Discovering Successful Pathways in Children's Development: Mixed Methods in the Study of Childhood and Family Life / Edition 1

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Discovering Successful Pathways in Children's Development provides a new perspective on the study of childhood and family life. Successful development is enhanced when communities provide meaningful life pathways that children can seek out and engage.  Successful pathways include both a culturally valued direction for development and competence in skills that matter for a child's subsequent success as a person as well as a student, parent, worker, or citizen. To understand successful pathways requires a mix of qualitative, quantitative, and ethnographic methods—the state of the art for research practice among developmentalists, educators, and policymakers alike.

This volume includes new studies of minority and immigrant families, school achievement, culture, race and gender, poverty, identity, and experiments and interventions meant to improve family and child contexts. Discovering Successful Pathways in Children's Development will be of enormous value to everyone interested in the issues of human development, education, and social welfare, and among professionals charged with the task of improving the lives of children in our communities.

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Meet the Author

Thomas S. Weisner is professor of anthropology in the Center for Culture and Health (NPI/Department of Psychiatry), and Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles. He is coeditor of African Families and the Crisis of Social Change.

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Mixed Methods in the Study of Childhood and Family Life
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2005 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-88664-0

Chapter One
Using Mixed Methods to Explore Latino Children's Literacy Development

Claude Goldenberg, Ronald Gallimore, and Leslie Reese

A Newtonian image of an inalterable, mechanical universe biased social scientists toward avoiding the messy aspects of humanity. [It mentally prepared them] for a bold exploration of the icy depths of interplanetary space. Instead, they found themselves completely unprepared for the tropical nightmare of a Darwinian jungle: A steaming green Hell, where everything is alive and keenly aware of you, most things are venomous or poisonous or otherwise dangerous, and nothing waits passively to be acted upon by an external force.... The sweltering space suits ... had to come off. Sechrest and Figueredo 1993, 647-48

Using less colorful metaphors but no less forceful arguments, Bronfenbrenner (1979) chided the developmental research community more than 20 years ago for neglecting the everyday contexts in which children develop and learn. As a result of this neglect, "our ability to address public policy concerns regarding contexts of child rearing is correspondingly limited" (1979, 844). Much has changed since 1979, and attention to context is no longer a novelty. In addition to Bronfenbrenner's "circle of influences" as a metaphor of contextual influence, other perspectives have also flourished-for example, a "woven fabric" of ecological/cultural features (Cole 1996; Weisner 1984). From the work of many research communities, over the past four decades much has been learned about context and development, including effects of cultural, community, neighborhood, family, and school factors.

Taking account of the "steaming green Hell" of context effects demanded rethinking of the methodologies that dominated psychology and related disciplines for half a century (Cronbach 1975). Since Bronfenbrenner's admonitions, a wider range of methodological and conceptual tools has come into use, although much debate accompanied his challenge and continues to this day. Many remain uncomfortable because so many of the data generated by contextual studies do not live up to the traditional methodological requirements of their disciplines. Others argue for turning away from conventional methods toward interpretive branches of the social sciences and toward the humanities for methodological foundations (Cole 1996, 4).

As epistemological debates continued, and dualistic rhetoric escalated, some concluded that the methodology wars were not likely to be ended in our lifetimes and that a purist approach would not get much research done (Miles and Huberman 1985; Greene and Caracelli 1997). A more ecumenical or "multiplist" approach suggested mixing methods from intense local observation to random-assignment experiments (e.g., Campbell 1974; Cook and Reichardt 1979; Cronbach 1975; Houts, Cook, and Shadish 1986; Sechrest, Babcock, and Smith 1993; Webb et al. 1966). The multiplist approach rejects single methods in favor of juxtaposing multiple probes using heterogeneous methods to seek stable and convergent results and interpretations across contexts, times, populations, data sets, analytic strategies, and perspectives. It assumes that all research is affected to varying degrees by values and preferences and that "individual passion and intellectual commitments provide the life force of science," which are best minimized by "trying to represent multiple preferences and values in a research program" (Houts, Cook, and Shadish 1986, 62-63).

