On the importance of background knowledge (schemas)…
Background knowledge is essential for pupils to access any material the teacher presents them with. This knowledge, with which we see and understand the world, is called schema. Those who have had experiences that range broad and wide have a deeper, richer schema. The impact of this on their learning is huge. They are less likely to come up against information that leaves them bereft of understanding and struggling to make meaning.
As educators, we need to do a great deal to equip students with vast webs of knowledge so that they can access more knowledge which in turn develops their capacity to think and reason and make sense of the world.
Case in point; on reading a broadsheet article with my students, I presented them with the phrase “he has the mind of a modern Aristotle”, which the journalist had used to describe a very smart computer scientist. The trouble was, I quickly found that the students never knew who Aristotle was, not a single one! This meant that the phrase had no lexical significance whatsoever. Their lack of background knowledge left them flummoxed in this case. Would this happen to a student who had had access to a broad range of classic European literature and culture? Do all students compete on a level playing field in the arena of education. Pause. Consider privilege. Consider all of its perks in a knowledge economy where knowing things is king. I don’t know about you but part of my moral purpose as a teacher is reducing this knowledge gap.
So how do you go about equipping students with the knowledge needed for success? Now that’s a question worth pondering over.