“Together, we make a difference” has been my mantra with families for the last few years as a kindergarten teacher. I recently embarked on a journey to build stronger connections with students and their families to positively affect student achievement.
With increasing numbers of English language learners in our classrooms, I felt a moral and ethical obligation to raise awareness of everyone’s interests and talents. I read about Funds of Knowledge and learned that it embraces an additive view where students’ and families’ rich resources can be realized and tapped into to enhance learning, self-efficacy and self-identity within the school and home. After much intensive reflection, I carefully designed a Funds of Knowledge Sharing Program for my kindergarteners and their families.
During my studies, I heard the term “Funds of Knowledge” occasionally pop up. I wondered about it and became more acquainted with the concept through various researchers, particularly Cummins (2001) and Araujo (2006). Their articles defined the concept as one of realizing the richness that students and their families possess with viewing diversity in terms of enrichment, that is, with an additive view, as opposed to a deficit and subtractive view.
Since Funds of Knowledge involves reflecting upon the knowledge, skills and gifts families possess from their unique resources — whether it is parental or generational influences, hobbies or interests — it was my intent for students and their families to work together, discuss and share their strengths, talents and interests that make them unique.
I explicitly modeled a personal love of the ocean with my students, complete with photos and realia, and described my experiences with related vocabulary. Students were actively engaged listeners. Afterward, with my guidance, my students asked relevant questions and offered sensitive and genuine comments and compliments. My modeling provided them with a meaningful and comprehensible example of the activity and it increased their enthusiasm for participation.
My next step involved informing families about our sharing program and inviting their participation. The response was absolutely fantastic! Families quickly signed up for dates and times to join us in class to share alongside their children. While all students participated, half did so with their families. The diversity of concepts was truly wonderful. They included interests related to various languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, German and Japanese in counting numbers and communicating everyday expressions; the Mexican celebration of Feliz Navidad; the Japanese art of origami; sports, such as basketball, salmon fishing, camping, and piano playing; collections of dinosaurs and sea glass; and recycling materials to create new, innovative toys.
Just like my modeling, my kindergarteners asked questions and expressed comments and compliments after each demonstration. Their high levels of active engagement provided a natural avenue for my English language learners to gain information and communicate in authentic ways. It was exciting to watch quiet students come alive and freely express themselves. In fact, all became very eager learners and listeners. Each morning, my students would ask, “Who is going to do their Funds of Knowledge Sharing today?” After school, students would share their new knowledge with friends and family members.
My positive program displayed students’ increased confidence, pride, self-identity and self-efficacy. Family feedback was equally positive, including comments such as, “My child now sees her differences as good”; “My child now wants to learn a new language”; “It brought our family together”; “My son felt excited and proud to share about our family”; and “We loved it and want to do it again.”
This sharing program enabled everyone to connect and embrace students’ and families’ rich linguistic and cultural roots. Empowerment with students and families has increased as seen through their heightened interactions with others. Students’ achievement across curricular areas has risen due to more positive demeanors. Now, I weave students’ interests and expertise into daily lessons, for example, greeting in various languages and enlisting students’ expertise during concepts read and learned about. There has been an increase in personal values of all and my sharing program will continue in the future.
Kathleen Bramzel is a kindergarten teacher in the Bellevue School District in Washington state. She has spent the past five years on an intensive professional journey: earning her national board certification, ESL endorsement and now master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in ESL from the American College of Education. Bramzel has taught kindergarten for 13 years, plus other primary grades and ESL in other states and abroad.
Araujo, B. E. (2009). Best practices in working with linguistically diverse families. Intervention in School and Clinic, 45(2), 116-123. doi: 10.1177/1053451209340221
Cummins, J. (2001). Empowering minority students: A framework for introduction. Harvard Educational Review, 71(4), 649-675. doi: 212261679