|TTAC 3-2-1: VDOE's Training & Technical Assistance Center at Radford University
3 Timely Tips September 17, 2015
As we welcome a new group of students back to school this year I am sure you have quickly realized your students are much different from your students last year. They have different interests, different talents, different world views, and different ways of interacting with others. Our students bring more than book bags and notebooks into our classrooms; they bring their lifetime of background knowledge which affects how students learn and apply that learning. When presented with information for the first time students try to connect it to something they already know (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). This is a mechanism used to help make sense of the world and connect new knowledge with what they already know and what makes sense to them.
Background knowledge can be used as an opportunity to assist understanding of new information or concepts presented to them in class. When we allow students to interject what they already know into the lesson they connect it to what we are teaching and create deeper and longer lasting understandings of new information (Popova, Kirschner, & Joiner, 2014). Three ways of allowing students to activate their own background knowledge and bring that into the classroom are:
1. What do you Know, what do you Want to know, what did you Learn (KWL) charts
At the start of a new unit/lesson students will fill out a chart found here. Before the unit/lesson begins they will fill out the “What do you Know” column with three to five things they already know about the topic. This information is then shared with the class to assess the overall prior knowledge of the group Next they fill out the “What do you Want to know” column with three to five things they want to know by the end of the unit/lesson. Once the unit/lesson is over they should go back and complete the “What did you Learn” column and see if there are any questions they have, and how their prior knowledge compares to their current knowledge.
2. Prime the pump
Give students a video, a podcast, a sound bite, or a quick snippet to watch, listen to, or read before you begin the new topic. These primers are intended to get students to think about the topic before they enter your class and have a point of reference to draw on as you begin a new unit/lesson. They are not complete overviews or lessons in-and-of themselves, but fun and quick introductions to get students hooked.
3. Partner interviews
To get students to connect their prior knowledge with what they will learn in class, set them up in pairs and have them interview each other. This activity is designed to have one student act as a reporter and ask another student a series of questions about a topic to see what they know. Students will take turns interviewing each other using a set of questions created by the teacher. When going over the questions as a class you can use student answers as starting points to teach new content and skills.
Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Popova, A., Kirschner, P. A., & Joiner, R. (2014). Effects of primer podcasts on stimulating learning from lectures: How do students engage?. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(2), 330-339.
2 Teaching Tools
1. Prior knowledge in math instruction
Campbell and Campbell (2009) noted that a number of studies support the need to incorporate students’ prior knowledge in math instruction. Students acquire their own methods for solving math problems in daily life, and tapping into prior knowledge and past experiences can help students with new math learning.
When beginning a Math 8 lesson on sales tax and tip (SOL 7.4, 8.3) a teacher can activate prior knowledge through the KWL chart and partner interviews. At the beginning of class, students should be given a three-column KWL chart and the prompt to record under the "Know" column what they know about sales tax and tip (possible responses - this is paid when you buy something, it’s a percent, you leave a tip after you have been served food in restaurants). The teacher should then ask the students to turn to their partner and share what they brainstormed under the "Know" column. Following this, students would be asked to reflect on their partner interview and write under the "Want to know" column three things they would like to know about sales tax and tip (possible responses – Do you always have to pay sales tax/tip? Is sales tax the same for food and clothes? How do I know how much tip to leave? How do you find sales tax/tip?).
Campbell, L.; & Campbell, B. (2009). Mindful Learning: 101 Proven Strategies for Student and Teacher Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
2. Activating background knowledge by rank ordering
One method to activate students’ background knowledge is to have them rank items in the order of their perceived importance. In this method students receive a list of items, people, places or ideas relevant to the day’s lesson. Students are then asked to answer a question, solve a problem or develop a procedure that requires them to rank the items given to them by drawing on their prior knowledge/beliefs. An example can be found below:
When beginning an English 9 lesson on SOL 9.2, analyzing visual and written media messages, students can be asked to rank a series of commercials and paper ads in the order of their favorite using a Diamond 9. This pulls on students’ prior beliefs about what constitutes a good message and places them in the mindset of thinking about message construction. Once the Diamond 9 is finished have students share their rankings and why they picked their top three. Create a list on the board of their answers and then pull out the similarities. Compare their reasons for a good commercial/advertisement with SOL 9.2.
“In pursuit of knowledge, something new is learned in pursuit of wisdom, something old is unlearned. To grow, we need to learn, unlearn and re-learn.”