Reading Between the Lines

Teaching skills in a setting for memorization of facts

Most of us are "teaching to a test".

As Willingham pointed out, one of the main gaps in education is the fact that we tend to rely on teaching memorization of facts versus actually skills or evaluation for many reasons: time, the layout of EOC's, AP Exams, Common Exams, and the like that inevitably bend us to the felt requirement of "teaching to the test". It can be easy to feel trapped into teaching a certain way that covers student memorization of main, highlighted facts throughout the curriculum that will carry them through the final exam (and hopefully with an A!). Isn't there a better way to teach required knowledge without merely tossing facts at students?

"...Background knowledge allows chunking, which makes more room in working memory, which makes it easier to relate ideas, and therefore to comprehend" (Willingham, page 35).

Our Impact:

It is imperative to self-reflect as an educator to check that you are relating ideas, chunking, and practicing with background knowledge with students to ensure the highest levels of understanding and overall success. Background knowledge is the foundation. The finished product results at the end of the semester from hard work from both teachers and students, information from teachers on how to apply already learned and newly acquire background knowledge, and practice, practice, PRACTICE!! Without providing ample time for our students to practice applying background knowledge to new situations, we can expect them to flounder. Students and teachers work together to build up from the foundation of background knowledge a new and higher understanding in education each 9 weeks, semester, and school year.

"Background knowledge also clarifies details that would otherwise be ambiguous & confusing ... Not only does background knowledge make you a better reader, it also is necessary to be a good thinker. The processes we most hope to engender in our students - thinking critically and logically - are not possible without background knowledge" (Willingham, pages 36 & 37).

I could anticipate most of my Biology students to be lost without the background knowledge I immediately review and cover in the beginning of the semester. We discuss the tried and true, mundane, yet imperative knowledge of lab safety procedures, the scientific method, and with the basis and definition of science, specifically biology. I don't start the semester out using jargon containing words such as eukaryotic, endosymbiotic, chordata, retrovirus, or deoxyrobonucleic acid. That's where I build my foundation; their application of what they first learn in my class allows them to leave at the end of the semester immediately familiar with such words and in-dept concepts.


Background knowledge also builds to understand abstract ideas.

How do we teach background knowledge simultaneously with abstract ideas?