Words for Thought

Nov 5th, 2019 | Category: Columns, Words for Thought
By Amy Stradtmann

We Skip the Easy Stuff

In my years supervising teachers as an administrator, and now as I am working with pre-service teacher candidates, I have noticed a common thread. We tend to skip the easy stuff. In an effort to get to the meat of a lesson, we skip one of the most necessary steps for comprehension – activating and developing background knowledge.

Why? Is it because developing our students’ background knowledge seems to be too easy? Is it because we assume that our audience already has the same life experiences and knowledge that we ourselves have? Is it because we are in a hurry to get to the content and skills that we must teach? Whatever our reasons for skipping this vital step, we must recognize that doing so has a significant impact on students’ learning. Robert Marzano (2004) argued that what students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.

Students, whether they are elementary-school students, university seniors, or graduate students, walk into our classroom with varied experiences, and they bring their own interpretations of those experiences. How can we connect students to new learning if we do not take the time to inventory (and possibly correct) what they already think they know? It is our job to assist the learner in accessing their mental file so that they can use it and add new material to it. In doing so, students are better equipped to connect with the text, learn new vocabulary, make inferences, read fluently, and recall information. Additionally, we model solid teaching practice to them so that they will transfer that practice into their own future classrooms.

So next time you implement a lesson, take time to massage the brain to prepare it for new learning. Engage the students with things they know to enhance their ability to learn and grow. Remember the critical importance of “the easy stuff!” LEJ

Amy Stradtmann, M.A., serves as Assistant Professor of Education and Middle Grades Program Coordinator at Concordia University Chicago.  She earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education at Concordia Nebraska and a Master’s degree at Northern Illinois University in Reading Education. Amy has spent almost thirty years in Lutheran education serving both as a teacher and administrator in the primary and secondary settings. As an educational therapist, she started and coordinated the “Discovery Program” for students in grades K-12 with learning difficulties.  She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in literacy at Judson University.