In my previous post, I discussed what funds of knowledge are and why they are important in the classroom. In this post, I'll be focusing more on my own personal funds of knowledge.
According to Luis Moll, a professor at the University of Arizona who conducted a qualitative study on the utility of funds of knowledge in classrooms, funds of knowledge are "historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning" (Moll, 1992). Essentially, funds of knowledge are those skills and bodies of knowledge that are gained primarily through experiences, rather than those acquired through listening to lectures. Funds of knowledge must also be used frequently in a person's life. As an English teacher, I will use my communication skills learned from teaching every day; however, the knowledge of how to write geometrical proofs that I learned in high school I will most likely rarely use. Therefore, effective communication skills are in my funds of knowledge while how to write proofs are not.
Of course, it's also important to remember that the experiences which lead to funds of knowledge are not always positive.
For more information on funds of knowledge, check out Luis Moll explaining the concept in this YouTube video:
Also mentioned in Luis Moll's study is the importance of one's social network in creating one's funds of knowledge: "...social relationships facilitate the development and exchange of resources, including knowledge, skills, and labor, that enhance the households' ability to survive or thrive" (Moll, 1992).
Learning, whether in school or outside of school, is often a social experience. There has been some evidence that we often learn more through interactions with others than we necessarily do through self-study or through listening. Therefore, the social network one has - friends, family, colleagues - have a great impact on one's funds of knowledge as we often learn through interactions with those individuals.
My social network has been significant in my learning. My family has taught me many skills that are necessary for my well-being: the basics of cooking, the social norms and mores of American culture, the importance of trying one's best, the value of kindness and compassion, healthy eating habits, the importance of mental health, that everyone deserves respect, etc. I have also learned much from my friends and colleagues. Without the support and guidance from the people in my life, I would certainly be living quite a different life.
My Social Network:
Food is something my family has always enjoyed. When I was growing up, my mother was often the one cooking dinner. No matter what was going on, we would always gather at the dining room table for dinner. My mom's food was hearty and healthy: chicken and rice, roast beef and mashed potatoes, and pasta were all family classic served up with green beans, carrots, broccoli, or a small salad. My mom tried to make sure my sister and I had a good understanding of how healthy food looks. My dad took over on the weekends. If my mom's food was hearty classic American meals, my dad's tended to be a sampling of the world. He loved eating ethnic food, and he often would cook different dishes from different cultures for us, like fajitas, mulligatawny stew, crepes, pasta primavera, etc. I loved exploring these dishes when he made them, but what my sister and I loved were his Sunday morning pancakes.
Eventually, we grew old enough to begin to learn how to cook. My mother taught me the basics - how to boil an egg, how to tell when chicken is done cooking, how to boil spaghetti, etc. My dad taught me to experiment, and that was from where my interest in cooking truly stemmed. As I continued to cook over the years, cooking has taught me several different skills and life lessons.
Expression and Communication
Cooking is an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place. -Wolfgang Puck
In high school, my family hosted several Japanese exchange students, and that was when I learned about the communicative powers of cooking. While the students visited our home, we created cooking lessons. We would teach our guests about American food and culture, and our guest would teach us about Japanese food and culture. It was a way to connect with each other and share something about ourselves and our cultures.
In college, I continued this tradition while living in the Global Learning Community. I would often get together with friends to exchange food and culture, and to build friendships with the international students on my floor. I took the time to learn about the food my friends enjoyed and missed. After a studying overseas for about a year, I began to understand the homesickness my international friends felt when it came to eating in the US. So, I took the time to learn a few recipes from their countries, and I would host parties around those dishes they missed. Cooking was my way of communicating to my friends how much I cared for them.
I continue this tradition today in South Korea. Cooking, for me, is about expressing oneself and one's heritage, communicating that to others, and giving of oneself.
Living overseas in a country with a very different cuisine than your own quickly teaches you how to alter recipes to use local ingredients. I grew up with many different Mexican foods and flavors, but it is next to impossible to find the specific spices and ingredients for making those dishes. So, I have to be adaptable. Instead of using Mexican peppers, I might use Korean peppers, or I may fuse together the spices I bring from the States and Korean foods, like kimchi.
If you're interested in learning some of my favorite recipes from around the world, check out the links below:
By high school, I had also become fascinated with Japanese culture and language, in part because my best friend loved anime, but mostly due to hosting several Japanese exchange students. Although there was no Japanese language at my high school, I participated in the exchange program, visiting Japan for six weeks after my senior year, and decided that I would study Japanese in university. In fact, I chose my college in part because they had a Japanese minor, which I completed.
