1/365: How Letterpress Uses Funds of Knowledge

Along with all the tedium of life (classes, laundry, work), I’ve been focusing quite a bit lately on an important issue. Letterpress.
If you haven’t downloaded this word game for iPhone and iPad, take a break from reading this and then come back. At the least, make note that you intend to check it out when you’re done reading.
A word-based game, the objective is to spell words given a random assortment of letter tiles. Spell and submit a word and those tiles turn your color. Your opponent then attempts to spell some other word and turn the tiles his color. The game is over when all tiles have been claimed, and the winner is the player with the most tiles of his color.
It’s Words with Friends meets Othello.
I’m not obsessed with the game. Dedicated is the word I choose.
Here’s the thing, it’s a new game and the developer is constantly updating the dictionary the app uses to determine whether a submitted word is, in fact, a word.
This is oftentimes frustrating. It’s not complete. The app doesn’t know all words.
Jew = Word
Jewish = Not a Word
There are other examples.
I’m no word genius, but I know some things, and so this incomplete dictionary has frustrated me on more than one occasion. At least twice, in the throes of a fantastic game, I’ve put my phone down and walked away in frustration saying, “It is too a word!”
The whole experience has me thinking of Moll et al’s theory of funds of knowledge.
At its simplest, Moll proposes taking teachers as researchers into the homes of their students and asking the question, “What is the knowledge that’s created, valued, and used in this space?”
From there, these teacher anthropologists take what they’ve learned and draw on those funds of knowledge in crafting their lesson plans and shaping their teaching practice.
If the parallels here aren’t jumping out, let me be more direct.
Letterpress is operating like a traditional classroom. It presents the possible tools for making sense and succeeding. Within those boundaries, it allows players to construct meaning and submit those constructions for approval. This is what teachers do on a regular basis.
What also happens on a regular basis, though, is the construction of new ways of organizing and implementing tools to make meaning. Not yet realizing there’s a way of learning things, students may accidentally take risks and imagine new possibilities. Oftentimes, because of a rubric or the learning objective of the task at hand, those risks and that imagination are re-directed toward the intended goal – either frustrating the child or shutting down those paths to future learning.
Letterpress and traditional teaching depart in their approaches to the idea of upgrading. For Letterpress, developers realize they need to improve the user experience to make that experience worthwhile. Find the expectations and funds of knowledge of the user and make the game more inclusive.
For classrooms, the goal is often to upgrade the user or student. Keep the game the same and get students to develop a better understanding of the rules.
The difference?
When I put down Letterpress in frustration, I come back because there is the promise the experience will improve.
When students turn away from education and schools in frustration, we can’t say the same thing.

One thought on “1/365: How Letterpress Uses Funds of Knowledge

  1. Most of the dictionary for Letterpress is straight out of Scrabble (the CSW12 dictionary for Scrabble). Words that are always capitalized are generally excluded. “Jewish,” for example, is always capitalized, but “jew” has an uncapitalized meaning (an offensive one, as a verb), which is what got it into the Scrabble dictionary. Another example would be “japan” which has an uncapitalized usage, so it’s allowed in Scrabble. HTH

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