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Shoebox Autobiographies: Funds of Knowledge and Steph Paterson of CSU Stanislaus

Shoebox Autobiographies: Funds of Knowledge and Steph Paterson of CSU Stanislaus

January 12, 2020

Dear WinkWorld Readers,

Teachers, the shoebox autobiographies are a good way of building community.  CSUS friends, I was able to see Steph, while she was presenting at the University of Arizona.  Hope you enjoy.


Recently, I was invited to a book study group for Tucson TAWL (Tucson Teachers Applying Whole Language). Throughout the years, I have been a “wanna be” for this group, and I am so happy that I was able to attend today.  Thank you, Caryl Crowell and Prisca Martens for inviting me.  Here I am with them.

You might want to visit the TAWL website, and they are also on Facebook. Here is their mission statement, which I love.

Our book study focused on a new book for me, Reading Revealed: 50 Expert Teachers Share What They Do and Why They Do It by Diane Stephens Jereome C. Harste, and Jean Anne Clyde, published by Scholastic, 2019.

What is a Shoebox Autobiography?  This community-building activity  was originally created by Carolyn Burke.  I learned about it in a chapter by Jean Anne Clyde in Reading Revealed.  Students decorate a shoebox, which has artifacts of their life.

Of course, I immediately thought of Luís Moll and his concept of funds of knowledge.

What are funds of knowledge?

Short answer: objects lying around your home, which represent what you know and have experienced.

Longer answer, with stories, posted below: excerpt taken from A Vision of Vygotsky, (Wink & Putney, 2002, pp. 97-100).

Vision of Vygotsky – Funds of Knowledge

How do we make these Shoebox Autobiographies in a classroom?

Caryl Crowell did this activity with her students, and I am adapting her classroom instructions, which she had created for the students in her classroom. Thanks, Caryl.

A Shoebox Autobiography is a collection of objects from home and community that reveal something about the person.  We would prefer that the children include at least some objects that remind them of a story about themselves or their family.  Typically, a shoebox autobiography might contain photos, hobby items, a favorite thing, religious symbols, mementos from a trip or special event, or objects of personal importance or interest, among other items.  The objects chosen should fit in the box and be appropriate for handling.

Here’s an example of what I put in my box:

pebbles that I collect on my travels

a dreidl

a seashell

photos of family and ancestors

a copy of my great-grandmother’s Prussian passport

my first grade school photo

a souvenir rock that says “Annihilate Ohio State”

a booklet on whale watching in Hawaii

a paper butterfly

The outside of the box can also be decorated.  Mine is covered with sun-themed paper, the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle, and plans for remodeling a bathroom.  The owner’s name also needs to be on the outside of the box.

In addition to the wonderful storytelling that always accompanies the sharing of shoebox autobiographies, we make connections to each other that build a strong learning community.  After sharing our boxes, we’ll be using the objects as inspiration for writing the stories that they tell.

In the photo below, are two examples.

The stories which people told were amazing.  I learned so much by just listening.

Can we do this in the middle of the year?

In Reading Revealed (p. 34) Jean Anne Clyde answers that question affirmatively.

Clyde suggests that the teacher say something like this:  “Kids, I recently discovered some things about some of you that I think everyone should know.  I just learned that Cortney is an expert at paining models!  and, I didn’t know that Lucy was going to be a new big sister!  It is really helpful when we know each other well.  We have so many interesting people in our room! So,, over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to do something that will helpp us all get to know each other better. This is a chance to see what’s special about each of us.”


Later in the day, I was lucky enough  to run into a wonderful friend/colleague from CSU Stanislaus Dr. Stephanie Paterson.  While at CSU, we had many happy times together. Stephanie presented with other CSU colleagues:  Joshua Costello, Melissa Borillo. Brett Ashmun.

Steph’s colleagues who presented with her:

Steph’s handout for her presentation:

This is what their description in the conference flyer said:

Stephanie Paterson can be reached at Twitter and on her blog.

Steph: Twitter


and her blog:

Steph Scrap Quilts

What a great day!



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