Activating Prior Knowlege, Understanding our Students

Good Instruction Activates Prior Knowledge and Uses Authentic Assessment – Elena Aguilar

I read this blog post about a teacher who was discussing ‘heroes’ in her grade 2 classroom. She started reading them a story about Martin Luther King Jr. and then the students began telling her about the heroes in their own lives.

The students took over the lesson, sharing personal stories, listening to stories of their classmates and wanting to have a party at the school. The teacher admits that she forgot to ‘activate their prior knowledge’ about heroes and that once the kids started talking about their heroes, this took over the lesson and they finished reading about Martin Luther King Jr. later.

Having completed internship, I can see the importance of remembering to activate prior knowledge that my students have. Sometimes, you will simply be amazed by what they already know and how they become teachers when sharing with their fellow classmates. Lessons can take on a whole new plan and time frame and I think that is alright. I would rather have students actively engaged and enthusiastic about learning, than sitting in their desk, bored and counting down the minutes until recess.

In the article, the students planned a celebration and brought their heroes to school, where these people felt welcomed and that they belonged in the school. I think it is important that our classrooms become a welcoming and safe place, where parents do not fear the teacher or the classroom because they might not have the language or knowledge to effectively communicate with the staff and teachers.

I am reminded of an article I read for my ERDG 425 class, “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching in Latino Households” – (1995) Urban Education, 29, p. 443-470.  This article highlights drawing from funds of knowledge when teaching students with English as a second language or where students have a strong cultural background. Teachers should draw on these cultural backgrounds and the knowledge that these students come to school with, and should use this to integrate new concepts and knowledge. This can include asking students to share examples and make connections to the knowledge they have already and to use this and not specifically focus on one way of learning or one culture and language. If we access this knowledge and form relationships with these parents with no pressure outside of the classroom where we are not see as a teacher but as an equal and an observer learning about the family, then parents will feel more comfortable and supported by the school.

These two articles that I have read connect and make a good point – we need to draw on our students’ past and incorporate this into our classrooms, lessons and learning.


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