The role of background knowledge in education

The role of background knowledge in education

Background knowledge, in other words, is a glue that sticks information and learning together. Believe it or not, when you have prior knowledge about a topic, you understand it better when you start reading about it. It plays an important role in a student’s life, reading comprehension especially in the school. If students don’t have enough related knowledge, they’ll probably face difficulties in understanding the text.

What could possibly happen when there is a lack of background knowledge about something? Below are some of the situations that you might relate to.

  • When new ideas and experiences appear, it will be difficult to make sense of what the author is trying to convey.
  • While reading, it will be difficult to proceed and understand further information without background knowledge.
  • It also leads to an inability to summarize what one has read.

Well, you might think of how one can have prior knowledge about everything.

prior knowledge

Of course, that is hardly possible. However, we can involve ourselves in many activities and at least have vague knowledge about almost everything. I am sure, a question mark on “How”, is still going on in your mind. Well, there are arguably four types of background knowledge that needs to be instilled in students from their very early age and they are:

1. Knowledge of the world:

It is essential for normal language understanding. The construction of meaning in the mind depends on the reader’s knowledge of the language, subject and broad-based background. From this statement, firstly it’s clear that reading is an excellent source of knowledge which not only increases word-meaning but also facilitates reading comprehension. Secondly, the more they interact with the world around them, directly or indirectly, it helps children develop their knowledge of the world. Because then they can relate general background knowledge about everyday life with the context.

2. Vocabulary knowledge:

As stated above, reading, being the best source for any knowledge, it also is a key to develop vocabulary knowledge. The more you read, the more you learn different words and their usage. This apart, the other way to develop vocabulary knowledge is to travel and interact with different people, get involved in socializing. The conversations can be a great way to learn better.

3. Concept knowledge:

Activating prior knowledge can also happen through conceptual understanding. Giving hands-on or direct experiences is a great source for understanding concepts while reading. In other words, it takes students away from the classroom settings and brings the world to them. Discussions and brainstorming are also helpful in developing concept knowledge. This will help gather a variety of views and information about the world.

4. Biblical knowledge:

Having background knowledge about the Bible is not about learning what a bible itself. Biblical knowledge gives an experience of a journey, wherein at first you might feel it as just a journey. However, once you arrive, you feel the difference from where you have started. The geographical setting, history of Israel and the ancient Near East, political movements, religious and cultural environment of the biblical world, all contribute to a whole lot of information that you might not learn even in the school. Even the languages here make a huge difference in understanding the passage. In fact, not only in the Bible, you pick any holy book, and it is filled with a whole lot of information which is deep in meaning and filled with knowledge.

For this to happen, parents play a key role in providing enough prior knowledge to a student. Because a kid’s education starts at home and their parents are their first teachers. Thus, it is important for parents and their kids to learn together at home.

On the other hand, teachers play the next important role in a child’s learning. It is essential for teachers to assess and understand what the students already know about a topic. According to an expert educational researcher “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”. Teachers can engage students in activities, which will not only help understand their prior knowledge but also generate curiosity in them to learn and connect with the content. Once the insights are gathered, it is easier to create target specific learning sessions for the students, which textbooks simply cannot do.

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