At the start of a new school year, there's one thing I look forward to: meeting new (and old) faces. One of the most exciting things about teaching is having the opportunity to meet and get to know amazing students who go on to do amazing things. Getting to know these amazing individuals can sometimes be a difficult task, especially for introverted teachers, but it is a vital part of creating a welcoming learning environment.
So, how do teachers do it?
I remember being in school and filling out the start-of-the-school-year-survey in different classes. The survey would ask thing like, "What's your favorite class?" or "Who is your best friend?" or "How do you prefer to learn?" These surveys were a way for my teachers to learn a couple things about me that could help influence the way they teach the class, but I'm not sure how much impact these surveys really had on those classes I took in high school. Why? Because I also use this method.
At the start of each school year, I ask my students to fill out an index card with some information about themselves, their likes and dislikes, and their learning preferences. And, although I may use some of the likes and dislikes as lesson themes, or find ways to incorporate multiple intelligences and learning styles, they rarely have a great impact on truly understanding the person in my class and using that knowledge to create truly engaging lessons.
This is because that little survey does not hone in on the funds of knowledge students bring to the classroom. For those unfamiliar with the term, funds of knowledge refer to the "historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being" (Moll, 1992). These skills and bodies of knowledge are gained not necessarily from lectures at school, but through experiential learning and interactions with one's social networks, and are motivated by one's own interests.
In a study of an elementary school with a large latino/latina aimed at finding ways to help teacher learn about and draw on students' funds of knowledge conducted by Luis Moll, teachers alongside anthropologists visited the homes of students to conduct interviews. Then, teachers would use the information gathered from the series of interviews to create meaningful units based around their students' funds of knowledge. What the study implied was that by creating units of study around students' funds of knowledge students were more engaged in the lessons and the units were therefore more meaningful.
So, with funds of knowledge being important for student engagement and learning, how can a teacher find out about their students' funds of knowledge? In the article explaining the study, Moll and the teachers involved promote teachers visiting the homes of their students to learn about their home life, culture, etc. But although there are many who recognize the value of home visits, including the NEA, there are some who worry about staff safety or about teachers having enough time to make the visits. The question then is, is there a way to learn about students' funds of knowledge without a home visit?
This question is important for me, as I teach in an environment that doesn't allow for home visits. If I were to visit the homes of my students, first I would have to bring a Korean teacher along with me. Although my students may speak some English, perhaps even fluently, it does not mean their parents do. Secondly, I currently teach at a school with a boarding program, making it neigh impossible to visit the homes of the boarding students.
I first thought of altering the classic beginning-of-the-year survey to hone in more on activities students do outside of school. I also thought about bringing the elementary school parent survey into the high school classroom, or perhaps having students conduct and present interviews with people who are important in their lives. Since I am an English teacher, I also thought about how a simple narrative essay assignment could give insight into students' funds of knowledge as well. And then I thought, why not have a lesson with my students on funds of knowledge? It could turn into something quite empowering, allowing students to see the skills and knowledge they and their classmates bring to the classroom. It would certainly be an interesting thing to try out!
Moll, Luis C. "Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms." Theory Into Practice, Vol 21, Spring 1992.
What are your thoughts?
How have you learned about students' funds of knowledge in your classroom? What are some of the ways you incorporate student interests and funds of knowledge into your lesson plans? Have you ever done home visits before?
I'm interested in knowing your thoughts and questions! Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!
As a secondary English and foreign language educator, Katherine has spent the past 5 years teaching in South Korea. She is an enthusiastic educator who believes in the potential of every student, and strives to make an interactive, engaging learning environment to promote inquiry and learning.