When I began teaching personal financial literacy, I learned quickly that my student’s perceptions, interpretations, and beliefs about money were very different from my own. As a former financial adviser, I was comfortable having conversations about money, but in the classroom I struggled to keep my students engaged. I realized that getting them to where I wanted them to be required me to meet them where they were. I needed to adapt my lesson plans to build on their experiences and relationships with personal finances.
What I’m referring to is known as culturally relevant and responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching recognizes the importance of including student’s cultural references in the learning process. Our classrooms are getting more diverse each year. Therefore, we must ensure our lessons consider our scholars, socioeconomic backgrounds, experience, and prior knowledge to help them make connections. When teaching personal financial literacy, culturally responsive teaching can increase student engagement, promote inclusivity in the American financial system, and foster good financial citizenship.
Here are five strategies to create culturally relevant and responsible personal financial literacy lessons to increase student engagement.
1. Know Your Students
Scholars enter our classrooms with financial goals and past experiences; they are not a blank slate. We must activate their prior knowledge of personal finance and adapt our lessons to build from their experience. This starts by getting to know your scholars. Pay attention to your classroom’s racial, gender, and socioeconomic demographics. Take note of your scholars’ grade classifications and their group/club/athletic memberships. All of these factors can help you design lessons relevant to their interests. For instance, if I notice I have a class with several athletes, I include sports-related case studies and scenarios in my lessons.
2. Know the Community
The communities in which your scholars live also impacts their financial experiences. Get to know the financial characteristics of the communities surrounding your school and where they live. Compare the number of bank locations to the number of check-cashing, payday loan, and pawnshop locations. In high-poverty areas, students may be more familiar with walking into a check-cashing store than a retail bank store due to their parents’ being unbanked. This knowledge, for example, would inform the teacher that an activity evaluating the cost of being unbanked versus banked would be a culturally responsive approach to scholars’ experiences.
3. Integrate Pop Culture
Sociologists consider pop culture to be the cultural products consumed by a majority of the population. Our students are greatly influenced by their music, television, social media, fashion, and film. Incorporating pop culture into personal finance lessons can make immediate connections for students. It’s great to see an increasing number of pop culture influencers advocating for financial literacy among their followers. Television and movie stars, professional athletes, recording artists, and social media influencers are creating financial literacy content that teachers can use in the classroom.
4. Create Opportunities for Student Discourse
Teachers can learn a great deal about their students when they have the opportunity to talk. Whether through discussion prompts or structured conversations, students should have opportunities to discuss their learning. Through conversations, teachers can uncover misconceptions and scholars’ interest in various personal financial topics. Then the teacher can use the information to create lessons that specifically relate to students’ interests and then respond to misunderstandings at an appropriate time.
At the beginning of one semester, my class was having an open discussion about why personal financial literacy is an important course for high school students. I was explaining the different personal finance topics listed on the syllabus and asked my scholars which topics interested them the most. A student mentioned that she would like to learn about buying a house; another student followed up with a question about applying for HUD Section 8. Her question not only gave me a glimpse of her prior knowledge; it also informed my instruction during the unit on credit.
5. Utilize Engaging Activities
Some of my most engaging lessons include content-relevant activities. When the lesson activities are aligned to the lesson objectives, they provide an excellent opportunity for scholars to engage with the content. Activities like simulations and arcade games are a fun way to get scholars to practice what they have learned. I also like to include activities that require students to move around the room and/or work as a team. For instance, Next Gen Personal Finance has a budgeting project called “Budgeting with Roommates.” Scholars work in groups of three or four to budget expenses for a shared apartment. My students really enjoyed the activity. They felt it was relevant because many of them looked forward to moving out from their parents’ home after graduation. Their peer-to-peer conversations while working on the project challenged their thinking about what it would be like living on their own or with others.
As educators, we are in a unique position to increase personal financial literacy in our communities. We can provide our scholars with the knowledge and skills necessary to make good financial decisions and avoid many damaging financial pitfalls. Employing culturally relevant and responsive instruction can be a major step in helping scholars see the benefits of being financially literate and also help bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Vincent is a high school Assistant Principal in Houston, TX. Before advancing into school administration he taught high school US History, Personal Financial Literacy, and Sociology for 6 years. He was inspired to teach personal financial literacy by his childhood experiences and by situations he observed in his fifteen years as a Financial Advisor. Vincent also advocates for expanding financial literacy opportunities as a Fellow with Next Gen Personal Finance and his own venture, Branch-Out Financial.