If teachers find out what keeps students busy outside of school, this can enhance the lessons. It can also increase pupils’ enthusiasm for school and boost their self-confidence, especially in schools with numerous pupils from a different cultural or socio-economic background than the teacher. In the Amsterdam Educational Research Centre, researchers and primary school teachers work together to make optimal use of the knowledge and skills that pupils acquire outside of school in the classroom.
A teacher’s unfamiliarity with what students have already learned outside of school can lead to their skills being underestimated. Teachers lack the opportunity to build on existing knowledge and skills as a result, while pupils experience a gap between home and school, causing them to lose their engagement in school. For example, a school might emphasise that a pupil has a language proficiency deficit even though this pupil speaks three languages outside school. Or a geography lesson might ignore the knowledge that pupils have about countries where their relatives live. So say education scientists Monique Volman, Edda Veerman and Lisa Gaikhorst, all of whom are involved in the Amsterdam Educational Research Centre.
‘Large cities in particular have very diverse pupil populations and teachers often have different social and cultural backgrounds than their pupils,’ explains Veerman. ‘As a result, teachers do not always align their lessons with what a pupil already knows or can do and has learnt at home. This means that certain groups of pupils, particularly pupils with a migrant background and from lower socio-economic environments, identify less with school and feel less engaged.’
Bridging the gap between home and school
If attention is paid to the knowledge and skills that pupils acquire outside of school, teachers can bridge this gap between home and school. Outside of school, for example, young people learn all kinds of things about home economics, technology, art and language. Tying in with this extracurricular knowledge can make lessons more meaningful for pupils, who will feel more engaged as a result.
‘In the Amsterdam Educational Research Centre, we work together with teachers to explore different ways in which we can take the knowledge, experiences and skills that pupils acquire outside of school and put them to active use in lessons. This might cover the whole gamut from cultural traditions and holidays to knowledge about a particular computer game, rapping and origami or interest in a particular football club,’ says Veerman. ‘For example, teachers asked pupils to make a vlog about their weekend. This gave them a good insight into what keeps their pupils busy outside of school and what is important to them. They can then build on this in their lessons with new teaching materials.’
Volman also states that the use of these extracurricular knowledge sources, as they are known, contributes to the pupils’ level of self-confidence and ambition. ‘But it also builds bridges between pupils themselves. It teaches pupils to look at others with an open mind and to be more understanding of them. This increases mutual trust and social cohesion. Pupils can then take this sense of trust and engagement with them as they go about other aspects of their lives.’
The power of cooperation
The researchers strongly believe in this form of cooperation with teachers in education. ‘An important component of the project is the fact that the research is carried out together with the professional field and that our scientific insights can be applied in this professional field,’ says Volman. ‘Sharing our knowledge with teachers allows them to develop interventions that tie in well with their school,’ adds Gaikhorst. ‘As scientists, we give teachers confirmation, some of the theory and its translation into practice, and examples of how this is done elsewhere. We are able to explain how it can contribute to the development of pupils and their performance.’