Integrating Students’ Identities and Interests Into Instruction
Tools used to learn more about your students and integrating those learnings into your instruction


Jamaal Matthews, associate professor of educational psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, points out that gathering information about students but not using it to improve instruction can actually lessen feelings of classroom belonging. When this occurs, Matthews suggests, students feel that their acts of sharing did not have any impact, thus lessening feelings of agency and membership within the classroom. Teachers, therefore, would do well to be intentional about acting on whatever information they gather from students.

Matthews offers two tools for teachers to use in order to learn about their students and then integrate that knowledge into their instruction. The first is a framework that organizes the information they gather about students: the 4 Hs of Belonging-Centered Math Instruction. The 4Hs are Home, Hobbies, Hopes and Heritage. Home refers to aspects of students’ home lives, Hobbies are students’ interests outside of school, Hopes describe students’ aspirations and Heritage identifies valued cultural or ethnic points of pride.

In order to gather information to fill out the 4H framework, Matthews suggests using interest interviews. Interest Interviews consist of students interviewing each other and turning in the resulting report to their teacher. Sample questions include:

  1. How do you use math in your everyday life?
  2. What is a weekly/daily ritual you have with your family?
  3. What do you watch on youtube? Where do you see numbers on youtube?
  4. Who is one of the most important people in your community? How do they use math in what they do?

These student-generated reports generate a repository of information about each student that can be fed back into a teachers’ instructional practice in the following ways (math-classroom specific, but adaptable to other disciplines):

  • Word Problems
  • Teacher Analogies
  • Analysis of Real Data
  • Discussion of Math in Society
  • Tangible Math Representations
  • Mathematical Modeling of Real-World Phenomena

This template allows teachers to track their integration of student interests in the classroom instruction over the course of a week. It can, of course, be adapted to fit teacher preferences and different academic subjects.