Esrc teaching and Learning Research Programme (tlrp) Thematic Seminar Series Contexts, communities, networks: Mobilising learners’ resources and relationships in different domains Seminar One

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ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP)

Thematic Seminar Series
Contexts, communities, networks: Mobilising learners’ resources and relationships in different domains

Seminar One, 15-16 February 2005

Glasgow Caledonian University

Exchanging Knowledge Between Home and School

to Enhance Children’s Learning

© Martin Hughes, Jane Andrews, Anthony Feiler, Pamela Greenhough, David Johnson (University of Oxford), Elizabeth McNess, Marilyn Osborn, Andrew Pollard (Institute of Education, University of London), Leida Salway, Mary Scanlan, Vicki Stinchcombe, Jan Winter and Wan Ching Yee (all University of Bristol unless stated otherwise).

Acknowledgements: The Home School Knowledge Exchange Project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the LEAs of Bristol and Cardiff. It is funded under Phase II of the ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme (award no L139 25 1078). We are very grateful to the teachers, parents and children who have participated in our research.


This paper has two main aims. The first aim is to provide a short overview of the work of the Home School Knowledge Exchange project. This will provide a contextual case study of a project that has actively tried to link two learning contexts – those of home and school. The second aim is to raise some conceptual and theoretical issues that have emerged from the project concerning the relationship between learning and contexts. It is hoped that both parts of the paper will contribute to the overall aims of this TLRP seminar series.

I. The Home School Knowledge Exchange Project

  1. Background and rationale

There is a long tradition of research and practice, both in the UK and elsewhere, which aims to enhance children’s learning by increasing communication between home and school. Much of this work has been carried out within a more or less explicitly ‘deficit’ perspective, which identifies supposed deficiencies in the home learning practices of particular groups of children, and aims to bring about change in those practices (e.g. Desforges, 2003). This kind of approach has been criticised on the grounds that it may operate as a kind of ‘cultural imperialism’ (e.g. Dyson and Robson, 1999) or a ‘colonisation’ of the home by the school (Edwards and Warin, 1999).
The approach adopted by the Home School Knowledge Exchange project has been deliberately different from the ‘deficit’ view. We started from the basic assumption that children live and learn in two different worlds (home and school) and that these worlds are often kept separate from each other. We also assumed that children’s learning could be enhanced if these two worlds could be brought together in some way. Instead of devaluing or attempting to change existing home learning practices, we recognised the value of such practices and attempted to build on them.
The conceptual framework which we have used since the start of the project has drawn heavily on the concept of ‘funds of knowledge’. This term, which derives from Moll’s work with Hispanic families in Arizona (e.g. Moll and Greenberg, 1992), refers to the information, skills and strategies which families and households use to maximise their well-being and life chances. As Moll and Greenberg point out:
‘we perceive the students’ community, and its funds of knowledge, as the most important resource for reorganising instruction in ways that “far exceed” the limits of current schooling’ (p345).
Since Moll’s original work, the term ‘funds of knowledge’ has entered the discourse of both researchers (e.g. Martin-Jones and Saxena, 2003) and policy-makers. For example, a recent DfES document for teachers of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds stated that:
‘schools have much to gain from the experiences and understanding of pupils, their families and communities. Drawing on their funds of knowledge enriches a school in a range of valuable ways’ (DfES, 2004, p8, emphasis added)
In the HSKE project, we assumed that ‘funds of knowledge’ could be identified in the families and communities of all children attending school. We also assumed that teachers themselves have ‘funds of knowledge’ – that is, a range of skills, strategies and knowledge, both explicit and implicit, which they draw on in their daily classroom practice. In addition, we recognised that the funds of knowledge of all participants might be tacit, intuitive or situationally embedded.
The overall aim of the project has therefore been to develop and evaluate what we have termed ‘Home School Knowledge Exchange activities’ (HSKE activities). These activities are aimed at drawing out and making visible the funds of knowledge possessed by parents and teachers, and at finding ways in which they can be communicated to support children’s learning. As we shall see, a key role in this process can be played by the children themselves, as they move from one learning context to another on a daily basis.

  1. Design and methods

There are three main strands to the project. The aim of each strand is to explore the effect of HSKE activities on:

  • Literacy at Key Stage 1

  • Numeracy at Key Stage 2

  • Transfer from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3

The three strands allow us to compare the nature and effects of home school knowledge exchange in three different areas, thus providing an internal replication of the project’s basic assumption.

