The Funds of Knowledge: An ethnographic approach to family engagement

The Funds of Knowledge, drawn from the seminal work of language researcher Luis Moll, sound like what they are: substantial, essential, hopeful. And I think of them as our best resource for a promising new school year.

I know the value of home visits, having participated in them with my own students’ families, but teacher-family meetings organized around the Funds of Knowledge represent something quite different. Within each household, family members collectively hold a body of knowledge about wide-ranging ways of living that might comprise cultural traditions, herbal knowledge and folk medicine, gardening and animal husbandry, household and automotive repair, construction and masonry, trade, business, and finance.

The idea is simple yet profound: Teachers visit student homes as ethnographers or social anthropologists, eager to learn about the vast reserves of historical and traditional knowledge that all families represent, and then find ways to build on this knowledge at school.

This might entail inviting family members into the classroom to share their particular expertise for managing a backyard chicken coop, crafting bamboo flutes, or growing a successful family business. It also offers rich research opportunities as you make it possible for your students to investigate the classroom’s collective Funds of Knowledge. Every family goes on record with their particular expertise and make themselves available for demonstrations, interviews and presentations.

While traditional home visits tend to focus on teacher as expert authority by reaching out to each family to share the work and mission of the school, a “Funds of Knowledge perspective” recognizes the abundant social and intellectual resources of each family and the school community beyond and embraces the resources as content worthy of deeper exploration at school.

Perhaps most importantly, it helps teachers approach each student from a position of strength. In other words, rather than focusing on perceived deficits in the child’s home experiences because they don’t align with school-sanctioned knowledge, we discover and build on the impressive strengths and resources each child brings to school. Rather than seeing language disadvantages and deficiencies and approaching our diverse students with lowered expectations, we see rich, abundant Funds of Knowledge that can enrich our teaching, strengthen our students’ learning lives, and create a vibrant culture of learning and achievement that binds home, school, and community.

What do you do at the start of a new school year to get to know your students? How do you tap and build on your students’ Funds of Knowledge?

For more on meaningful ways to form respectful, engaging partnerships with your students’ families, see  Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships and Tapping Student Potential: A Strategic Guide to Boosting Student Achievement through Family Involvement.