Programs to help parents support their children’s literacy

In 1990 in response to a NSW government initiative in the International Year of Literacy, I applied for, and was granted provided with $85,000 to develop a program designed to improve home school relationships between two selected pilot schools and their communities – one in Western Sydney and the other in Newcastle. The program that resulted from this initiative was Talk to a Literacy Learner (TTALL).  Following the successful development and evaluation of TTALL two further programs were developed with separate funding, the first was designed to provide support to parents of secondary aged children (Effective Partners in Secondary Literacy Learning) and the second was designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences by TTALL graduates with other parents (Parent Partnership Program).


The Talk to a Literacy Learner Program was devised for parents and aimed to provide them with greater insights into the rules of the game that govern school.  It is has been used in an estimated 1,000 schools in Australia and overseas. It has been evaluated and has been shown to have positive outcomes for students and parents and leads to the building of more effective relationships between home and school (see TTALL Articles).

The program involves 16 two-hour interactive workshops presented by a trained teacher over an 8 week period. The format can be varied (e.g. it can be done in 4 weeks, or sessions can be reduced in length).  Each session involves input concerning literacy and learning, discussion, demonstration of literacy support strategies, practice of strategies and reflection on session experiences. The program is self contained and includes complete facilitator notes, parent handbook masters, a supporting DVD and reference material.

This program was shaped by a number of guiding assumptions:

•Student literacy can be accelerated if parents place a high priority on a range of experiences with reading and writing.

•Students within the school system who experience literacy difficulties can be assisted through a range of support strategies implemented by parents.

•Students who experience literacy problems require increased opportunities to read and write, opportunities which cannot be provided in school time.

•Literacy standards have a direct impact on employment prospects, life chances and individual self-esteem.

The project was concerned with the design and implementation of a specific educational program that sought to:

•Raise parental participation in the literacy activities of their children.

•Improve the quality of the literacy interactions adults have with children as they read and write.

•Train community resource people who could be deployed in a wide range of community literacy activities.

•Raise community expectations concerning literacy and education.

•Serve as a catalyst for a variety of community-based literacy initiatives.

The content of the program covers 7 broad topic areas:

•Topic 1    Learning

•Topic 2   The Reading Process

•Topic 3   Supporting the Reader

•Topic 4   Using the Library

•Topic 5   The Writing Process

•Topic 6   Supporting the writer

•Topic 7  Research writing

The program was first used in schools in 1992 and is still in use.


 The Effective Partners in Secondary Literacy Learning was an outgrowth of the Talk to a Literacy Learner Program (TTALL). The EPISLL project was funded by the Metropolitan West Disadvantaged Schools Program and the University of Western Sydney.  It was developed in response to the former TTALL parents’ need for assistance with their secondary aged children.

The program format is similar to that for TTALL and involves 12 interactive two-hour sessions over a period of approximately 6 weeks. The content of the program covers 3 broad topic areas:

•Topic 1  The Student

•Topic 2  The Student As a Learner

•Topic 3  The Student and Study

The program was introduced into the schools in 1993 and since then over 100 schools have used the program including some in New Zealand, Northern Ireland and the USA.


The Parent Partnership Program  was an outgrowth of the Talk To as Literacy Learner Program ( TTALL) and was designed, in 1995 as a vehicle to enable parents who has completed TTALL to share their insights and experiences gained as part of this program with other parents. This program has now been implemented in approximately 50 schools.  Parents have been keen to do it but schools seem less ready to take that bold step to have parents talk with parents.  Parents are trained to share their insights from TTALL with friends, neighbours and family members over 4-6 one hour sessions held in their home. The parents are provided with information resource sheets that they use to guide the informal sessions with other parents. The program allows the parent facilitator to choose between 4 and 6 topics from a possible 8. These topics include:

 •Session 1  Supporting the Reader and Writer

•Session 2  Reading Together

•Session 3  Reading at Home

•Session 4.  Books to share

•Session 5.  Paired Reading

•Session 6.  Help you Child to Learn to Write

•Session 7  Projects

•Session 8.  Learning Through Play

 Can I still obtain any of these programs?

 The answer is yes.  All programs are still available from me at:

Professor Trevor Cairney
New College
University of New South Wales
Sydney NSW  2052
Phone: 02 9381 1999 (in Australia)