Counts, Janneke Maria
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Parents and teachers talk together typically during Open Houses and parent-teacher conferences, engaging in routine and ritualized conversations that leave little room for developing understandings about each other and their roles in the lives of children. This qualitative research study examined what happened when parents and teachers engaged in informal (i.e., unscripted, interest-driven) conversations about literacy learning in home contexts. Three elementary school teachers and some of their students’ parents formed parents-teacher discussion groups and talked informally about literacy learning in home contexts and collaboratively supporting literacy learning. Interviews, observations, and documents supplemented the data of the focus groups. Analysis of interview transcripts revealed that parents and teachers identified areas of interest related to literacy learning in the home that they would like to discuss with each other and that had little or no place in the currently structured ways in which parents and teachers interacted. Additionally, analysis of three parents-teacher discussion group transcripts indicated that teachers and parents engaged in informal conversations in which they shared experiences, voiced concerns, asked questions, and began problem-solving, and that these three conversations were different in tone, structure, and format. A cross-case analysis of the three teachers participating in the study suggested that each teacher assumed the role of teacher inquirer and perceived families as educators with valuable funds of knowledge, but did so in different ways and with different outcomes. What this work suggests is that informal conversation spaces can be useful and effective in opening and deepening parent-teacher communication, but if teachers are to reimagine the ways they interact with parents, they need to be supported in their efforts to do so.