George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Teach Using the Lived Experiences of Your Students

    In education, we discuss the importance of using students' prior knowledge. What is also important is learning about the "lived experiences" of the children we teach and connecting those experiences to the learning at hand.

    Common Lived Experiences

    Unearth any information that you can from your students. Take student interest inventories. Have them discuss their favorite musicians, song, sport, activity, video game, or food. Next, as their teacher, research any unfamiliar TV shows, films, singers, or video games that multiple students mentioned. Then ask yourself, "How might I integrate these interests in my daily lessons and units?"

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    Frequently ask your students questions that invite them to share their emotions and feelings about anything and everything happening in the world (their school, city, neighborhood). This will give you so much to work with as you plan lessons, and when those magical "teaching moments" arise, you can refer to something a student (or two or three) in the room has shared.

    You can ask your students questions to uncover their lived experiences, for example, with technology. See what they know about digital citizenship, or certain software, or how many know about coding and how to do it. Also, what might they teach you? What might they teach other students in the class?

    Writing is thinking, so giving them plenty of opportunities to journal and then share with each other and with you. "How many have felt afraid to try something new, yet you did it anyway?" was a question that I'd ask my high school language arts students and then relate their responses to a character or characters in the novel we were reading as a class. I'd also ask this question and use their responses when we were embarking on a difficult writing task or project.

    Research Says. . .

    Educator Lisa Delpit coined the term "culturally responsive teaching," and her research showed that students really need to see connection between learning and their lived experiences. Therefore, teachers need to create routine situations where students' lives are brought into the learning and connections are made between the stories they share and the content being learned.

    Well known for his "funds of knowledge" theory, education researcher Luis Moll stated that these "funds" refer to the skills and knowledge acquired by individuals through cultural and historical interactions and are fundamental for thriving within her or his community. Funds of knowledge include information about any routines or activities within the home, such as cultural practices, finances, cooking, or family traditions.

    According to Moll, when it comes to education, funds of knowledge can be utilized "to validate students' identities as knowledgeable individuals who can use such knowledge as a foundation for future learning."

    How do you bring the lives and experiences of your students into the classroom and the learning? Please share in the comments section below.