Within each strand, there are four primary schools in which HSKE activities have been developed, implemented and evaluated. In each strand, two schools are in Cardiff and two in Bristol. In each city, the two schools serve contrasting catchment areas. In the Transfer strand, there have also been four secondary schools for which the four primary schools are feeder schools. There are thus 16 ‘action’ schools altogether. In addition, there are 12 ‘matched’ primary schools where no HSKE activities have been developed. These schools have served as comparison schools for the purposes of evaluating the effects of the project.
Within each strand, one cohort of children and their families has been the prime focus of the HSKE activities. In the Literacy strand this cohort started Year 1 in 2001 and is now in Year 4, while in the Numeracy strand the cohort started Year 4 in 2001 and is now in Year 7. In the Transfer strand, the main focus is on a cohort of children who transferred to secondary school in summer 2003, and who are now in Year 8. The impact of the project on these cohorts is being evaluated by a range of methods. These include:

  1. quantitative assessment of each cohort on standardised tests of attainment, attitude and learning disposition

  2. qualitative study of six target children in each action class, based on interviews with parents, children and teachers, and videos of home practices

  3. detailed case studies of one child from each action class, based on a range of methods

c. Some knowledge exchange activities

This section provides short descriptions of a selection of Home School Knowledge Exchange activities. More extended accounts can be found in other project publications (e.g. Winter et al, 2004: Greenhough et al, 2004). In each strand the activities were developed by one of three teacher researchers seconded by Bristol and Cardiff LEAs to work part-time on the project. The teacher researchers worked in collaboration with teachers in the action schools to develop, implement and provide an on-the-spot evaluation of knowledge exchange activities.

In the project, we made an important distinction between activities where knowledge or information is being conveyed from the school to the home, and activities where the main direction of knowledge flow is in the opposite direction, i.e. from home to school.

School-to-home activities

Activities that convey information about school to home are commonplace in most schools. They include newsletters, progress reports and information conveyed at parents’ evenings. In our project we built on what schools were already doing to develop and implement activities which gave parents insights into areas (such as teaching methods) where their existing knowledge was limited. For example, one method we used across all three strands was to make videos showing aspects of school or classroom life and make these available to the parents.
In the Literacy strand, the teacher researcher helped the teachers in the four action schools to make videos about literacy lessons. The focus in the two Bristol schools was on writing, while in the two Cardiff schools it was on reading (one of these schools was a Welsh-medium school so the lesson was conducted in Welsh). The videos were accompanied by booklets written by the teachers which contained explanations and suggestions. Video viewings were arranged for parents in the schools and all parents received their own copy of the video.
Videos were also used in the Numeracy strand to support knowledge exchange. In one school the children were centrally involved in making a video for the parents about the strategies they were currently learning for multiplying by 50 and 100. The children were filmed working in small groups with one child taking the role of the teacher, posing questions and explaining strategies. Other children played themselves as students, answering the ‘teacher’s’ questions and explaining how they had arrived at their answers. Video viewings were arranged for parents in school.
In the Transfer strand, two videos were made about life in Year 7 of the secondary school. The scripts for these were developed through a series of discussions and focus groups organised by the teacher researcher involving teachers, parents and students in both the primary and secondary schools. These discussions elicited concerns about transfer held by primary students and their families (for example about bullying and the nature of secondary school work) and the videos attempted to allay these concerns. Video sessions were held in the primary schools and were attended by both parents and children.

