6 Connecting Learned Mathematics to Emergent Bilingual Families and Community

Ricardo Martinez and Ji-Yeong I

BUMBLEBEE Pre-Reading Questions

1.   What role do you think your students’ parents play when it comes to students’ mathematical learning? What role do you want the parents to have for your class?

2.   What is a way a student’s culture can contribute to their success in a mathematics classroom?

3.   What community spaces outside of school contribute to your students’ mathematical learning? How can we connect those spaces to the classroom?


 “The ultimate goal for parental involvement in any partnership should be

to improve the quality of life in the community…

Parents who faithfully participated reciprocated the trust and respect

given to them and rose to the occasion.”

(Lopez & Donovan, 2009, p.220) 

Have you thought about what roles parents had or have in creating a positive classroom learning environment? Students discussing mathematics at home means they are engaging with the content that they learned in class outside of the classroom. Students who extend their learning outside of the school have a positive effect on the classroom. In the outside world, parents or family members are probably the most important individuals and resources students have. Keeping this in mind, how can we, as teachers, communicate with parents to extend students’ learning spaces? As mentioned in previous chapters, each household contains a wide breadth of knowledge. Thus, establishing a connection between the classroom and parents creates an ecosystem where mathematics can be learned for the betterment of the community.

All of us, as teachers, know that education provides a pathway for students to become anything they want to be, within the limits of reality. What many of us tend to overlook is that parents of Emergent Bilinguals (EBs) are there to support us because they tend to highly value education and are very supportive. Yes, there will be times when parents do not know how to be part of their child’s learning but there are many instances where parents can help. If we view the second half of the previous quote by Lopez and Donovan, we see that parents can reciprocate the trust and respect given to them; if parents are not actively welcomed into school to get involved, then respect and trust can never be formed. If parents are not welcomed to the school, then it will be difficult for their students to feel welcomed as well. Have we ever asked ourselves how our school prevents parents from getting involved? Do we even know what our school does to engage parents outside of emails and sports events?

Community Cultural Wealth

In this chapter, we will focus on how the community where EBs live represents a wealth of support from its members. Specifically, we will explore Tera Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth Model (2005) in how it enriches culturally sustaining pedagogy and EBs. Before we get into community cultural wealth, watch the first five minutes of the video below to learn about social capital and cultural capital.

Pierre Bourdieu: Theory of Capital (Social and Cultural Capital)

For EBs who are immigrants, refugees, or part of a historically marginalized group, they may not have the same social capital as the dominant group does. What they do have is cultural capital that comes from their family and ethnic/local community. The video talks about the difference between social capital and cultural capital, but we need to remember that social capital can be cultural wealth and cultural wealth can be social capital. Community Cultural Wealth is a model that acknowledges that culture does in fact influence how societies function and how people learn (Yosso, 2005). The meaning of wealth is different from income, which is money received from salaries, wages, or payments paid for services and products. We can define wealth as the total extension of an individual’s accumulated assets and resources. Community cultural wealth takes an anti-deficit view. Yosso (2005) states, “Instead, community cultural wealth involves a commitment to conduct research, teach, and develop schools that serve a larger purpose of struggling toward social and racial justice (p. 82).” The six forms of community cultural wealth are as follows:

  • Social Capital – refers to the networks of people and resources that people have available to them as they navigate the world.
  • Navigational Capital – refers to the skills learned that help a person navigate social institutions. For example, an older sibling who has gone to college can help a younger sibling in understanding what it means to go to college, serving as a type of navigational capital.
  • Aspirational Capital – refers to the perseverance in maintaining one’s hope and dreams. For example, an older individual within the community who tells a child “to stay in school because you can do anything you set your sights on” would be aspiration capital.
  • Linguistic Capital – refers to and “includes the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style (Yosso, 2005, p. 78)” For example, translanguaging skills developed from bilingual home life is a form of linguistic capital.
  • Resistance capital – refers to the skills learned through acts of resistance that marginalized people constantly live through. For example, a refugee family has experiences relocating from place to place. The perseverance learned from those experiences can be taught to other family members.
  • Familial Capital – refers specifically to the cultural knowledge shared by a family and the history of and from the family. Funds of Knowledge EBs learn from their family is an example of familial capital.

