Monday, November 28, 2011

    What Do You Know About It?

    Book art by Cara Barer

    If you're in my reading class, you've heard me say it countless times: Skilled readers activate their prior knowledge before they read. Say it with me: Skilled readers activate their prior knowledge before they read. 

    Wondering why I repeat this little gem over, and over, and over again throughout the semester? Clearly, this is important stuff. In fact, activating your prior knowledge is one of The Most Important things you can do to support your comprehension before you even pick up the text to read. Remember all that discussion at the beginning of the term about frontloading, and how the things you do before you read are more important than the things you do during any other part of the reading process? Well, activating PK is one of those things.

    Think about activating your prior knowledge as setting the mood for reading. Imagine you invite someone you're really interested in over to your place for dinner. What do you before this person arrives? You dim the lights, you put on some music, make sure the place is clean or at least smells clean enough. Why do you do all this? Because you want to set the mood. I guess you could say prior knowledge is to reading what Barry White is to a dinner date.

    Remember, your prior knowledge consists of what you believe, what you have experienced, and what you know. Also remember that learning happens when we connect new knowledge to existing knowledge. This, my friends, is why PK is so massively important: You must create a base of existing knowledge before you can learn new knowledge.

    So what happens if you don't have any prior knowledge? Well, here's what you do: You go out and get some. That's right, I'm not joking around here. If you are required to read about something and you have absolutely no PK about that topic, it is your responsibility to go out and get some prior knowledge. As a student today, you have the distinct advantage of having access to an enormous amount of information via the Internet, so take advantage of it. Activate that prior knowledge.

    One of the most common mistakes students make is to skip prereading and dive right into the text. You might get away with this when you're reading, say, the back of a cereal box or some other piece of writing that doesn't require much thought. But I pity the fool who sits down to study for a college course and skips right over the prereading. Prior knowledge is your friend, people. Your friend.

    (For those of you in my class, the Activating Prior Knowledge section begins on page 12 of my Fall 2011 course packet.)

    Activating Prior Knowledge in the Grand Scheme of Reading:
    • Major Components of Reading
      • Comprehension
        • Before Reading Skills
          • Activate Prior Knowledge
        • During Reading Skills
        • After Reading Skills
      • Fluency
      • Vocabulary
      • Phonics
      • Phonemic Awareness


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