Background Knowledge [EXCLUSIVE]
To comprehend a story or text, young readers need a threshold of knowledge about the topic, and tougher state standards place increasing demands on children's prior knowledge. This article offers practical classroom strategies to build background knowledge such as using contrasts and comparisons and encouraging topic-focused wide reading.
We've had our share of lively debates in the field of reading, but not on this particular topic: background knowledge. There is a virtual consensus that background knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. Put simply, the more you know about a topic, the easier it is to read a text, understand it, and retain the information. Previous studies (Alexander, Kulikowich, & Schulze, 1994; Shapiro, 2004) have shown that background knowledge plays an enormous role in reading comprehension (Hirsch, 2003).
So, to tap how these differences in background knowledge might relate to comprehension in text, we created an 18-page illustrated storybook in our second experiment that featured the adventures of four types of birds (named for extinct species): the moa, faroe, cupido, and kona. The book had a total of 238 words and shared a common plot and story grammar, including the setting (i.e., a house), problem, response, and resolution. Using a receptive comprehension measure that examined children's understanding of critical story events and their ability to make causal inferences, we found once again that the low-SES children experienced greater difficulty comprehending the story than their middle-SES peers. These children demonstrated significantly poorer comprehension of the text (t(75) = 1.99, p = .050), with a moderate effect size (Cohen's d = .46).
This research builds on a large body of work that has shown the effects of background knowledge and comprehension (Anderson & Nagy,1992; Anderson & Pearson, 1984). For example, studies have shown that individual differences in prior knowledge affect the ability to extract explicit and implicit information from text and integrate this text-based information in reading comprehension (Kintsch, 1988). Other studies (e.g., Cain, Oakhill, Barnes, & Bryant, 2001) have examined multiple factors, including the relative contributions of inferential processing, domain knowledge, metacognition, and working memory to learning from text. Our results are consistent with this research (Cain & Oakhill, 2011; Recht & Leslie, 1988), highlighting the role of background knowledge on children's comprehension as early as preschool.
It makes good sense that to comprehend a story or text, readers will need a threshold of knowledge about the topic. Sometimes we call it domain-specific knowledge or topical knowledge. Without such knowledge, it becomes difficult to construct a meaningful mental model of what the text is about. Consider the following examples.
For example, think about the word operation. If you were to read the word in a sports article about the Yankees, you might think about Derek Jeter recovering from his latest baseball injury. If you read the word in a math text, on the other hand, you'd think about a mathematical process like multiplication or division. Words have multiple purposes and meanings, and their meanings in particular instances are cued by the reader's domain knowledge.
Informational text tends to have a greater density of vocabulary and concepts that are directly related to students' background knowledge (Price, Bradley, & Smith, 2012). And these demands placed on background knowledge only accelerate as students progress through the grade levels. Students will be required to apply previously learned concepts to increasingly complex text. They must read, discuss, and write about topics that are conceptually more difficult, and they will need to increasingly draw on intertextual linkages across subject areas. They'll be required to provide evidence from text, show deep and thorough understanding of these concepts, and think creatively about applying these concepts in new ways.
Consequently, in much of the literature in reading, we have focused on skills associated with comprehension: decoding, vocabulary development, strategy instruction, and metacognition, among many others. But what we can see from this brief summary is that we have given very little instructional time to a skill that can play an enormous role in comprehending text. We would venture to guess that students' understanding of text is unlikely to improve unless we begin to more deliberately teach background knowledge.
The question then becomes, how do we build children's background knowledge? Core reading materials often encourage us to activate, support, build on, and tie to children's existing knowledge base. But what do we do when there is no existing knowledge base? Or when there is little to build on? If you asked us, for example, to read an elementary physics text building on our previous knowledge base of physics, you would likely see blank stares, akin to a deer in headlights.
This issue becomes even more complicated in the age of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The CCSS place a premium on the amount of background knowledge we provide to children prior to reading a text. It's not that the standards negate background knowledge or its contribution to comprehension; rather, the authors of the publishers' guidance to the CCSS emphasize close reading, developing knowledge through text, regarding the deliberate and careful analysis of text as the gateway for developing independent readers (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers,2010).
Although at times, this clash of perspectives might seem like a catch-22, the problem is solvable. Teachers can effectively build children's background knowledge early on (Neuman & Wright, 2013). However, at the same time, we must recognize that knowledge is not just accumulating facts; rather, children need to develop knowledge networks, comprised of clusters of concepts that are coherent, generative, and supportive of future learning in a domain. Here's how we do it:
The importance of background knowledge is especially salient in the age of Common Core. To meet the demands of these new standards, children will be expected to develop knowledge through text, both narrative and informational, within specified difficulty ranges at each grade level. Informational text, in particular, is likely to have a greater density of conceptual language and academic terms than typical storybooks or narrative texts. Consequently, these texts will place increasing demands on children's prior knowledge, further attenuating other risk factors.
Without greater efforts to enhance background knowledge, differences in children's knowledge base may further exacerbate the differences in children's vocabulary and comprehension. The imperative to foster children's background knowledge as a means for providing a firm foundation for learning, therefore, is greater than ever.
I enjoy your research about the importance to build background knowledge. . Without such knowledge, it becomes difficult for a child to construct a meaningful mental model of what the text is about. It is essential as educators to help to construct background knowledge and provide strategies and activities that will help them to develop the prior knowledge they may need on a particular topic.
Very interesting article. We do not work with Common Core in my school, but I can see the relation of the article to the Common Core material. Background knowledge will be build on as the students are progressing on their grade level and seeing their leveled material.
I am very excited about this article on background knowledge. We try each day to strengthen the background knowledge of our students. It can be as simple as bringing the materials to make a sandwich and put the sandwich together step by step. Or, one of my favorites has always been to bring seeds and plant them together in see through cups. It is a bit harder to do with what is going on in our world lately. But, I am committed to do as much as I can to add valuable experiences to the lives of my students.
I see a strong connection between the back ground knowledge and a person being able to understand, comprehend what it is that they are reading, or even listening to. Back ground knowledge has been the most important part missing in teaching a person how to read to learn.
I was glad to read this information concerning the importance of background knowledge. When I went to school, several years ago, background knowledge was referred to as a major component of reading!! Through the years of teaching and training other components have moved to the forefront. I still held within my mind that background knowledge was essential and worked to insure my students were strengthened in this area,
I enjoyed the article on background knowledge and different ways to develop it in kids. There were many strategies to use in order to build background knowledge. Teaching categories,birds,fish and you can compare and contrast to help understand.Beside analogies,inference, Multimedia is another opportunity to build back ground.
Hello! I enjoyed your article on background knowledge. There was really insightful information in this article that was very helpful for me in thinking about my future career as a teacher. One thing I notice that I would suggest changing is that the very first sentence in the introduction to the article, there is a typo. That kind of makes the reader weary of the information to follow even though the article is obviously credible and has credible authors. The mistake is "This article make a case..." The s is missing from makes. I just wanted to let you know! Thank you for sharing your research!
Useful information, I was especially interested in how to build background knowledge especially for early childhood learners. Background knowledge can be taught by teaching words in categories to develop concepts and language and vocabulary development. 041b061a72