Purpose of School

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    Jill Sweeney

    What do you think is important for learners to know? Willingham talks about background knowledge in this chapter what do YOU believe we need to be teaching? And why?

    I agree with the author and I do believe that it is important for students to have an understanding of background knowledge. I disagree with the author about how much weight he puts on background knowledge because I think that learners also need to know how to reflect on and take in new experiences. I think that one of the most beneficial ways that we learn new information is through our hands-on experiences in our every day lives. When we fail or succeed in our experiences, we learn from it and we take in knowledge from it.


    Jared Tschohl

    I do not even know where to begin. When I first started out my education career back as a freshman in college in 2005, I thought E. D. Hirsch was the most intelligent person in all of education. A book we can teach everyone all the facts they ever need to know, what a revelation! While I still agree with a lot of what he says, I have learned over time, that knowing a bunch of facts is great for Jeopardy, but doesn’t do much in your real life.

    Application of those facts and making connections between all of it is necessary for students to understand. I think this is true particularly in much of reading instruction in most schools. There is such an emphasis on decoding and speed (not fluency), that we are growing a generation of word callers. Teaching student to “think” about what the words mean, is too abstract, and I think that is why chapter books scare children, because they do not “think” enough about meaning to enjoy the actual story.

    Additionally, common courtesy is essential, in my opinion. We don’t need full Emily Post etiquette, but just the basics (ma’am, sir, please, thank you, you’re welcome) is enough to help students get further in the real world. I myself had obtained jobs, and I was told later (whether it was true or not) that because I was polite and well-mannered, that put me above a candidate that was more qualified, because they were rude.


    Jen Newton

    I love this connection – teaching kindness. Do we model kindness? I’m so frequently shocked by the rudeness I witness coming from the adults directed toward children. And those same adults who are just appalled at the rudeness of children. I think we need more respectful engagement in school, for sure.

    Do you think thinking is too abstract or is it just too hard without something to think about? I’m still working through that.



    Learners need to be aware of background knowledge, but there is also so much more that can be taught. Similar to what has already been discussed, i think that teaching social skills in early grades is a big part of education that sometimes gets neglected. While it is essential that students know the key pieces of the subject they are learning, as well as how to apply and understand it in the real world, they must also know how to function in the world they are learning about. Teaching shouldn’t stop at a simple factual level, but delve deeper in an attempt to shape and cultivate the young minds that you are working with.


    Sarah Reich

    Background knowledge is necessary for students to understand and learn what they are hearing. Like the example given in this chapter of the letters to memorize, it is easier when parts of it are familiar. Background knowledge also helps students go even further with the material to possibly connect it with something else they have learned in the past. As far as material goes, I think students should be given facts like dates or names. But, I don’t think they should be penalized for not knowing the exact number or spelling of a name. Instead they should be able to know things like what happened before or after certain events or what that person did in history.


    Jen Newton

    This conversation brings the SOLO taxonomy to mind for me.

    SOLO Taxonomy



    Background knowledge should be kept into consideration at all times when teaching lessons, but does this restrict teachers on the experiences they provide? I feel that even your background knowledge was once a new concept to you, so you can’t be afraid to provide new opportunities in the classroom for students.

    Maybe we can teach children ways to seek background knowledge and build off of that. Technology, such as Google, that the chapter mentioned, has taken over seeking background knowledge. Although it is necessary in some situations, we should teach students to seek knowledge of the world other ways. I’m not too sure on how to do it, but I think it’s a start.



    After reading this chapter, it became apparent to me that background knowledge is invaluable in every day life, but most importantly in the classroom. As a future teacher and SLP I think we should spend some time going over background information before introducing a new topic so students can be refreshed and have a foundation to build on. Most of the teachers that I’ve had from grade school through college spend some time reviewing what we have previously learned before introducing a new topic. By setting aside a small chunk of time for review at the beginning of a lesson, we can hopefully ensure that our students have the knowledge they need to successfully learn and apply new skills. When I talk about background knowledge, I’m not using the term in a sense that we should spew random facts at our students…that is almost guaranteed to make them fall asleep and day dream. Instead, I think it is more beneficial to go about this by doing a review game (I had a lot of teachers do these in a Jeopardy style) that is more likely to keep students engaged.

    I definitely agree with Sarah about what we should be teaching. When I was younger, it always annoyed me when I would have the right answer, but would lose points because I spelled a word wrong. While knowing how to spell things correctly is important, when we aren’t grading spelling tests, it’s important to think about the bigger picture. If the student has the right idea and you can tell what they are trying to say, then they deserve to get credit for it.

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