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Dolphin tennis.

One of my favourite examples of children's talk comes from a discussion between pre-school children in Hong Kong:

Child A: This is not a common warship as it is not for fighting. I do not like war. It is for protecting our Victoria Harbour.

Child B: People can go to the front of the ship for sunbathing and playing tennis with dolphins.

Child C: They can also enjoy barbecues, birthday parties and sing karaoke with the marine animals.

(Kam & Ebbeck, 2010, p. 173)

This short exchange demonstrates imagination and a wealth of knowledge that these young students possess, including animal types, social occasions, sporting activities, geography and even includes an opinion.

The knowledge that each child brings with them, dubbed by Moll, Amanti, Neff, and Gonzalez (1992, p. 133) as 'funds of knowledge', varies greatly from student to student and paying attention to conversations of this type assists a teacher to assess a child's interests and range of knowledge. Engaging with a students' particular fund of knowledge helps students to 'make sense of classroom literacy activities and their level of motivation and engagement are enhanced' (Fellowes & Oakley, 2013, p. 534). The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (DEECD & VCAA, 2011, p. 11), which is designed with students up to 8 years of age in mind, encourages educators to take notice of student conversations such as these and use the information gained to develop suitable learning activities. Understanding the extent and varied range of the students' funds of knowledge enables more effective tasks and resources to be targeted to their needs.

It is much harder, however, to assess what children may not know, particularly when working with students from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background.

Working with children from a CALD background requires knowledge and insight to their culture to allow appropriate design and selection of texts and tasks. I have encountered several examples that particularly highlight this and I hope relating my experiences may help educators who increasingly meet diversity within their classrooms.

Mai* and her parents live in a regional area of Victoria, having arrived from a UNHCR refugee camp, and I visit their home regularly as a mentor and tutor. Their culture is significantly different from most of the parents and students in the school where Mai started in Prep this year. Mai, like the other students, was given a small book to take home each day to practise the alphabet with--A apple, B ball, C cat and so on. The first problem encountered was her parents' lack of English so they were unable to assist her with this task. The next problem was a lack of knowledge of several of the items depicted as Mai had never encountered these items. This inexperience was due not just to lack of exposure but also cultural differences.

The first item Mai was totally unfamiliar with was a kite. It may not be unusual that a 5 year old has not encountered a kite in real life but it is easily assumed that packed somewhere in their backpack, their fund of knowledge, is some encounter with an image or vision of a kite. Mai had no point of reference for this at all. To remedy this we spent some time making a kite and went outside to fly it. Unfortunately, on the first two occasions we tried to fly kites there was no wind whatsoever and we ended up with a tangled mess of string. On the third occasion, when a nice kite flying breeze was blowing, Mai was totally uninterested in attempting to fly it as she judged it as boring, based on the first two attempts.

The second item Mai was completely unfamiliar with was popcorn. She had no concept of popcorn at all and so the accompanying picture provided no assistance. On every attempt at using the book, she would stop and then skip over this letter completely. To help with this, I borrowed a popcorn maker, we cut out and glued a paper container and made and shared several batches of popcorn. Although Mai tended to pronounce it as pompcorn, she soon had a point of reference and confidently linked this to the letter p. Her inexperience and lack of exposure to popcorn certainly had a cultural aspect which would not be the case for most of the peers in her cohort. Mai had never been to the cinema, never seen, tasted or smelt popcorn and neither had her parents. These experiences were unknown in their culture.

As the year has progressed, Mai has learnt the alphabet and is making progress with reading, currently working with texts up to level 3. One book she recently brought home contained a picture with many pieces of toast and the line of text referred to eating toast. Mai could not decode this word, did not remember it from previously reading the book in class and looked blankly at the picture. It took me some moments to realise that Mai had never eaten or seen a piece of toast. Bread, indeed any wheat based product, is not a part of her families' regular diet and, once again, she had no experience of this at all. The picture cue was never going to lead her to the word, as toast was not within her fund of knowledge.

It is easy to assume that students possess what could be considered common knowledge. When working with students from a CALD background, it is important not to make these assumptions and to work closely with the child, parents and community members to be aware of cultural differences and experience. Teachers need to develop an understanding of the student's fund of knowledge, what it contains and just as importantly, what it doesn't contain.

* Name changed for privacy reasons.


DEECD, & VCAA. (2011). Victorian early years learning and development framework Melbourne: Dept. of Education and Early Childhood Development & VCAA. Retrieved from

Fellowes, J., & Oakley, G. (2013). Language, literacy and early childhood education. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

Kam, S. & Ebbeck, F. (2010). Play and the Reggio Emilia approach in preschools. In M. Ebbeck & M. Waniganayake (Eds.), Play in early childhood education: Learning in diverse contexts (pp. 157-176). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D. & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31 (2), 132-141. doi: 10.2307/1476399

Stephen Cadusch is a mature age student currently studying a Bachelor of Education (Primary) with a particular interest in early years education. He has many years experience as an integration aide which has helped him to develop an appreciation of students' individual needs. He likes to walk each morning with his dog, Snappy.
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Title Annotation:student conversations
Author:Cadusch, Stephen
Publication:Practically Primary
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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