On ‘background knowledge’ and ‘meeting kids where they are’
By Tyler on March 8th, 2012
This is one in a series of posts examining the Common Core State Standards and the conversation surrounding their impact on teaching and learning.
I’m hoping our educator readers out there can help me understand something a little more deeply.
I assume you’ve been reading, as I have, some of the commentary and strong opinions and back-and-forth out there about the English Language Arts standards in the Common Core. I’m interested in two often-discussed topics today (“background knowledge” and “meeting kids where they are”) and how they might be related. Or not.
Here’s what I’m reading:
In Ed Week, Joanne Yatvin wrote that the authors were being too “constrictive and authoritarian,” and, among other criticisms, she said there ought to be more of an emphasis on connecting reading instruction for the youngest kids to their everyday life experiences. “Would it not be more sensible for children to learn words connected to their everyday lives and their interests rather than to things and experiences as yet unknown?” she wrote.
There’s also talk about whether the Standards discount too much the importance of providing “background knowledge” to students, a common practice by teachers who are preparing students to read from texts on topics they might have no prior knowledge about.
“The attempt is to make it just about the text. But it is never just about the text. Our concern is that this doesn’t take into account that prior experience exists and always affects the way the student interacts with the text,” Richard Long, the director of government relations at IRA, told Ed Week.
In a recent column in the NY Times, Michael Winerip tells the story of a group of students at a Manhattan elementary school, many of whom had never been inside a car before. “Experiences that are routine in middle-class homes are not for P.S. 142 children,” he wrote. It seems a not-so-subtle way of showing how many kids lack the kind of background knowledge they need to comprehend texts that many other children might grasp more easily.
It’s a debate I find fascinating — about how to balance the need to “meet kids where they are,” while also giving them the tools and supports necessary to expand their worlds and their vocabularies to read more proficiently.
I’m wondering from the educators who read this blog:
How does this play out in your classroom? How do you strike a balance?
Is this debate trickling down into your schools?