Home-to-school activities

In contrast to school-to-home activities, activities which aim to transfer knowledge or information from home to school are much less common. Indeed, at the start of the project many teachers and parents found the idea difficult to grasp. Nevertheless we were able to develop and implement home-to-school activities across all three strands of the project.
In the Literacy strand, the teacher researcher developed a simple but effective activity involving shoeboxes. In all four action schools children were given empty shoeboxes to take home and fill with artefacts representing important aspects of their home lives. The shoeboxes and their artefacts were then used in the classroom in a variety of ways. In one, they contributed to an 'All About Me' topic. In another, the children used them to introduce themselves to a new teacher who was covering a period of maternity leave, and in a third, they were put together with the purpose of providing a motivational stimulus for writing. The parents were asked to help the children with their selections (a detailed account of the shoebox activity can be found in Greenhough et al, 2005a).
The contents of the shoeboxes were extremely diverse. A boy from a traveller family included in his 'About me' box - 12 wrestling cards, 2 Pokémon cards, a Power Rangers model, 2 toy cars, a photo of himself as a toddler spilling his dinner, photos of him sitting on a large dog surrounded by other dogs, with his cousin at a fair, with his sisters at home in their caravan and on a site playing in a model house. A girl included a postcard from her cousin at Disneyland Paris, glow earrings, seaweed from Weston super Mare beach where she spent part of her holiday, a ticket from a car park at Weston, an 'Art Attack' collage of a frog, a piece of writing about going shopping and buying shoes and a Cinderella read-along tape.
In both the Numeracy and Transfer strands the teacher researchers developed activities involving disposable cameras. These provided a relatively inexpensive way for the students to take photographs of aspects of their out-of-school lives which could be developed and used in school. In the Numeracy strand, the children were asked to take photographs of the ‘everyday’ mathematics which they were involved in outside of school. They took photos of a wide range of events including cooking, shopping, playing board and card games, setting the timer on the microwave and consulting timetables. In school, the photographs were used in discussions and displays to illustrate the many ways in which mathematics is involved in everyday life.
In the Transfer strand, disposable cameras were given to all Y6 children transferring to one Cardiff secondary school. Children took photos of a range of aspects of their life outside school, with a focus being on what they might be learning. For example, one student took photographs of her pet dog and made a list of the many things one might learn from looking after a pet. The photographs provided a stimulus for a range of activities at the school, including displays at parents’ evenings.
d. Evaluation of the knowledge exchange activities

As indicated earlier, we used a range of methods to evaluate the impact of the knowledge exchange activities. Across all three strands, quantitative measures of children’s attainment and learning disposition were taken at regular intervals: however, findings from these data are not yet available. More qualitative evaluations were also made through interviews with teachers, parents and children, and observations at home and at school. These evaluations allowed us to identify outcomes from particular activities – for example, the videos of classroom practice increased parents’ understanding of how their children were taught in school, while the shoebox activity led to clear improvements in the children’s creative writing (see Greenhough et al, 2004). Moreover, we have evidence concerning the sustainability of these innovatory activities after the project support was removed. For example, the school on the Transfer strand where the disposable camera activity was developed continued the activity in the following year, using its own resources.