Included in those individual preferences and values are choices of methods. Multiple, competing approaches provide one way to estimate the degree of convergence of findings and interpretations, as well as to force out conflicting assumptions. Multiplist approaches are claimed to be especially helpful for problems where little is yet known or understood (Cook and Reichardt 1979): they can reveal unsuspected relationships; suggest unanticipated variables and effects; provide a basis for more ambitious and expensive undertakings; and ground "defensible interpretations of what may be true about the world" (Houts, Cook, and Shadish 1986, 61).

Our research team has been influenced by Campbell, Sechrest, Cook, and others, and we have been purposefully ecumenical, mixing methods to study an understudied population: Spanish-speaking children of immigrant Latino parents. We chose this approach also because the existing research literature seemed markedly inconsistent with our own professional and personal experiences in Latino communities. These inconsistencies were especially marked regarding Latino children's literacy development and academic attainment.

Some inconsistencies were directly related to questions of how to help Latino children succeed in American schools in general, and how to assist their literacy development in particular. The importance of the questions we confronted could hardly matter more to the children and their parents and to the school personnel who try to serve them. Latino children are a large and growing portion of the U.S. school-age population. Despite progress and the narrowing of gaps between majority- and minority-group students, Latinos continue to be at risk for poor school attainment (Goldenberg 2001). In this chapter we will focus on the family part of the equation and review some of what we have learned about factors that influence Latino children's educational outcomes, most especially in literacy. Over the past 15 years we have tried many combinations of research methods to uncover family and school factors influencing the academic development of Latino children of immigrant parents.

What literature there was on this population often asserted that Latino parents devalue formal education either because of economic circumstances or because experiences with discrimination against Latinos have led them to conclude that education will not help their children get ahead (e.g., Ogbu and Matuti-Bianchi 1986; Suárez-Orozco and Suárez-Orozco 1996). Another perspective, no longer so common in the research literature (although still heard informally), attributed Latino children's school failure to traditional values-family ties, honor, masculinity, and immediate gratification (Heller 1966, 33-34). These perspectives, different as they are, have at least one thing in common: they attribute the difficulties Latino youngsters have in U.S. schools to discrepancies, or discontinuities, between family values and beliefs about schooling and the values and beliefs assumed to be important for school success in this country.

However, based on personal and professional experience, we were skeptical about the validity and comprehensiveness of these characterizations of Latino students and family. For example, we had observed that despite differences in cultures and outlook between Latino immigrant parents and educators in the schools their children attended, there were also considerable commonalities in their values and beliefs. Both parents and teachers want children to do well and succeed in school; both parents and teachers see formal schooling as important for economic and social mobility. Moreover, and despite attempts to maintain links with their native cultures, some immigrant parents made self-conscious attempts to move away from the educational values espoused by their parents and provide greater educational opportunities for their children than they felt they themselves had. At the same time, most of the children did not come from homes that afforded a wealth of literacy experiences. Although literacy (and other academic learning) opportunities were not nonexistent, neither were they as plentiful as they tend to be in middle- or upper-middle-class homes. The reality lay somewhere in between. In short, a complex portrait of commonalities and differences, continuities and discontinuities, seemed more plausible than the widely held stereotypes about this population (Goldenberg and Gallimore 1995).

Using several samples and mixed methods, our findings eventually converged on several broad ecocultural categories of contextual influence on children's literacy experiences and literacy development. These influences included family history and community demography, job-related constraints and enablers, domestic routines and roles, institutional influences, natal cultural schemas, and exposure to alternative cultural schemas. In the following, we summarize what we learned in our longitudinal studies about literacy learning opportunities in low-income Spanish-speaking households, including some of the ecocultural factors that either constrain or enable those opportunities. We provide illustrations of how we have used quantitative and qualitative methods reflexively and interactively to pursue questions about home influences on Latino children's literacy development. Finally, we give a brief indication of how we are currently attempting to gain comparable understanding of home influences on these children's mathematics attainment.

Routines, Settings, and Ecocultural Niches

An important theoretical assumption of our work is that influences on children's development (interactions with others, playing, watching television, reading, counting, etc.) are embedded in the routines of family life that themselves are embedded in a larger ecological and cultural (hereafter "ecocultural") niche. Our qualitative studies therefore nearly always employ as a unit of analysis some variable that is directly or indirectly linked conceptually to the routines of family life.

