Editor’s note: In celebration of National Family Literacy Month®, NCFL Director of Family Literacy, Dr. Anna Kaiper-Marquez, joined with World Education Director of Digital Learning and Research, Dr. Jen Vanek, to consider the crucial need to include digital literacy learning opportunities as part of family literacy programming.
The pace of digital innovation has been on a fast track for decades, and is putting ever more pressure on adult workers, learners, and parents to develop skills to keep up (Digital Resilience in the American Workforce [DRAW], 2022; Kulkarni et al., 2017). The need is great. An estimated 32 million Americans struggle to use a computer, and half of all Americans say they are not confident using technology to learn (Pawlowski & and Mamedova, 2018). This challenge has become even more imperative since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when adults needed to draw on digital skills to stay connected to families, succeed at schooling and work, and accomplish tasks that had previously been done in person.
Adult education and family literacy providers stepped up in many ways to ensure that individual and family educational success did not get neglected (Belzer et al., 2022; Smith & Teater, 2022; Clymer et al., 2022; Vanek & Goumas, 2021). However, the continually changing role of technology in the lives of learners and families highlighted the importance of considering digital literacy as a key component within a range of literacies needed to support individual and social equity. As providers, we cannot say we are supporting the development of literacy for families’ improved educational, economic, and individual well-being without also integrating digital literacy into our programming. This post explores this view by highlighting emerging work on supporting “multiple literacies” for adult and family literacy. It also ties this innovative perspective to the digital and family literacy work that both World Education (WE) and the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) are doing to support the needs of adults, children, and families.
Recognition that digital literacy skill-building is an essential element of any learning experience today was highlighted in the recently published White Paper on Multiple Literacies for Individual and Collective Empowerment by The Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (ALL IN). Both NCFL and WE are proud partners in this network which, among other things, champions an approach to adult and family learning that fosters growth in “multiple literacies.” These literacies represent the multitude of skills needed to engage in information-oriented tasks in diverse and often digital contexts, including civics literacy; health literacy; financial literacy; information literacy; and of course, digital literacy (Cacacio et al., 2023). A view of literacies beyond print reading and writing provides context for understanding how to support learners with future literacy needs—needs which include the “means of identifying, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast changing world” (UNESCO, 2023). It also highlights an asset-based approach to literacies that recognizes the various home literacies playing a role in knowledge production (e.g., Liu & Chung, 2022).
The key to all this work is the need to foster the digital resilience of adult learners and families.
Digital resilience, “the awareness, skills, agility, and confidence to be empowered users of new technologies and adapt to changing digital skill demands” (Digital US, 2020), is vital in supporting the multiple literacy needs of children and families. The Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW) initiative helps adult education providers and practitioners better support learners who struggle to succeed with digital tasks to achieve digital resilience. This Office for Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) funded initiative, led by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and WE, offers professional development resources that help educators design and implement learner-focused digital skills instruction and support services by offering flexible, evidence-based, and piloted strategies and materials to support the development of digital resilience of adult learners.
The DRAW initiative began with a landscape scan that unearthed findings on which the PD resources are built. These findings include the need to integrate digital skills instruction into academic learning; the imperative to support access to digital devices and internet access; the provision of digital skills instruction through relevant contexts, strengths-based approaches, and a variety of instructional modes; and the importance of leveraging digital skills frameworks and assessment to identify prioritized skills and learner progress (DRAW, 2022).
The full suite of PD resources will soon be available on the LINCS DRAW site. Currently, anyone can access several of them, including:
- The Digital Skills Library. The Digital Skills Library is an open repository of free learning resources designed to help all adult learners develop the digital skills needed to achieve their personal, civic, educational, and career goals. The free resources were curated and evaluated by teachers working together in a service-learning experience called the Edtech Maker Space. Resources are available in five languages.
- The Digital Skills Glossary. Teachers can draw on this set of open vocabulary-based resources to help learners develop the language skills needed to ask questions and follow instructions in support of digital skill building. The Glossary was created through an Edtech Maker Space where adult education teachers gathered to identify relevant vocabulary needed to communicate about digital skills, and then worked together to create customizable Google Slides organized using the Frayer Model and design activities for building vocabulary.
- Preview Draft: A Playbook for Fostering Digital Resilience in Adult Education. The scenarios shared in this short publication illustrate how teachers can integrate digital skills instruction into highly relevant academic content, specifically: workforce preparation, health literacy, financial literacy, and civics. Each scenario describes a lesson that integrates digital literacy instruction with a “resilience” approach by including an example of an “edtech routine”, an instructional routine that promotes proficiency of a digital technology or digital skill through relevant and repeated practice.
Linking Digital Resilience and Family Literacy
Digital resilience, self-efficacy, and social empowerment go together. One way to foster forms of empowerment for adults and families is through NCFL’s four-component model of family literacy. In alignment with federal law, NCFL defines family literacy as a continuum of services that address the multigenerational nature of literacy. Family literacy programming integrates (1) interactive literacy activities between parents and children; (2) support in parenting activities; (3) parent or family adult education and literacy activities that lead to readiness for postsecondary education or training, career advancement, economic self-sufficiency, and personal goal attainment; and (4) age-appropriate education to prepare children for success in school and life experiences (NCFL, 2023). This model of intergenerational programming has been found to lead to increased parent involvement in at-home family literacy behaviors, increased parent engagement in their children’s schools, and improved student attendance. It has also led to feelings of self-efficacy and social empowerment for adults/parents (Cramer, 2016). However, with technology becoming increasingly integrated into schools, jobs, and life, family efficacy and empowerment will only continue to develop by infusing digital literacy skills into all family and adult learning. By integrating these skills into family literacy programs, we can foreseeably build digital resilience for adults, parents, and families thereby increasing individual empowerment and social equity for this population of learners.