The six types of capital are also not mutually exclusive as one person can represent multiple forms of capital. The example of a sibling who served as navigational capital could also simultaneously serve as familial capital and aspirational capital because the example was about college.

A focus on cultural capital helps in maintaining an asset-based view because it allows us to think beyond social capital alone (e.g., networking for jobs, etc.) and think of the many sources of wealth a person can have. Social capital can turn into a pathway to success, given some students have more social capital than others. For example, a person whose parents are both doctors will have more social capital than a person whose parents did not graduate from high school. If we consider or have only social capital, it may reinforce the discrimination inherited from the previous generation. What Community Cultural Wealth works to do is to diffuse the privilege some students have by acknowledging that all communities have multiple forms of capital that work in unison.

Implementing Community Cultural Wealth in School Settings

Next, we will share three vignettes based on real accounts of EBs and their families’ lives. We made slight modifications and intentionally hid identifiable information such as cultural backgrounds, nationalities, and names to highlight that EBs are not a single monolithic group and to help readers avoid any possible stereotypical views entangled with a specific group. After each vignette, we will ask for your perspectives as a teacher and discuss the role of and/or connection to community cultural wealth.

Episode 1: 

Student A was born in the U.S. with both of her parents being non-native English-speaking immigrants. English is the most frequently spoken language for Student A and she was never officially identified as ELL by her school or district. She does not know much about the language and culture of the country where her parents came from. One thing that stands out for Student A is that she remembers her peers made fun of her when she brought traditional food to school eat. In general, she is not very comfortable when her teacher or peers ask about her language background or when they constantly ask “How do you say _____ in your language?” She feels as though this kind of question separates her from her White peers in the predominantly White, monolingual school district.  

  1. If you were a teacher of Student A, what would you do?

In this vignette, the student’s community cultural wealth does not make itself present in the classroom. Specifically, any linguistic capital the student may have is transformed into a nexus of shame by her peers’ negative responses and her internal view, which is also probably initiated by external messages. If the classroom was a culturally sustaining classroom, however, students would welcome any cultural differences instead of making fun of a culture’s food. Without restoring her cultural wealth, her classmates’ questions and interest in her linguistic wealth still sound negative and embarrassing to Student A.

We, as teachers, should not assume all EBs positively identify their own capitals. Before they arrive in your classroom, they might have experienced many deficit views towards their Community Cultural Wealth. Helping them recognize and restore their capital and wealth is sometimes necessary prior to asking them to share their linguistic capital. Once again, here is where a translanguaging classroom would be beneficial. Consequently, we need to create a classroom that becomes their navigational and aspirational capital. When the classroom culture is positive and when the student knows that their culture and parents are welcomed and respected, they will then feel more comfortable speaking or sharing their language with you and the class.

Episode 2: 

Parent B is an immigrant and is a proficient bilingual although she is not a native English speaker. She was surprised when her son suddenly told her “Mom, you can speak English, so don’t speak [your first language] when my friends are around. It’s embarrassing.” Parent B was heartbroken and wondered where her son picked up that deficit view of their home language and any language for that matter. She was worried because what if her son’s peers spoke negatively about his race, language, or culture. During the next parent-teacher conference, Parent B shared this concern with her son’s teacher. The teacher, a middle-aged White woman, said she understood the concern and promised she would work on this in her class. A little later, when the class awards were being presented for the school’s reading program, the teacher explicitly addressed bilingualism to all students in the class. The teacher said, “You know what? Being a champion of this reading program is great but speaking two languages is also a very wonderful thing. Student B [Parent B’s son] can speak not only English but also another language. Isn’t that great?”  

  1. What do you think about what the teacher of Student B did? If you were a teacher of Student B, what else would you have done?

