OneThing48: the rich get richer

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Cognitive Science helps us work with students

In Daniel T. Willingham’s Why Students Don’t Like School, one chapter focuses on background knowledge as a key to learning anything. In our age of knowledge and information saturation, we still MUST KNOW SOME THINGS to learn anything new; relying on Google to remember and then teaching students only “critical thinking” does not work.

This simple model of Willingham’s idea illustrates his thinking that the more one has in “background knowledge” the more one is able to learn. And this is because the broader and deeper the background knowledge, the more readily retained is new information, because the mind wants to “chunk” the new learning. Even limited knowledge is helpful; in fact, it’s ultimately more helpful than a student’s interest in the subject.

The upshot is that there is STILL a critical need for people to know things, certain elements of our cultural context helps us learn even more. This gives some credence to E. D. Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy, a book that ignited fiery debate.

How are teachers to be strategic in WHAT is learned? Good question . . . And Willingham has some thoughts on that.>