II. Emerging issues concerning learning and contexts

This part of the paper will briefly introduce some emergent issues concerning learning and contexts that have arisen from the project.
First, it may be helpful to clarify the main learning contexts we are dealing with on the project. On the Literacy and Numeracy strands we have suggested that the two main learning contexts are home and school. In actuality, the term ‘home’ covers a range of out-of-school learning contexts – not just what is taking place within the children’s homes but also the learning which might occur outside the home, such as in the streets or parks, at the shops, on family holidays or visits to relations, or in more ‘formal’ settings such as learning the Qur’an at the Mosque. On the Transfer strand the situation is more complex, as the children transfer from one school context to another, while at the same time still moving between home and school on a daily basis. One issue here concerns the role which the home context – and the relationships within it – play during this time of transition. On the one hand, it might be argued that the home context can provide continuity, stability and security at a time of significant external change. On the other hand, it might be argued that the home context and family relationships might themselves undergo change and repositioning which reflect in some way the changes taking place outside. We are currently exploring this issue in our data.
Next we consider the nature of the learning that is taking place in these contexts. Our data from the Literacy and Numeracy strands support what other researchers have said about the way in which much out-of-school learning of literacy and numeracy is embedded in authentic every-day practices such as cooking, shopping or playing games (e.g. Baker et al, 2003; Hannon, 1995). Such activities are usually purposeful, but the purposes are not primarily to acquire literacy and/or numeracy – rather they are to produce a cake, to buy some clothes or to pass some time in an enjoyable way. In contrast, the main purpose of school literacy and numeracy activities is to acquire specific literacy and numeracy skills or knowledge, with little or no obvious purpose beyond this.
The picture is complicated, however, by the presence in out-of-school contexts of practices that have a strong school-like quality to them. Here we might include children working with tutors, carrying out calculations set by other family members, working through commercial workbooks, playing some forms of ‘educational’ computer games, filling in puzzle pages in comics or children's magazines, and reading scheme-type books purchased by family members. Scanlon and Buckingham (2004) have described the expansion of publishing aimed at this kind of area and suggest that publishers have attributed the development of this market to the culture of assessment and testing in schools. Certainly, it appears to be a form of the ‘colonisation’ of home contexts by school practices referred to earlier (Edwards and Warin, 1999), although of course parents have to a large extent colluded with this colonisation. Moreover, in terms of the distinction between ‘domain’ and ’site’ made by other writers (e.g. Edwards, 2005) such practices appear to belong to the domain of school but are located in the physical site of home. But this in turn raises the question as to what it is about an activity or event which determines why we should locate it within a particular domain.
One useful perspective on this issue is provided by Sfard’s (1998) distinction between the two metaphors of ‘learning as acquisition’ and ‘learning as participation’. If we apply these two metaphors to learning in and out of school, then it seems that the acquisition metaphor is particularly appropriate for learning in the school domain (with its emphasis on students acquiring skills, knowledge and understanding as laid out in the curriculum). In contrast, the participation metaphor seems much more appropriate for thinking about out-of-school learning, with its emphasis on participation in events in the home and the community. With this distinction in mind then the ‘school like’ activities described above can indeed be seen as belonging in the school domain, as they are concerned primarily with the acquisition of skills and knowledge.
The way in which these school-like activities have taken hold in the home site may indicate the power which the domain of school can exert on out-of-school sites. It can also be seen as an example of the current primacy of the acquisition metaphor of learning over the participation metaphor. From this point of view, home events are primarily viewed in terms of what they have to offer in terms of acquiring the skills and knowledge valued in school. For example, the shoebox activity – which we earlier portrayed as a successful example of home-to-school knowledge exchange - can also be seen as the subservience of children’s out-of-school experiences to the school curriculum. The artefacts which children bring to school because of their importance in their out-of-school lives become transformed into props which help teachers deliver the school curriculum.
We now return to the conceptualisation which has underpinned the home school knowledge exchange project – namely Moll’s notion of ‘funds of knowledge’ and our derivation of ‘knowledge exchange’. As we have already seen, there are signs that the term ‘funds of knowledge’ has entered the discourse of educational policy-making, and it is possible this will be reinforced by our project’s participation in high profile TLRP activities aimed at policy-makers (e.g. Pollard and James, 2004). We have no problems with this, if the terminology helps policy-makers and practitioners recognise the value of children’s out-of-school learning. On a theoretical level, we are continuing to find the terms useful: we have just completed a paper looking at the ‘funds of knowledge’ which are drawn on by two project teachers working in multi-ethnic classrooms (Andrews et al, 2005) and we are currently working on a paper for a special issue of Educational Review on the ‘funds of knowledge’ in the households of contrasting Asian communities. However, we do have some concerns with both the notion of ‘funds’ and the notion of ‘knowledge’.
Our concern with ‘funds’ lies in the underlying metaphor it provides of a sum of money, perhaps residing in a bank or invested somewhere, which can be drawn upon as and when required. We have noted that a similar metaphor underlies Bourdieu’s notions of ‘capital’, as well as similar terms such as ‘resources’ (as used in the title of this seminar series). We are not necessarily convinced that this metaphor provides the most helpful way of thinking about learning and learners as they move between contexts. Moreover, we have found on the project that the discourse of ‘funds’ in practice permits an easy slippage into the discourse of ‘deficit’ which we criticised at the start of this paper. In other words, once one starts thinking about families in terms of their ‘funds of knowledge’ it is easy to be drawn into making quantitative comparisons about whether some groups have more funds than others (or even whether they have little or no funds). It might be more helpful to think of them as having different funds.
We have also, perhaps inevitably, had some difficulties with the concept of ‘knowledge’. As noted above, we started the project thinking primarily in terms of knowledge exchange between parents and teachers, based on the assumption that these two groups do indeed have different types of knowledge (about the children, about the curriculum and teaching methods etc). During the course of the project, however, we grew increasingly to focus on the children, and on the extent to which they were drawing on their own knowledge in some of the knowledge exchange activities. For example, it was clear that the children played a central role in selecting artefacts for the shoebox activities, or in deciding what aspects of their out-of-school lives to represent in the disposable camera activities. Moreover, as the examples given earlier suggest, some of their selections drew heavily on their knowledge of popular culture, a kind of knowledge which was not necessarily shared with either parents or teachers (see Greenhough et al 2005b for an extended discussion of the role of popular culture in out-of-school learning). These observations raise questions both about whose knowledge we are dealing with here, and indeed whether the term knowledge is the most appropriate one for describing what is exchanged in ‘knowledge exchange’ activities.
Finally, we end with an ethical dilemma which has arisen from our project and which may be relevant to this seminar series. Knowledge exchange activities such as the shoebox and disposable camera activities require children to bring into school – usually for public display - some artefact or representation of their out-of-school lives. This however raises the question of whether children (or indeed learners of any age) have the right to keep these parts of their lives separate. They – or their parents – might feel embarrassed by the absence of material possessions in their homes, or indeed by the absence of a parent. They might feel that it is simply no business of the school to know about their religious, cultural or personal practices. Perhaps we need to recognise that the barriers which exist between different learning contexts may sometimes serve important purposes for those who inhabit those contexts, and that outsiders – whether researchers or educators – may have no right to attempt to remove them.
Andrews, J., Yee, W.C., Greenhough, P., Hughes, M. & Winter, J. (forthcoming, 2005) Teachers’ Funds of Knowledge and the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics in Multi-Ethnic Primary School Classrooms: Two Teachers’ Views of Linking Home and School. Zentralblatt fur Didaktik der Mathematick