This case is a good example of resistance capital in action, where Parent B took action to change an issue she saw in her child’s life. Such a level of caring is at the heart of understanding familial capital because it is a myth that EBs’ parents don’t care about their children. In fact, research has shown that parents of EBs DO care about education and that is one of the reasons they came to the US. This is an example of what parent and teacher communication can do to extend Community Cultural Wealth, because now the teacher has become part of Student B’s linguistic capital by seemly welcoming the student’s home languages. It must be said that this is just the start. A teacher cannot create a positive classroom atmosphere or a culturally sustaining classroom by taking just one action. But, think about how Parent B will feel when their child comes home and tells her what the teacher said. This represents the beginning of a potential bridge between the classroom and the community.

Episode 3: 

Students C and D are sisters and biracial. Their father is White, born in the United States and mother is non-white who immigrated from a non-English speaking country. Their family lives in a rural area with very little racial diversity, where it is common for them to be the only non-white students in the school. Their mother was worried that her daughters would lose their identities by not knowing both their languages and cultural heritages. The mother visited her daughters’ teachers and shared her idea of a cultural day. The teachers liked her idea and scheduled a day for this event. On the cultural day, the mother prepared cultural food for all students in the classes, and students C and D prepared a presentation for each of their classes about half of their culture that is not normally seen in their school. It was a big success. The students in their classes loved the food and loved learning about another culture. Other students even gave positive comments like, “I’m so jealous of you! You can eat this delicious food every day!”

  1. What do you think about what the teachers of Student C and Student D did? If you were one of their teachers, what else would you have done?

In this episode, it appears like the teacher did not do anything when in fact the teacher took the chance in sharing their classroom space. If we, teachers, say no to parents about this kind of event because of concerns like time or any unexpected trouble, unintentionally we are creating barriers that keep parents away from the classroom. The highlight in this example is the presentation that came with the food. Having a cultural day where the only food is shared runs the risk of not really being about the deep-level of culture but more about an excuse to eat food; this can also lead to the development of stereotypes where people associate marginalized individuals solely based on food. By including the presentation, the food becomes a potential anchor to culture and the people who create that culture. If bringing food is not allowed by your school/district, you may use other cultural activities, such as teaching dance or a game (or even some of the language!). Community cultural wealth is a form of cultural capital that can find its way into any classroom and this episode is just one example.

It should be noted that the teachers in the episodes above were not trained with CSP or translanguaging. The teachers did not take any culturally sustaining actions for their EBs or bilingual students before the parents made suggestions. Still, it is important that they did gladly accept the parents’ requests. If the teachers were equipped with CSP and translanguaging, the initiation of culturally sustaining actions would come from the teachers. On the first day of school, a teacher’s statement of how cultural and linguistic diversity is respected and welcomed in the classroom would be made and displayed. A letter or syllabus that invites parents’ funds of knowledge into the classroom community would be sent from the first day as well. Students would be allowed and encouraged to use any language(s) when they did classwork or homework. Bilingualism and multiculturalism would already be positively addressed before the parent in vignette two raised the issue and the bilingual student felt his parents were different from his peers’ parents. We recommend teachers be proactive and explicitly share their teaching philosophy about multicultural and multilingual spaces so EBs and bilingual/multicultural students can feel safe in your classroom.

View Parents as Intellectual Resources

[This section is adapted from the webinar, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Parents as Intellectual Resources: From Option to Imperative, by Civil and Zavala (2020)]

In this section, we focus on how teachers can involve parents in their teaching and for their students’ learning in mathematics. First, let’s consider the following statements.

Viewing parents as intellectual resources (Civil and Andrade 2003) is essential to establishing an authentic dialogue between Latino and Latina parents and schools. This means that schools are genuinely interested in parents’ views and understandings of mathematics and that they want to explore ways for the school’s mathematics instruction to reflect parents’ knowledge and experiences.

(NCTM Research Brief, 2010)


…we envision a transformation in the role of nondominant parents and families from constrained and passive supporters in school-centric activities and agendas towards expert collaborators and fellow leaders in expanding disciplinary conceptions and reshaping teaching and learning across multiple contexts.

