A few months ago, I ran into three former students who were back in town visiting family for the winter holidays. Asking me to join them at their table, we quickly found ourselves lulled by the ambiance of Cafe Steam--falling into a deep conversation about career paths, vocations, and ideal skillsets. In the midst of that conversation, there was shift: a shift toward what prepared them most for college, for job interviews, and for the various fields they now work in. The common thread? Writing.
This conversation has stuck with me. It reminded me of when I was in college: finding that I could write stronger papers than some of my peers, I took an hour or so one night to jot a note to a few of my past middle and high school teachers who had helped me build those skills. I still remember, to a small degree (it was over two decades ago), what I said to them in those letter--what it was I thanked each of them for.
It got me wondering. Do these same writing skills, strategies, and modalities that impacted me as a writer in the late 90's still resonate with today's students and recent grads?
To no one's surprise, I let the nerd in me take over. I created a survey. It was a simple Google Form that I shared on social media. Then, some fellow English teacher friends shared it, too. Less than a week later, I had responses from 31 Rochester Public Schools (RPS) recent graduates.
The results? Insight upon insight. Despite the small sample size, these 31 2011-2018 graduates provided more perceptive statements than can be squeezed into one blog post. (Hence, this is the first part of a three-part series.)
For now, here's some raw data and overarching themes.
Just the Facts
Success Ready Individual
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledg
| 1 |
Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
| 2 |
Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
| 3 |
Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
| 4 |
Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
- Brief video clips to share with students. These clips can be a great conversation starter so you can quickly discover what students are questioning or what they already know about the topic.
Visuals that clearly relate to your content or objective.
- Select visuals that will resonate with students and may connect to their interests or personal backgrounds.
- Also select visuals that give students plenty of opportunities to practice language that connects to your content or objective.
- Virtual field trips allow students to go to amazing locations without leaving your classroom.
Quick Write – What Comes to Mind?
- This Quick Write strategy activates students’ prior knowledge and provides the teacher with information regarding what students already know, or don’t know, about a topic.
- Prior to the lesson, ask or display the question, What comes to mind when I say…? Or show students a picture and ask, What comes to mind when you look at this picture? Students complete a quick write (5 minutes or fewer) about their thoughts and turn it in. (You may want to tell students that this isn’t for a grade, just to see what they already know.)
- Provide students a blank sheet of paper or a visual that relates to the content or topic.
- Students go around the table writing down words, phrases, or sentences that they think of in reference to the question, visual, or topic. Students can even draw their ideas.
Back to Rugby: an example.
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
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