This past week, I have done a lot of reading for my “Teaching the Genre” presentation. I think it is most interesting that of the four articles that I read, all of them mention that a teacher must utilize her students’ prior knowledge. I think I found it interesting because, when I was in elementary, middle, and high school, my teachers rarely took interest in our prior knowledge. Instead, we were given a textbook, told to answer the questions, and then a few weeks later, had to memorize the information for our quiz. If so much research has been done about how students learn expository texts best after teachers activate their background knowledge, then why did I suffer through most of my schooling, expected to just remember whatever I read?
To be honest, I do not think that it takes much more effort for a teacher to activate prior knowledge, or implement a short activity to give students that prior knowledge. For example, during my practicum placement last summer, I created a decimals, percentages, and ratios lesson that used Skittles. During the lesson, I incorporated information about rainbows so the lesson had a dual purpose. What I did not realize was that my students lacked any background knowledge on rainbows. Instead of plowing through the lesson anyway, I took the time to pull up some information and pictures on a computer for my students. We discussed where rainbows come from, and why we can see them. I found that the remainder of my lesson was quite successful after I took the time to discuss rainbows with my students. Granted, it took me off track and the lesson took a huge chunk of the day to complete, but my students remembered what they learned. When I consider what would have happened had I ignored their confusion, I think they would have learned the information. They would have taken it in, and it would have left them after 24 hours, if I was lucky.
Putting this back into the context of expository texts, passing on small pieces of background knowledge is not difficult. In one of the articles that I read by Gregg and Sekeres (2006), multiple ways in which a teacher can activate or establish prior knowledge for students before they read are mentioned. While reading, I thought about how creative many of the ideas were, but how simple they were at the same time. Teachers (although not all teachers) frequently assume that doing these kinds of activities “just adds extra work.” Honestly, it may. But in my opinion, putting in the extra work early on, prevents all of the extra hours spent at the end of the year when students have not reached the point they are supposed to be at. Many of the articles talk about how much prior knowledge aids comprehension. I recognize that this is important during all reading, but because expository texts naturally use larger vocabulary words and complex text structures, students are more likely to respond well to a reading if they have something to use that benefits them. Prior knowledge is one of these things. If I had teachers growing up who encouraged me to activate what I already knew, even if it was very little bits of information, then maybe I would have had more success in reading expository texts (especially those awful, terrible social studies textbooks).
To change the subject, one of the things that has been on my mind since my 600 class last week is the role of technology in the classroom. I think it is just the fact that I am still fuming over how many people in the class said that books are the only “real” way to teach students. I guess in my opinion, how can you be an aspiring teacher (or a current teacher) and assume that books are the only proper way to teach students. I am confused over the stigma people put on technology. Technology has allowed more advances for our country than anyone could have ever dreamed. Assuming that books and paper are the only things that provide “real” learning is a rudimentary and underdeveloped thought. I think about all of the progress from this class that I have made, especially in my ways of thinking and writing. Of course, I should give it a rest because many of those people in my 600 class may not have experienced and learned about the benefits of technology in the classroom. To finish my thought, I think that one of the most important characteristics of a teacher is that they are consistently open to trying new things. Writing technology off as an improper way to teach severely hinders the way that students learn, comprehend, and remember.
Gregg, M. & Sekeres, D. C. (2006). Supporting children's reading of expository text in the geography classroom. The Reading Teacher, 60(2), 102-110.