National Writing Project

Engaging Parents Beyond Back-to-School Night

Date: November 1, 2010

Summary: National Family Literacy Day, November 1, focuses on special activities and events that showcase the importance of family literacy programs. NWP offers these resources to help parents, educators, and students celebrate the effort.


For today's educators, the day when "parent involvement" in a school meant nothing more than a mother providing brownies for a class party and attending an occasional PTA meeting seems like ancient history. Even the classic parent-teacher conference, valuable as it may be, has been rethought in an era of when many parents are working two jobs and odd shifts.

For many years now, beginning with the work of Milwaukee Writing Project Director Jim Vopat and others in the 1990s, the National Writing Project has been a leader in facilitating communication between families and schools through writing.

National Family Literacy Day, first held in 1994, focuses nationwide attention on the family-school partnership. Officially celebrated on November 1, the literacy celebration is honored with numerous events held throughout the month of November. Schools, libraries, and other literacy organizations participate through read-a-thons, celebrity appearances, book drives, and more.

As the collection of descriptive essays below illustrates, NWP teachers have long done their part to promote literacy in November and beyond, putting to work family literacy nights, family journals, shared family homework assignments, student-parent dialogues, and family writing projects to create structures that, as teacher-consultant Dolores Perez writes, "reaffirm the value of the parents' role as part of a triad made up of the school, the community, and the home."

These alternatives to traditional parent-school relationships create an environment where, according to teacher-consultant Valerie Diane Bolling, "the child can become the teacher, the parent the learner, and the teacher the friend."

NWP Resources

Literacy in the Welcoming Classroom: Creating Family-School Partnerships that Support Student Learning

National Writing Project and Teachers College Press, 2010
JoBeth Allen
With a focus on literacy instruction, the book showcases stories of "what works" when teachers in elementary school classrooms throughout the country partner with families across cultural and language differences.

Inviting Families into the Classroom: Learning from a Life in Teaching

National Writing Project and Teachers College Press, 2010
Lynne Yermanock Strieb
Teachers need to read books by other teachers, yet there are few available on the important subject of parent-teacher relationships. Lynne Yermanock Strieb fills the gap with this engaging account of her 30-year career teaching children in urban classrooms.

NWP Collaborates to Publish Early Literacy Activity Book—Our Book By Us!/Nuestro Libro ¡Hecho Por Nosotros!

This hands-on book for preschoolers provides parents and caregivers with a resource in English and Spanish that engages young children in reading and writing to support their early literacy development.

The Family Writing Project: Creating Space for Sustaining Teacher Identity

English Journal, 2008
Marilyn McKinney, Rosemary Holmes-Gull, Saralyn Lasley
The writers, all with the Southern Nevada Writing Project, argue that family writing projects help develop a writing culture, nurture authentic writing and democratic practice, build relationships between students and teachers, counter teacher burnout, and help develop teacher leadership. More ›

Voces del Corazón: Voices from the Heart

The Quarterly, 2005
Dolores S. Perez
NWP Project Outreach member Dolores Perez was committed to facilitating, in her low-income community, the project's goals of "access, relevance, and diversity." Her pursuit of these goals led to Family Literacy Night. More ›

No More Fear and Loathing: The Family Writing Project in Las Vegas

The Quarterly, 2004
Arthur Kelly
Arthur Kelly, who created a family writing project to involve busy parents in their children's education, answers questions about starting a family writing project and describes activities he uses to get families writing together. More ›

The Family Writing Project Builds a Learning Community in Connecticut

The Quarterly, 2004
Valerie Diane Bolling
Connecticut teacher Valerie Diane Bolling describes how, through NWP's Project Outreach, she learned of the Family Writing Project in Nevada and used this structure to help her school strengthen literacy and increase parent involvement. More ›

"Let's Talk": Building a Bridge Between Home and School

The Quarterly, 2001
Catherine Humphrey
High school teacher Catherine Humphrey describes what happened when she began asking students to discuss classroom ideas at home, and offers some tips for promoting quality verbal interaction. More ›

Parent Homework Bridges the Teacher-Student Gap

The Voice, 2000
Mary Buckelew
Mary Buckelew uses parent homework to personally connect with her students and their families. More ›

You and Me and a Book Makes Three: Students Write Collaborative Book Reviews

The Quarterly, 1999
Bernadette Lambert
Bernadette Lambert describes a project in which students and parents share and write about the same book. More ›


National Writing Project, 1996
These two chapters from Cityscapes feature ideas to make connections with parents for K-12 teachers who work with urban youth, as well as other teachers who work in a multicultural environment.

The Parent Project

Stenhouse Publishers, 1994
Jim Vopat
Jim Vopat believes that parental involvement should strengthen the link between home and school, and to achieve this goal parents need to be introduced to the revitalized school classroom. The Parent Project calls on the most powerful aspects of school reform—workshops, journals, cooperative groups, shared reading, agenda building, interviewing, goal setting, and critical thinking, which are classroom learning strategies experienced by children every day to provide a framework for getting parents involved. More ›

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