In college, I lived in the Global Living and Learning Community and had an international roommate from South Korea. I had already begun listening to Korean music (without knowing, actually), and my roommate taught me some about Korean language and culture.
My love of languages and cultures led to several experiences studying overseas: Japan after high school, England for a semester in my sophomore year of college, France during my junior year, and South Korea during two summers. It also led to a major in Foreign Language Education focused on French, and minors in teaching English as a Second Language and Japanese. After university, I began teaching English in South Korea.
Grit and Determination
Learning a language is no easy task. It takes many hours of hard work and dedication. There are many times when you may feel as though you have failed, but there is no failure in learning; there are only opportunities to improve. The path towards fluency in a language consists of many ups, downs, and plateaus. Having grit and determination are critical skills that help you overcome the roadblocks.
Cultural Appreciation and Understanding
When you learn a language, you aren't just learning words and grammatical patterns. You are learning the culture of the country/countries that speak the language. Language is saturated with culture. For example, in both Korean and Japanese there are multiple levels of formality that are used when speaking to elders or persons of high status, versus speaking those who are younger or in a lower status. French has this, too, with a formal "you." However, in Japanese and Korean, the formal mode goes beyond subjects and verb conjugations; even nouns can change form. Knowing these details help you understand another culture, and also help you adjust when living within that culture.
Listening and Communication Skills
Language isn't just about speaking and writing words; it's also about listening. Learning a language has taught me a great deal about how to truly listen to others.
Patience, Empathy, and Humility
During my language learning journey, I have had the chance to live overseas. Through those experiences, I learned what it's like to be a language learner communicating with a native speaker. It can be difficult, frustrating, and daunting for the learner. From those experiences, I learned to have empathy for others, and to be patient. I also learned to be humble; no one likes the arrogant language learner.
If you're curious about learning the languages I listed above, here are some resources:
I have been interested in dance from a young age. I learned ballet for a while, as well as jazz, tap dance, and even belly dance and Irish folk dance. However, I never stuck long with any of those dance forms. Then, while living in Korea, a friend asked me to attend their swing dance performance and invited me to join the club. Swing dance was immediately attractive to me because it was fun, and connected to American culture. Plus, several of my friends were already in the group. I decided to join, and have been dancing since - about three years.
Learning swing dance taught me a lot about non-verbal communication. Since it is a partner dance, there are tons of physical cues the leader gives the follower. For me, at first, even learning the patterns was entirely about non-verbal communication as the classes were conducted entirely in Korean. In fact, I was the only non-Korean speaker in the club. Since then, I have a much larger "dance vocabulary" and can understand the classes without only focusing on the teacher's movements, but non-verbal communication is still an important part of the dance.
Below is a video of my first dance recital after learning basic Jitterbug and Charleston patterns.
Dancing with a partner is all about teamwork. You have to trust each other and learn about each other's dance styles, and then find a balance. Teamwork is so important when dancing!
Below is a video of my recital after learning the basic of Lindy hop.
As I progressed in my learning, our classes moved away from learning the patterns and more towards synthesizing what we knew and working out kinks in our form, etc. When it came time for the recitals, the teachers were no longer planning the dance for us; instead, we did everything - from choosing the song and our costumes to putting together the choreography.
Below are performances where we put together the choreography for my intermediate Lindy class and my advanced Lindy class.
The past two years I have been dealing with an incredibly stressful, and sometimes even toxic, work environment, and swing dance helped me develop healthy habits for dealing with my stress. Doing something fun and healthy on the weekends helped my mental health, and helped me deal with problems at work better.
At the end of university, I was lucky enough to receive a Fulbright Scholars Grant to teach in South Korea. It was an incredible experience, which I was able to extend to three years, and ultimately led me to stay in Korea beyond the end of my grant.
Living overseas is no walk in the park. Although Fulbright Korea had a network of wonderful grantees who supported each other immensely, you still had to learn to navigate the foreign environment and do things for yourself. Learning how to be self-sufficient during my Fulbright experience allowed me to be better prepared when I completed my grant and moved to Seoul.