Moving Forward Together
The ongoing work of NCFL and WE to ensure all families have access to digital literacy skills highlights the vital connections between family literacy and digital literacy. It also reveals how integrating a focus on digital resilience into family literacy programming makes empowerment possible in the digital age.
We invite you to partner with NCFL and World Education to take part in emerging conversations on adult education, family literacy, and digital resilience and discuss ways that we can comprehensively integrate notions of multiple literacies into all adult and family literacy initiatives moving forward. Contact Dr. Jen Vanek (email@example.com) and Dr. Anna Kaiper Marquez (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information on the intersections of these initiatives.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr. Jen Vanek is a researcher, teacher educator, and professional learning facilitator who focuses on digital literacy, online learning, classroom technology integration, and English literacy and language learning. She directs communities of practice that support adult education researchers, practitioners, and administrators as they develop educational opportunities for adult learners. Jen has collaborated in research and technical assistance projects with a diverse range of scholars and policy leaders. She is co-principal investigator on US Department of Education/Institute for Education Sciences research projects exploring technology use in adult education and a long-time partner of the Literacy, and Technology Research Group at Portland State University, exploring characteristics of effective 21C workplace learning.
Dr. Anna Kaiper-Marquez is the Director of Family Literacy at NCFL. Her professional and research interests include adult and family language and literacy research and practice, English language learning and literacy in international contexts, and language practices and methodologies in the Global South. Anna received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology-Based Human Relations at Connecticut College, CT; her master’s degree in Urban and Special Education at Mercy College, NY; and her Ph.D. in Comparative and International Development Education at University of Minnesota, MN. Anna is a former middle school special education teacher as well as an adult high school equivalency and English language instructor. In her spare time, Anna loves karaoke, traveling nationally and internationally, trying new foods, and having dance parties with her family.
Belzer, A., Leon, T., Patterson, M., Salas‐Isnardi, F., Vanek, J., & Webb, C. (2022). From rapid emergency response to scaling and sustaining innovation: Adult foundational education in the time of COVID‐19. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2022(173-174), 81-91. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ace.20454
Cacicio, S., Coate, P., Bigger, K. (2023). Investing in Multiple Literacies for individual and collective empowerment. Adult Literacy and Learning Impact Network (All In). https://allinliteracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/Investing-in-Multiple-Literacies-for-Individual-and-Collective-Empowerment.pdf
Clymer, C., Kaiper-Marquez, A., & McLean, E. (2022). Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on family literacy programs in Philadelphia: Lessons from a multiyear evaluation. COABE Journal: The Resource for Adult Education.
Cramer, J. (2016). From theory to outcomes: NCFL’s two-generation movement for families. National Center for Families Learning (NCFL).
Cumings Smith, F., & Teater, T. (2022). Illuminating the power of family literacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. COABE Journal: The Resource for Adult Education.
Devi, J. S., Sreedhar, M. B., Arulprakash, P., Kazi, K., & Radhakrishnan, R. (2022). A path towards child-centric artificial intelligence based education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 14(3), 9915-9922.
Digital Resilience in the American Workforce (DRAW). (2022). LINCS | Adult Education and Literacy | U.S. Department of Education. https://lincs.ed.gov/state-resources/federal-initiatives/draw
Digital US. (2020). Building a digitally resilient workforce: Creating on-ramps to opportunity. https://digitalus.org/download/
Kulkarni, S., Liu, S., Muro, M and Whiton, J. (2017). Digitalization and the American workforce. Brookings. www.brookings.edu/research/digitalization-and-the-americanworkforce.
Liu, C., & Chung, K. K. H. (2022). Effects of fathers’ and mothers’ expectations and home literacy involvement on their children's cognitive–linguistic skills, vocabulary, and word reading. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 60, 1-12.
NCFL (2023). Setting the foundation for learning success: A brief on family literacy. https://www.familieslearning.org/uploads/media_gallery/FLC60x30Family_Literacy_Brief_5.pdf
Pawlowski E. and Mamedova, S. (2018). A description of U.S. adults who are not digitally literate. National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfoasp?pubid=2018161;
Vanek, J., and Goumas, J. (2021). Highlighting innovative practitioner uses of digital technologies in adult foundational skills instruction. Center for the Study of Adult Literacy. https://s3.us-west-2.amazonaws.com/us-west-2.files.campus.edublogs.org/sites.gsu.edu/dist/c/18792/files/2021/12/CSAL-Session-1-Vanek-and-Goumas-2021-508c.pdf
Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.
Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities
William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust
NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.
Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust
Dollar General Literacy Foundation
The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with
NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy
resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.
The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.
Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation
PNC Grow Up Great
PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.
PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.
NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great
U.S. Department of Education
Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania.
The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.Foundation Website