Making Meaning: Connecting School to Students’ Lives

Connect teaching and curriculum to students’ experiences and skills of home and community.

The high literacy goals of schools are best achieved in everyday, culturally meaningful contexts. This contextualization utilizes students’ funds of knowledge and skills as a foundation for new knowledge. This approach fosters pride and confidence as well as greater school achievement.

Increase in contextualized instruction is a consistent recommendation of education researchers. Schools typically teach rules, abstractions, and verbal descriptions, and they teach by means of rules, abstractions, and verbal descriptions. Schools need to assist at-risk students by providing experiences that show abstract concepts are drawn from and applied to the everyday world.

“Understanding” means connecting new learning to previous knowledge. Assisting students make these connections strengthens newly acquired knowledge and increases student engagement with learning activities. Schema theorists, cognitive scientists, behaviorists, and psychological anthropologists agree that school learning is made meaningful by connecting it to students’ personal, family, and community experiences. Effective education teaches how school abstractions are drawn from and applied to the everyday world. Collaboration with parents and communities can reveal appropriate patterns of participation, conversation, knowledge, and interests that will make literacy, numeracy, and science meaningful to all students.

Indicators of Contextualization

The teacher:

  • begins activities with what students already know from home, community, and school.
  • designs instructional activities that are meaningful to students in terms of local community norms and knowledge.
  • acquires knowledge of local norms and knowledge by talking to students, parents or family members, community members, and by reading pertinent documents.
  • assists students to connect and apply their learning to home and community.
  • plans jointly with students to design community-based learning activities
  • provides opportunities for parents or families to participate in classroom instructional activities.
  • varies activities to include students’ preferences, from collective and cooperative to individual and competitive.
  • varies styles of conversation and participation to include students’ cultural preferences, such as co-narration, call-and-response, and choral, among others.