Use of the daily routine as the unit of analysis results in the focus on whom a child is with during various times of the day, what they are doing, what kinds of purposes organize and structure their interactions, and what kinds of rules govern their interactions. We have referred to these as the characteristics of "activity settings." Activity settings are regular scenes (e.g., doing homework, watching TV, attending mass) that represent the playing out of the family's ecocultural milieu. They represent the way families can and do structure their time based on the traditions handed down to them, the orientations provided by culture, and the strictures of the socioeconomic system within which they live. Activity settings provide the diet of communication, activity, and structure that plays an all-important role in the child's cognitive development (Gallimore, Goldenberg, and Weisner 1993). Conceptualizing influences on children's development in terms of daily routines and ecocultural niches helps provide a measure of structure and predictability to what is naturally a complex and dynamic landscape.

The use of activity settings and daily routine as units of analysis is guided by a related consideration. For research findings to be of practical value in the design of effective interventions (a complementary aspect of our work), changes induced by interventions must be fitted to the context of the lives of the individuals involved. Otherwise, the changes will not survive. A promising program of instruction can be identified, for example, but it is doomed if teachers do not have the materials, time, training, or support from other professionals-in other words, the appropriate settings-to carry it out. Similarly, mothers can be trained in innovative home reading practices, but if the assumed activity settings that permit these practices to take root do not exist and are not created (e.g., if sibling child-minding is common), the intervention program faces a formidable implementation challenge. For these reasons, knowledge of family routines, settings, and niches is vital for the sort of applied social science research to which we aspire.

Ecocultural Context Enablers and Constraints on Literacy: Opportunities and Development

Table 1.1 summarizes the results of more than a decade of studies of eco-cultural features related to literacy experiences and development. The findings are organized using an "ecocultural framework" of children's literacy development, which assumes that a wide range of social, cultural, and historical factors are distilled through children's proximal experiences in the home and other developmental settings (Gallimore et al. 1989; Gallimore, Goldenberg, and Weisner 1993; Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore 1992; Reese and Gallimore 2000; Weisner 1984). These dimensions and others sketched in table 1.1 describe a child's "ecocultural niche"-the constellation of proximal influences in the child's day-to-day life that shape developmentally significant child experiences (Gallimore et al. 1989; Weisner 1984). "Ecocultural niche" is a useful way of conceptualizing the context of the home and of organizing and interpreting diverse forms of empirical findings. It is one way to "unpack" proxy variables correlated with reading achievement, such as socioeconomic status (SES), which highlight problems but offer limited information on specific, concrete remedial steps. The focus in this approach is on an empirical analysis to identify specific niche features that influence everyday routines in family, school, and other settings and that affect child learning opportunities, such as exposure to literacy-learning activities. Such a model has guided our more than 15 years of longitudinal studies of at-risk Spanish-speaking children and their families and provides a useful means to organize diverse and complex findings. It is an alternative way of studying "cultural effects" on development, in contrast, for example, to proxy research that compares the effects of culture-or ethnic-group membership on developmental processes and outcomes.

As table 1.1 indicates, a number of contextual factors are perhaps redundantly influencing Latino children's home literacy experiences, literacy development, or both. Obviously, some covary, which is expected within an ecocultural perspective since it is assumed that the various dimensions of the niche are interrelated, mutually supportive, and redundant.

We elaborate a few findings from the table.

Connections between Home and School

School entry has a strong effect on children's home literacy experiences. Although parents do not see promoting early literacy as part of their role during the preschool years (Reese, Balzano, et al. 1995; Reese and Gallimore 2000), once children enter school, parents are highly responsive to teachers' attempts to enlist their support to help children's literacy development. In one study, we found that children's literacy experiences and literacy materials at home nearly doubled as a result of kindergarten entrance (Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore 1992). One reason is that children's literacy experiences were relatively sparse before they began school. School entry therefore had a substantial positive effect-if teachers sent home literacy materials on a regular basis. In a separate analysis, we found a strong and direct link between teachers' explicit attempts to engage parents in promoting children's literacy growth and children's literacy development during kindergarten (Goldenberg and Arzubiaga 1994). However, we also found that the type of material sent home made a difference-home use of code-oriented materials (sent from school) that focused on letters, sounds, and syllable reading was strongly associated with kindergarten literacy attainment, whereas home use of meaningful "little books" was not (Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore 1992). All materials were in Spanish since children were learning to read in Spanish in a transitional bilingual education program.