Fulbright had a motto that still sticks with me today: "Do not compare." The director told us this when we first left orientation. She said that every person would have a different experience, different challenges, and different highlights. What we post on social media often does not reflect the reality in which we live. She reminded us not to get distracted by other people's lives and experiences; comparing our different experiences would only bring us disappointment. I struggled that first year, but once I began heading her words and focusing on the positivity present in my own life, I began to have a much happier time. Now, I try my hardest to concentrate on the positive rather than viewing life as a glass half empty.
As Fulbright grant recipients, we were in a position of acting as cultural ambassadors to our schools and communities. It is an important lesson to learn when living abroad. I am a representation of my country, and that is sometimes all that others see. It is important to remember this when interacting with others as my interactions can affect how the person sees Americans in general.
Teaching in Korean public schools is a crash course in how to be flexible. I remember there being several times when my class was canceled just minutes before I was to teach it. Often I would come to school and discover that there was some event happening of which I was not informed. If you're not flexible, teaching in Korean public schools can be a nightmare.
To play any instrument, you must first learn how to read music. Without the ability to read the notes and dynamics marked on the page, the song cannot be played. Music literacy is vital.
Playing music isn't always about playing the notes on the page exactly. Sometimes the best music is improvised on the spot or is adapted from another form. Though it's rare to hear jazz played on a violin, the syncopation and improvisation central to jazz music are beautiful, and an important skill to know. Life isn't about following directions perfectly all the time either.
Below is a beautiful instrumental cover of Ed Sheeran's shape of you played on an electric violin. Caitlin De Ville is amazing to watch in her covers of popular music.
Playing an instrument doesn't just teach you music reading or improvisation skills, it also teaches you musicality. It isn't just the notes on the page that create music, it's also the dynamics: how loud and soft combine to create tension and release in the song. Musicality is also about understanding how to blend one instrument with another without the sounds fighting each other.
The video below is an excellent visual and audio representation of musicality. It shows the interaction between the soloist and the orchestra, and also the melding of body and instrument. Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is an intricate piece, and also one of my favorites.
My Cultural Roots
Different cultures have different instruments and ways of playing music. My family has many Irish and Scottish roots, and they are well known for their fiddle tunes. I love playing these old tunes because they help me learn about my heritage, and because they are simply so much fun to play!
Here is an example of an Irish Fiddle Tune that I enjoy playing.
Teaching is a huge part of my adult life. I have been teaching now for five years, and it has been quite a journey. I am currently teaching at an international school on Jeju Island in South Korea.
leader was coaching the English debate club at the all boys school at which I taught. We worked so hard on our debate and presentation skills, and I was so proud of them when their efforts paid off. The photo above is the second team I coached.
Organization is essential to being a teacher. We need organization skills to know when all the deadlines are, to grade students work in a timely fashion, and to navigate our crazy schedules. Teaching has taught me to be much more organized than I was in the past.
Teaching isn't a career where you work alone. A teacher must work alongside other teachers to create a truly meaningful learning environment throughout the entire school. Teaching taught me how to collaborate with others, and also how to coach students in collaborating with each other.
The pictures below were taken during some of those collaboration activities.
I was also lucky enough during my years of teaching to be a mentor - both for my students and for pre-service teachers. The two public schools I worked at were student teaching sites for the Korea National University of Education, and my co-teacher was kind enough to involve me in the training process. It was great to be able to help the pre-service teachers on their journey to becoming teachers. Being a mentor and guide for my students is certainly the most rewarding part of being a teacher.
Below you can find some information about the schools at which I have taught, as well as the school at which I am currently teaching.
If you are interested in learning more about my experiences teaching and living overseas, check out my blog, Expat Teach.
At the end of his article, Moll presents a unit of study a teacher involved in the study created based on her students' funds of knowledge. It was evident from her description of the learning module that students were much more engaged in the lesson and were better able to accomplish learning goals when they used their interests, knowledge, and skill sets in the classroom. In this situation, students became masters of their learning. Thus understanding students' funds of knowledge is essential for any teacher.
It is also important for a teacher to know their funds of knowledge. It helps the teacher see his/her areas of strength and to incorporate those areas into lessons as well. In my classroom, I use the funds of knowledge I have related to language learning on a daily basis. My understanding of Korean helps me understand my students' language and thought processes, which in turn helps me better teach them.
Moll, Luis C. "Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Home and Classrooms." Theory Into Practice, Volume 31, Spring 1992.
Comments or Questions?
I'd love to hear them! What do you think about funds of knowledge? What are some of your funds of knowledge?
Leave a comment 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.