Immigrant Mother’s as Literacy Brokers: Experiences of literacy learning and teaching

Principal Investigator: Blaire Willson Toso
Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy - The Pennsylvania State University

This study proposes to investigate how mothers in adult and family literacy classes become literacy brokers in their communities and the implications of this role for the mother. A literacy broker is one who engages in the “process of seeking and/or providing informal assistance about some aspect of a given text or literacy practice” (Perry, 2009, p. 256). Literacy brokering can incorporate a multitude of activities that include assisting other to negotiate institutional contexts, local society, and personal communications. Much of the literature examines immigrant children as literacy (e.g., Orellana, Reynolds, Dorner, & Meza, 2003) or language brokers for their parents (e.g., Chao, 2006; Love & Buriel, 2007). Fewer studies have focused on adults’ literacy brokering activities (e.g., Mazak, 2006; Perry, 2009). Furthermore, little is known about how literacy classes function to support adult students in becoming literacy brokers for their communities and the implications this holds for the adult making this transition. Some evidence has been provided for this phenomenon (see Mazak, 2006; Toso, Prins, Drayton, Gnanadass, & Gungor, 2009; Toso, 2010) but little is known about women’s experiences as they shift from learner to knowledge broker, a fluid process as they move from classes to other daily activities.

Research questions for this study are:

1)      Literacy broker activities:

a.       What types of literacy brokering do mothers enrolled in adult and family literacy classes engage in, if at all?

b.      What kinds of literacy skills are utilized in literacy brokering exchanges?


2)      Literacy brokering and literacy classes:

a.       How, if at all, do family literacy classes assist women in becoming literacy brokers?


3)      Implications of being a literacy broker

a.       How, if at all, does becoming a literacy broker assist women to employ agency?

b.      How, if at all, does becoming a literacy broker change a woman’s status in her family and community?

c.       What, if any, perceived burden or responsibilities does becoming a literacy broker place on women?


This study can inform the adult education field about the experiences of adult learners as they become agents in the sharing of mainstream knowledge with family and community members, the benefits and the burdens of this role.  Furthermore, it may provide evidence of how literacy classes can extend benefits to others beyond the learner.  Lastly, it can assist adult educators to identify relevant content and activities that teach pertinent literacy skills for low-literate adults.



Chao, R. K. (2006). The prevalence and consequences of adolescents' language brokering for their immigrant parents. In M. H. Bornstein & L. R. Cote (Eds.), Acculturation and parent-child relationships: Measurement and development (pp. 271-296). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Love, J. A., & Buriel, R. (2007). Language brokering, autonomy, parent-child bonding, biculturalism, and depression. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 29(4), 472-491.

Mazak, C. M. (2008). Negotiating el dificíl: English literacy practices in a rural Puerto Rican community. Centro Journal, xx(1), 51-71.

Orellana, M. F., Reynolds, J., Dorner, L., & Meza, M. (2003). In other words: Translating or "para-phrasing" as a family literacy practice in immigrant households. Reading Research Quarterly, 38(1), 12-34.

Perry, K. (2009). Genres, contexts, and literacy practices: Literacy brokering among Sudanese refugee families. Reading Research Quarterly, 44(3), 256-276.

Toso, B. W. (2010). Latina mother's enactments of agency: Achieving desires through discourses in family literacy. Dissertation. Adult Education. Penn State. University Park, PA.

Toso, B. W., Prins, E., Drayton, B., Gnanadass, E., & Gungor, R. (2009). Finding voice: Shared decision making and student leadership in a family literacy program. Adult Basic Educaiton and Literacy Journal, 3(3), 151-160.

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