Family literacy in the francophone community
by Jacqueline Chartier
In the late 1990s, Margo Fauchon was the provincial coordinator
for francophone literacy programs in Alberta. She faced many of the
same issues and challenges as those practising in English-language
literacy programs, but knew about the uniqueness of the francophone
situation in Alberta and throughout western Canada. Of Alberta’s
2.9 million inhabitants, approximately 560,000 have a mother tongue
other than English. Francophones make up slightly over 2 per cent
of the population (58,645 according to the 2001 census).
Fauchon strove to raise awareness of the history, demographics and
geography of the francophone population in Alberta, and the impact
that such factors have on planning and implementing French literacy
services. “My work to sensitize the general public and lobby
key individuals within the education department helped to make people
more open to francophones communicating and learning in their mother
tongue,” she said.
During this period, Fauchon became intrigued by an innovative family
literacy program that had originally been developed in English. While
attending a conference, she met Laureen MacKenzie and Elaine Cairns,
the Calgary-based creators of Literacy and Parenting Skills (LAPS).
Fauchon saw a strong need for a family literacy program in French
and sensed that the LAPS curriculum could be successfully translated
The original LAPS manual, published in the fall of 1996, outlines
twelve sessions based on the needs and concerns relevant to parents,
such as building children’s self-esteem, positive discipline
and anger management. By 1999, the LAPS program was well established
throughout English Canada. The LAPS team had developed an English-as-a-second-language
(ESL) version and an Aboriginal version. These adaptations reflected
cross-cultural approaches and cultural sensitivity appropriate to
the participants. Most significantly, two new sessions had been added
to deal with concerns specific to ESL and Aboriginal participants:
Passing on Our Values and Dealing with the School. Fauchon was impressed.
Meanwhile, Laureen MacKenzie and Elaine Cairns had been approached
by some French-speaking parents who wanted LAPS materials redesigned
for the francophone population. In response, the pair consulted informally
with francophone literacy practitioners from various regions of Canada.
The results were exciting, and validated the fact that there is a
widespread demand for family literacy services. In addition to their
more conventional clients, practitioners frequently mentioned dealing
with clients who were educated but whose French skills were poor.
They also noted that in the past decade a greater number of parents
have been enrolling their children in French first language and French
immersion schools. Consequently, there was an increasing need for
parents to improve their own reading and writing skills in French
so that they could be directly involved in their children’s
education and better support their children’s learning.
About two years after Fauchon first met MacKenzie and Cairns, a
formal partnership was launched. Funding from the National Literacy
Secretariat supported a nationwide French version of LAPS to be called
Grandir avec mon enfants—LAPS. The partners in the project
were the Further Education Society of Alberta, Bow Valley College,
the Centre d’educatif communautaire de l’Alberta and
Eduk, another provincial francophone organization.
Louise Joly of Saint Paul, Alberta, working in close association
with the original authors, adapted the content to address francophone
needs. She also developed a manual that embraced the philosophy and
integrity of the original program. Like Fauchon, she was delighted
with the overall content of the English Literacy and Parenting Skills
program and was anxious to see how it would be received in various
francophone communities. “It’s a strength-based program,” Joly
explained. “It builds on the strengths parents have already
instead of focusing on their shortcomings.”
At this stage, the Grandir team interviewed practitioners in a cross-section
of community settings across Canada. They received valuable input
about the target audience. The adapted version therefore addresses
the needs of francophone and francophile parents in all regions of
Canada who are interested in improving their parenting and literacy
skills. This group has many common elements as parents and francophones.
They also have different socio-economic, geographic and cultural
needs. Certain people are isolated and feel the need to meet with
other francophones to share and discuss their parental role. Others
face numerous challenges in maintaining their language and culture,
while others want to improve their literacy skills.
