Activating Prior Knowledge to Promote Engagement
What does this mean? Simply, help students remember what they know so they want to know more.
Teaching students of all ages is difficult in the sense that they don’t necessarily recall knowledge the same way adults do. They need some sort of reference to help recall information and possibly a connection to turn to. What does this mean for the parent? It means to stay engaged in your child’s education, knowing what they are learning and connecting it somehow to life at home, as this can be a critical aspect in their success. By making connections you are making them a part of their learning, considered active learning.
Often, we believe that students have the knowledge and experience, of going to school, to support their memory and recall. The truth is, children are so overwhelmed by educational and social expectations, that a lot of what we believe they should remember, they haven’t. This isn’t to say that they do so intentionally. Quite the contrary. Children and teenagers are learning new things all the time and this new learning overwhelms their heads, whether they are showing interest or not. The best defense is to openly get them engaged in their learning.
What does it mean to activate prior knowledge? Simply put, help students recall what they have learned. What is the benefit? The benefit is showing students that they DO have knowledge of many things they don’t even realize. Trying to “jog” their memory shows them that the knowledge is there, it is just a matter of finding a technique to recall the information when it is needed. Teaching children that it is sometimes a lot of work to remember something, takes away that “adults know everything, and I know nothing” outlook.
How does this promote engagement? It promotes engagement because it boosts self-esteem and shows them that they are smarter than they know. Often, children have the idea that adults just know everything. Almost every parent has heard this from a child at least once. “That’s because you know that already!” If they only knew that it isn’t the fact that adults hold information in a better brain, it means they have better memory and recall of that memory.
What does this look like at different ages? Let’s look.
Kindergarten to 2nd Grade: These students are learning about writing and using basic math. They know what they want to say, they just don’t have all the skills yet to get it from their brain onto paper. This is mostly because they don’t have the writing skills. Writing for young students is work, a lot of work! Promoting writing is not easy for young or reluctant writers. A great way to get students to become writers, who like to write, is to show them what they can construct. Here are some great steps to do this:
- Ask the student or the teacher what they are learning about in other subjects, most specifically science and social studies.
- Talk to your student about what they might already know about the topic.
- Tell the student what you know about the topic.
- If you both have enough information to write a summary, do it together. The student tells the parent what to write and can also ask the parent questions. When it is written the way, they can say it to you, they see what their own thoughts are able to create.
- If you both have only a limited knowledge of the topic, make a list together stating where you could look to find the information. It is okay to show students that you don’t know everything.
By doing this kind of learning, not only are you learning together, you are constructing a situation that helps students to recall information. Let’s say a few years later that same topic comes up, you can say to the student, “Hey, we wrote a summary on that topic, remember when you were in 1st grade?” After saying this, go back and find that information. You have just activated prior knowledge. Even if you never got around to writing a summary, just the conversation can assist in recall. “Remember that time we were driving, and we were talking about that?” Students recall information much more easily and quickly if they can make a connection to it.
3rd Grade to 5th Grade: These students are learning not only concepts; they are learning more of the details around the concepts. They are learning to write in a proper form and working more complex math. In science they are starting to not only conduct experiments, but also write lab reports about what they observe. As with the younger kids, show interest in what they are learning, let them know you don’t know everything about each topic, and allow them to see that you enjoy learning too.
As students get older, they may be more reluctant to talk to parents about what they are learning. Why is this? One reason is they believe that adults know everything and that if a conversation begins, it will turn into a lecture with you as teacher, them as students. This isn’t any fun, especially when they just spent the day listening to multiple teachers. Instead, don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen to what they know, ask a lot of questions, and acknowledge their knowledge. Another reason is they might not know enough to make a real conversation. Let them know it is okay to not know a lot about every topic. Let them know that everyone acquires knowledge in different subjects to different depths. For example, you may know more about math but less about US History. That is normal for everyone. No one is an expert in everything.
6th Grade to 8th Grade: Middle school students are learning independence. They want to be teenagers, even when they still act like children. What do you do with this age group? Make memories. Find out topics they are learning and have discussions or talk about a movie that might relate. Figure out places to go to together where you might learn more. “I wonder where we could learn more about this. Where do you think we could learn more about it?” They will say “I don’t know” but they do have good ideas, impress this on them.
Highschool: This age group is typically independent in their learning. The teachers should be helping them with the resources. Conversations can still occur but may not be as effective as with the younger kids. Don’t ever stop trying to make connections! One way to promote their learning is to ask them about something you really don’t know. Let them find the information and teach you! Empower them.
Making learning positive and making connections is huge in learning. Not only does it promote a healthy learning environment, it allows students to go back and recall the positive situation, which will allow them to recall more of the information that has been tucked away. Let students know that everyone must “think back” to remember things. There is too much knowledge in our world to know everything about every topic going back to all aspects of history. This is okay. Let students know this is normal.
©2020 CBialczak Education