Baker; D., Street; B. & Tomlin, A. (2003) ‘Mathematics as social: Understanding relationships between home and school numeracy practices’ in For the Learning of Mathematics 23 (3), 11-15

Department for Education and Skills (2004) Aiming high: Understanding the educational needs of minority ethnic pupils in mainly white schools. London: Department for Education and Skills

Desforges, C. (2003) The impact of parental involvement, parent support and family education on pupil achievement and adjustment: a literature review. London: Department for Education and Skills

Dyson, A. and Robson, E. (1999) School, family community: Mapping school inclusion in the UK. Leicester: Youth Work Press

Edwards, A. and Warin, J. (1999) Parental involvement in raising the achievement of primary school pupils: why bother?, Oxford Review of Education, 25 (3), 325-341

Edwards, R. (2005) Learning in context – within and across domains. Paper for TLRP seminar series ‘Contexts, communities, networks: Mobilising learners’ resources and relationships in different domains’, Glasgow Caledonian University, 15-16 February 2005.

Greenhough, P., Hughes, M., Andrews, J., Feiler, A., Johnson, D., McNess, E., Osborn, M., Pollard, A., Scanlan, M., Salway, L., Stinchcombe, V., Winter, J. & Yee, W. C. (2004) Home School Knowledge Exchange: Activities And Conceptualisations. Paper presented at the TLRP Annual Conference, Cardiff (available at

Greenhough, P., Scanlan, M., Feiler, A., Johnson, D., Yee, W.C., Andrews, J., Price, A., Smithson, M. and Hughes, M. (2005a, in press) Boxing clever: using shoeboxes to support home school knowledge exchange, Literacy

Greenhough, P., Yee, W. C., Andrews, J., Feiler, A., Scanlan, M. & Hughes, M. (2005b, in press) Mr Naughty Man: Children's Learning From Popular Culture. In J. Marsh and E. Millard (Eds) Popular Literacies, Childhood And Schooling London: RoutledgeFalmer

Hannon, P. (1995) Literacy, Home and School: Research and Practice in Teaching Literacy with Parents, London: The Falmer Press

Martin-Jones; M. & Saxena, M. (2003) Bilingual Resources and ‘Funds of Knowledge’ for Teaching and Learning in Multi-Ethnic Classrooms in Britain International Journal of Bilingual Education & Bilingualism, 6, 3 & 4.

Moll, L. and Greenberg, J. (1992). Creating zones of possibilities: Combining social contexts for instruction. In L. Moll (Ed.), Vygotsky and Education, 319-348, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pollard, A. and James, M. (eds) (2004) Personalised Learning, A Commentary by the Teaching and Learning Research Programme, Economic and Social Research Council: Swindon, UK

Scanlon, M. and Buckingham, D. (2004) Home learning and the educational marketplace, Oxford Review of Education, 30 (2), 286-303

Sfard, A. (1998) On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher 27 (2), 4-13

Winter, J., Salway, L., Yee, W. & Hughes, M. (2004) Linking Home and School Mathematics: The Home School Knowledge Exchange Project. Research In Mathematics Education, 6, 59-75.

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