Community Safety

Another important finding with a direct bearing on the role of family and community context is the effect of neighborhood safety on family childrearing practices. Reese, Balzano, et al. (1995) reported that neighborhoods with high rates of gang activity, delinquency, and crime were considered by parents to be dangerous for their children in both the physical and the moral sense. Parents often responded by keeping their children close to home and closely monitoring their activities and friendships. With young children, high levels of protectiveness sometimes resulted in higher levels of children's involvement in literacy activities, as parents sought ways to keep their children entertained in reduced home areas (Reese, Kroesen, and Gallimore 2000). Reese (1998) found that this "protective" strategy was seldom employed by relatives of families under study who resided and raised their children in Mexico. The rural and semirural towns and villages in which the sample's relatives lived were unlikely to be perceived as dangerous, suggesting it was the U.S. context that produced the response.


Excerpted from DISCOVERING SUCCESSFUL PATHWAYS in Children's Development Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Thomas S. Weisner
Part I. Pathways through Classrooms, Schools, and Neighborhoods
1. Using Mixed Methods to Explore Latino Children's Literacy Development
Claude Goldenberg, Ronald Gallimore, and Leslie Reese
2. Working It Out: The Chronicle of a Mixed-Methods Analysis
Heather B. Weiss, Holly Kreider, Ellen Mayer, Rebecca Hencke, and Margaret A. Vaughan
3. Mixed Methods, More Justified Conclusions: The Case of the Abt Evaluation of the Comer Program in Detroit
Lois-ellin Datta
Part II. Ethnicity and the Development of Ethnic Identity in Childhood
4. The Ecology of Children's Racial Coping: Family, School, and Community Influences
Deborah J. Johnson
5. Sites of Belonging: Acculturation, Discrimination, and Ethnic Identity among Children of Immigrants
Rubén G. Rumbaut
Commentary- Toward Varied and Complementary Methodologies in the Study of Ethnic Identity in Childhood
Diane Scott-Jones
Commentary- Ethnicity, Race, and Identity
William E. Cross, Jr.
Part III. Culture and Developmental Pathways
6. Taking Culture Seriously: Making the Social Survey Ethnographic
Tom Fricke
7. Combining Ethnography and GIS Technology to Examine Constructions of Developmental Opportunities in Contexts of Poverty and Disability
Debra Skinner, Stephen Matthews, and Linda Burton
Part IV. Using Mixed Methods in Social Experiments to Understand Impacts on Children's Pathways
8. Bullets Don't Got No Name: Consequences of Fear in the Ghetto
Jeffrey R. Kling, Jeffrey B. Liebman, and Lawrence F. Katz
9. Qualitative/Quantitative Synergies in a Random-Assignment Program Evaluation
Christina M. Gibson and Greg J. Duncan
Commentary- Mixed Methods in Studies of Social Experiments for Parents in Poverty
Aletha C. Huston
Commentary- Viewing Mixed Methods through an Implementation Research Lens: A Response to the New Hope and Moving to Opportunity Evaluations
Thomas Brock
Part V. Family Intervention Studies: Inclusion and "Multiple Worlds" in Research and Practice
10. Entering the Developmental Niche: Mixed Methods in an Intervention Program for Inner-City Children
Sara Harkness, Marcia Hughes, Beth Muller, and Charles M. Super
11. Including Latino Immigrant Families, Schools, and Community Programs as Research Partners on the Good Path of Life (El Buen Camino de la Vida)
Catherine R. Cooper, Jane Brown, Margarita Azmitia, and Gabriela Chavira
12. Civil Rights and Academic Development: Mixed Methods and the Task of Ensuring Educational Equality
Mica Pollock
Synthesis: A Reprise on Mixing Methods
Jennifer C. Greene
List of Contributors

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