The next phase was to select sites in which to pilot the fledgling
program. In 2001, Grandir was piloted in francophone communities
in four provinces: two sites in New Brunswick, one site in Ontario
(Ottawa), one site in Manitoba (Saint-Laurent) and one site in Alberta
The Grandir team hired an outside evaluator to solicit feedback
and document participants’ responses. The outside evaluators
found that participants were very satisfied with their progress on
a personal level. They felt more confident in their roles as readers
and writers. For example, one participant stated that after having
completed the program his vocabulary had improved. Another stated
that because of her participation in the program, she felt more motivated
to improve her reading and writing skills in French. The participants
also felt more confident in their role as parents.
With demand for the new Grandir program high, the current issue
is providing enough qualified facilitators. While Margo Fauchon has
moved on to other projects, Louise Joly is recruiting and training
individuals to facilitate the program. The partnership between Further
Education Society of Alberta and Centre d’educatif communautaire
de l’Alberta no longer exists but has evolved into a new partnership.
Today the Further Education Society of Alberta is collaborating with
Eduk with support from the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS). Partenariat
Interministeriel Avec Les Communautes de Langue Officielle (PICLO)
has joined NLS in supporting this latest Grandir project. Louise
Joly intends to have thirty or forty trained facilitators throughout
Canada by the end of 2004.
Today, members of the Grandir team look back on the creation of
Grandir avec mon enfant–LAPS with pride and look forward to
its future. There is a sense of accomplishment and a tremendous degree
of enthusiasm for what they have produced. Perhaps a statement from
their final report summarizes it best:
To our knowledge, there exists no other program in French that offers
parents the possibility of improving reading, writing and parenting
skills in one comprehensive program.
Sidebar: Researching Family Literacy
Learning Together: Read and Write with Your Child Program is a six-year
longitudinal study of the effectiveness of family literacy programs.
It started in 2000 and aims to discover whether participating in
the Learning Together program benefits (1) children’s literacy
development, (2) parents’ literacy development, and (3) parents’ ability
to assist in the development of their children’s literacy.
This is the only experimental longitudinal study of adult and family
literacy in the world. The goal of Learning Together is to demonstrate
that appropriate interventions can make a positive difference, particularly
for children that have a limited language and literacy experiences.
Results from the study will be released in 2006.
The Learning Together program is an outreach program offered by
Alberta’s Centre for Family Literacy in public schools and
community literacy organizations in Edmonton and two outlying communities,
Millet and Wetaskiwin. It targets children who are three to five
and their lower-income parents with less than a grade twelve education.
The research is led by Linda Phillips and Ruth Hayden at the Centre
for Research on Literacy at the University of Alberta. Sponsored
by Alberta Learning, The Canadian Language and Literacy Research
Network, and the National Literacy Secretariat, the research is now
into its fifth year. Approximately half of the preschool children
and their parents have had the opportunity to engage in the Learning
Together program for three half days each week over twelve weeks.
The remaining 112 children and their parents make up the control
group and do not participate in the program. Rather, they get on
with what they normally do each day.
Three doctoral students and eight research assistants assessed the
literacy skills of children and their parents before taking the Learning
Together program. After completing the program, parents are interviewed
and assessed each year on their attitudes toward literacy and the
kinds of activities they participate in with their children. The
same interviews and assessments are conducted each year with parents
in the control group.
The research team is also assessing whether the program has had
a positive impact on the children, most of who are now in kindergarten
and grade one.
The data from the standardized tests administered to the children
and adults will be used to measure the effects of the intervention.
The regular interviews and observational data will be used to complement
the quantitative data to offer a more complete and robust picture
of the Learning Together program and the lives of the families. To
date, we have learned from the qualitative data that it is critical
to understand that many of these families live difficult and complex
lives, to listen to what the families have to say about their wishes,
hopes and dreams for their children, and to rethink the importance
of home/school collaboration for sustained literacy development.
For more information about the research, contact the Centre for
Research on Literacy at the University of Alberta (www.nald.ca/crl.htm).