Having a foundation of crucial knowledge, and the ability to gain new knowledge independently is the ultimate goal of education. Knowledge particularly aids students in reading comprehension. Students who have knowledge are equipped better for learning at each of the learning stages, taking in new information, thinking about new information, and remembering new information, and benefit from improvements in their thinking. Of the types of knowledge that students need to be successful readers, personal, conceptual, vocabulary, and textual knowledge are particularly important for educators to build within their students. When effective teachers equip their students with these necessary tools, students will benefit from a desire to read and continue learning beyond the classroom.
Learning takes place in three stages: taking in new information, thinking about new information, and remembering new information (Willingham, 2006). In taking in new information, students use their background knowledge to fill in any gaps that they find in their reading. If students have sufficient background knowledge, this process is automatic, and allows for a smooth flow of reading and constructing meaning. However, when a student does not have sufficient background knowledge, they may have to reread parts of the text, or consciously think about ways to make connections with the new information. In thinking about new information, students tie their background knowledge with new information. This process is called chunking, and it frees up more space in working memory to think about a variety of topics at once. If students lack background knowledge, they are required to think about the new information in individual pieces, making processing the information a less efficient process. In remembering new information, students with a rich background knowledge can connect new information with already existing information, making it more likely they will retain the new information.
Knowledge improves thinking in both problem solving and circumventing thinking (Willingham, 2006). During problem solving, students who have background knowledge are able to chunk pieces of information together, leaving them extra space in working memory to focus on the current problem. Students who lack room in working memory are slower at solving problems, and have to spend time analyzing pieces of information separately. Knowledge helps circumvent thinking by allowing students to more easily recognize similar problems, remember or construct solutions to those problems, and allows them to analyze problems on a deeper level.
There are four different types of knowledge that teachers should build in students to aid comprehension: personal, conceptual, vocabulary, and textual (Dewitz, 2014). Personal knowledge is the past experiences that a student has had. They connect this information with what they are reading, which makes the information more relatable and relevant to them. Teachers can build and activate this type of knowledge by providing students with real world interaction such as field trips, or tailoring instruction to relate to a student’s home life. Conceptual knowledge is knowledge on a topic such as math, science, or history. Teachers can build this knowledge by planning units centered on themes, reading multiple texts about a topic within a thematic unit, or providing students with opportunities to read a wide range of texts on different topics. Vocabulary knowledge is the amount of words that a student understands the meaning of. Vocabulary knowledge can be developed by explicitly teaching definitions, teaching students how to derive word meaning from context, and teaching students to use word parts to derive meaning. Textual knowledge is what a student knows about different genres of texts, their structures, and the features found in these texts. Students should be taught how to use the different features in a text, such as glossaries and table of contents. Students should also be taught to recognize the different text structures, cause/effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, sequence, and description, and how these structures will affect the information in the text, and their purpose for reading.
Students who have a wealth of knowledge are more likely to comprehend and benefit from reading. Knowledge allows students to make connections with what they are reading and makes their thinking more efficient. Having different types of knowledge also benefits reading comprehension, and can be built with a variety of activities such as field trips, reading a variety of texts, explicit vocabulary instruction, and learning to identify different text structures. Teachers who aid students in building knowledge will be rewarded by students who are engaged in their learning, and have a desire to continue growing throughout their school career and beyond.
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