Popular Culture as ‘Funds of Knowledge’

girl reading Harry Potter books
‘arry potter 63/365 by lozikiki ^_^ (flickr image, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In my first assignment for this subject, I was investigating the way in which popular culture can be effectively integrated into the curriculum.  One interesting reading I came across while researching this assignment was ‘Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular culture as funds of knowledge for curriculum co-construction’ by Helen Hedges, published in the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood in 2001.

In this paper, Hedges argues that popular-culture can be seen as ‘funds of knowledge’, and that the use of popular culture in the classroom may be a way for teachers to engage meaningfully with children’s interests.

As part of her literature review, Hedges explains that research has shown popular culture can be used to motivate and extend children’s literature learning, but that the extent to which popular culture is integrated into the curriculum is highly influenced by teachers’ own experiences and beliefs about popular culture.  She goes on to say that ‘contemporary’ play such as watching television or using computers can be seen by teachers are negative or dangerous experiences.

This got me thinking about my own experiences, and whether they are colouring my perceptions about what is acceptable or beneficial to students in my classroom.  Are my own personal preferences about popular culture having an impact on what is encouraged in my classroom?

Hedges’ qualitative study of interest-based curriculum explored two questions:

1.  In what ways do teachers recognise and engage with children’s interests in relation to children’s experiences and funds of knowledge?

2. How do teachers choose whose and which interests will be engaged with in building a sociocultural curriculum during both planned and spontaneous teaching and learning interactions? (Hedges, 2011, p. 26)

In investigating these questions, Hedges found that children represented their pop-culture interests in a variety of ways, including bringing objects to school and through play and conversations.  Another interesting finding was that children’s popular-culture influenced play and discussions were often deflected or diverted in the presence of the teacher – children waited until the teacher had left to resume play.  I found this fascinating and wondered whether the same thing is going on in my own classroom?

What I really liked about this study was that after collecting data in classrooms about the way in which popular culture and children’s interests were not being appreciated or acted on by teachers, Hedges provided the teachers involved with her field notes, and the teachers began to change their practice, considering the potential for popular culture in the curriculum.  Those of us who teach are very familiar with the fact that we need to be constantly reflecting on and updating our practice in order to maintain a high standard of education for our students.  Hedges was able to provide teachers involved in this study with meaningful insights to help them improve their teaching practice.

Hedges concludes by asserting that:

“if teachers overlook children’s interest in popular culture, they may be ignoring a rich source with which to engage and extend children’s knowledge and understandings” (Hedges, 2011, p. 29)

What are your thoughts?

Hedges explains that teachers need to realise that their own childhood experiences may be very different from those of their students.  Do you agree with this?  How do you think your childhood experiences are different from those of children of today?

Hedges, H. (2011).  Rethinking Sponge Bob and Ninja Turtles: Popular Culture as Funds of Knowledge for Curriculum Co-construction.  Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 36(1), 25-29.  Retrieved from  http://search.informit.com.au.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/fullText;dn=950170717489010;res=IELHSS
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