and tears with the story of her son's diagnosis of autism and the puppy who helped change his life. I was sorry to have to leave for the airport before her book signing.

Disclosure: My travel, lodging and conference expenses were provided. I am grateful to Collective Bias and the National Center for Family Literacy for this opportunity to keep learning.


  1. So inspiring! I think Sir Ken would have been a hoot to hear.

    Will you be doing anything with your schools as a result of this, like reading groups or organizing events?

  2. Hi Naomi: It was fun to meet you at the NCFL! I am going to share your blog and comments with our Family Literacy Programs (15 programs in every borough of New York City) tomorrow in our last workshop before the summer break.

    It's a program/teacher share which should cover alot of ground and ideas---ranging from the challenges encountered in running a successful program to innovative practices in the program's instructional components (Adult Ed, Children's Ed, Parent and Children Time - PACT and Parent Resource Time). Will keep you posted!

    Laura Grulich
    Coordinator of Family Education Programming
    NYC Department of Youth and Community Development


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