Immigrant Latinos’ cultural model of literacy development: An evolving perspective on home-school discontinuities

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Citation: L. Reese, R. Gallimore (2000/2) Immigrant Latinos’ cultural model of literacy development: An evolving perspective on home-school discontinuities. American Journal of Education (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Immigrant Latinos’ cultural model of literacy development: An evolving perspective on home-school discontinuities
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) Education (RSS)




Reese and Gallimore (2000) are concerned with academic achievement of Latino minority students in America. For this extensive longitudinal study, they draw primarily from the cultural model hypothesis, a largely unconscious mental framework of shared beliefs, values, ideals, expectations, and avoidances. The authors examine a cultural model of immigrant Latino models of children’s early literacy development, unpacking home-school discontinuity theories, and seeking within group variation. This includes parental beliefs regarding the age of reason, reading to young children, and goal function for the role of the parent regarding early literacy. Reese and Gallimore explore the mechanisms for literacy model development and eventual adjustment by exploring distal factors, such as rancho upbringing and town education in rural Mexico, and proximal factors regarding interactions between immigrant Latino parents, children, and teachers in the United States.

Research goals

This article reports a follow-up to the cultural model hypothesis (Reese, Goldenberg, et al., 1995) and has two goals:

(1) Describe immigrant Latinos’ cultural model of literacy, its origin, and changes in this model associated with immigration and experiences with U.S. schools

(2) Present a more nuanced perspective of home-school discontinuities that allows for within-group variation and dynamic change across time.


All the parents were first-generation immigrants (the majority from Mexico) living in America for at least 10 years. Most (75%) of the kindergartners were born in America. All the kindergartners were dominant speakers of Spanish, randomly selected from two different Los Angeles districts. For the ethnographic sample (n = 10 families, with children placed in bilingual classrooms), Spanish-speaking field-workers observed children’s activities at home biweekly for one school year, attending to literacy activities, and videotaping the final session, where parents showed how they read with their children. The case study sample (n = 29 families with children placed in either Spanish or English programs) was drawn from a larger longitudinal sample of 121 families. Each case study was interviewed at home several times each year for 10 years by Spanish-speaking interviewers who followed a standard protocol, but the rest of the 121 families were surveyed only once at home and thereafter twice-yearly, by telephone, in Spanish. Parents were questioned about aspirations and expectations for their child’s education and future, understanding of reading proficiency, home literacy-learning practices, perceptions of academic progress, relationships with teachers, etc.

Key findings

The immigrant Latino parents shared a common view of literacy development that was forged in their own native experiences and that influenced how they interact with their children prior to formal schooling. Although there were minor within-group differences resulting primarily from the parent’s and grandparent’s childhood (rancho or town upbringing in Mexico), parents conceptualized reading as something that is learned through repeated practice after formal schooling begins at age 5 or 6, the perceived age of reason. Parents did not perceive themselves as literacy teachers and did not see the need to read to young children, but if they did so, it was for moral development through Bible stories. However, this literacy model was not immutable. When their children attended American schools, parents began to adapt, bringing books into the home, and gradually reformulating their own role regarding literacy, but this affect was somewhat dependent on assigned reading for homework and teacher-parent-child relationships. Benefits of bringing books into the home trickled down even to toddlers at home and this occurred through sibling interactions with toddlers as well as parental adoption of the more traditional bedtime-story model practiced by many Americans.