(Ishimaru, Barajas-López & Bang, 2015, p. 14)

Both quotes emphasize that parents are reliable resources for education. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many teachers may be worried that parents cannot properly teach their children mathematics at home and the students will fall behind their grade level. Although teaching children at home requires a lot of work, we need to believe that parents not only know enough but they also know more than we think.

Imagine if parents of an EB taught their child how to solve an equation the way they learned in their home country. The EB used the method at school and the math teacher said, “Okay, but that’s your mama’s way. Let’s do it the way that we do it in school.” Now the EB knows that his school does math differently from what he does at home, so he will not ask his parents to help him with his mathematics anymore. This erases the student’s familial capital and impacts how they see their parents. In a mathematics classroom where culturally sustaining pedagogy and Community Cultural Wealth are centered, the separation between school and home in learning mathematics does not happen.

Here are three examples of the kind of talk we might hear around a school that set up barriers to parent engagement.

  • [On-site council, discussing parental needs]: “We need to help parents learn the math formulas they do not know so they can help their children at home.”
  • [During teacher meetings]: “The problem is that parents in this school are not involved.”
  • [During instruction, in response to a student sharing how her mom helped her solve a math problem]: “That’s very cool that your mom showed you this way, but at school, we are going to do it the way we learned.”

How would you reframe the concerns in each example?  

How would you, as a teacher, respond at the moment?

Here we would like to share what research has found regarding parents’ involvement in mathematics education. Math and Parent Partnerships with Schools is a program that helps children improve their mathematical learning by supporting their peers, families and schools. Their materials include Mathematics Workshops for families and Math for Parents Courses. You can find useful information and resources in both English and Spanish on the MAPPS website.

The MAPPS team has learned the following lessons by working with parents of diverse students, which they have successfully done since 1999.

  • Latinx parents enjoy doing mathematics and want to learn about the mathematics their children are learning.
  • Parents are effective facilitators of workshops for other parents. They know the community, they can easily connect with other parents can families, they can bring in a more natural way of interacting with others about mathematics.
  • Parents, like everybody else, may have strong beliefs about what mathematics is and about the “right” way to do things.
  • Parents are resourceful: they use their networks for support. For example, if English is an issue when completing homework, parents might ask neighbors for assistance.


Teaching can be isolating and is difficult when done alone. Connecting with parents allows for multiple possibilities to enrich the classroom. In Chapter 2, we talked about the potential and power of cultivating students’ funds of knowledge when creating a culturally sustaining pedagogy in the classroom and followed up with a discussion of connecting EB families and communities to the classroom in this chapter. Speaking with parents provides an even easier approach to learning about the household knowledge and wealth of your students’ families. Community cultural wealth shows us six avenues of capital that EBs have that can and should be welcomed inside the classroom.

Chapter 6 BUMBLEBEE Post-Reading Questions

1.   How can community cultural wealth be communicated to and for parents?

2.   How can a math teacher represent the six types of capital within community cultural wealth?

3.   What are the ways that you can make your classroom open and welcoming to immigrant and non-English speaking parents?

4.   What role do assessments in mathematics classes play in highlighting community cultural wealth?


Civil, M. & Menendez, J. (2010). Involving Latino and Latina parents in their children’s mathematics education [Research Brief]. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Retrieved from https://www.nctm.org/Research-and-Advocacy/Research-Brief-and-Clips/Involving-Latino-and-Latina-Parents/

Ishimaru, A., Barajas-López, F. & Bang, M.  (2015). Centering Family Knowledge to Develop Children’s Empowered Mathematics Identities, Journal of Family Diversity in Education ,1(4), http://familydiversityeducation.org/index.php/fdec/article/view/63

Lopez, C. O., & Donovan, L. (2009). Involving Latino parents with mathematics through family math nights: A review of the literature. Journal of Latinos and Education8(3), 219-230.

Oliver, M. & Shapiro, T. (1995). Black wealth/White wealth: A new perspective on racial inequality, Routledge.

Yosso*, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education8(1), 69-91.

Additional Resources for Parents and Schools