Effects of family literacy programs on the emergent literacy skills of children from low-SES families: A meta-analysis

Effects of family literacy programs on the emergent literacy skills of children from low-SES families: A meta-analysis

By José L. Arco-Tirado, Faculty of Education, University of Granada (Spain)

A recent meta-analysis published in the Review of Educational Research has synthesized the findings of family literacy programs (FLPs) on the emergent literacy skills of children from low socioeconomic status families, as well as which program, sample, study, and measurement characteristics moderate program effects.

Although previous meta-analyses conclude that on average, FLPs’ effects are generally positive, they differ in their conclusions for low-SES families and other marginalized groups. So, drawing from previous meta-analyses of FLPs, the authors identified the following program characteristics or (potential) moderators to be analyzed: a) Content and nature (i.e., activity type -particularly, the distinction between formal and informal activities-, program focus -comprehension- and/or code-related skills-, possibilities for differentiation in program content and language, inclusion of other skills, combination with center-/school-based activities, and inclusion of digital materials); b) Organization and Delivery (i.e., setting -home and/or center or school-, trainer type -professional and/or paraprofessional-, use of modelling and guided practice, and dosage); c) Sample Characteristics (i.e., family immigrant status or membership of a sociocultural minority group); d) Study Characteristics (i.e., publication source – published or unpublished-, study design -experiments with individual, children or families as units of assignment, or quasi-experiments and implementation quality); and e) Measurement Characteristics (i.e., immediately after program participation or in a delayed, follow-up test).

The review included 48 studies of 42 programs. The results of the analysis of the overall effects reveal a small, positive effect (ES = 0.41). This result aligns with previous meta-analyses results, and indicates that investing in a stimulating home environment by means of FLPs can positively affect the literacy development of children from low-SES families, particularly in the short term.

Moderator analyses appear to indicate that children benefit more from a targeted than from a comprehensive approach, implying that “less is more”. Programs that focus on a limited set of activities (particularly shared reading), that do not combine home activities with center- or school-based activities, that only target literacy skills, and that are restricted to one training setting (either home or center/school) yielded the largest effects.

In sum, this meta-analysis supports the hypothesis that children’s literacy development can be promoted by making changes in their home literacy environments and that this is also true for children from low-SES families.

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