Title of Video Segment: Into the Book: Behind the Lesson, Prior Knowledge
Running time: 9 minutes, 41 seconds
Synopsis of Segment: Prior Knowledge … A teacher demonstrates with her students how their own experiences and the things they already know can help them understand a book.
DR. MICHAEL P. FORD: How do students use prior knowledge to get into
the book? Let's get Behind the Lesson and see how teachers make this happen.
LINDA DIAZ: Our whole purpose today is to get you ready to get into this book, and read it and be able to understand it; and be able to feel what the characters, especially the main character, is feeling in this book. So, I'm going to ask you to kind of tap into your own memories today. First of all, I need to see how many people remember what it means when I say, "Let's activate your prior knowledge." How about Jessica.
STUDENT: The things we already know in our head.
LINDA DIAZ: The things we already know in our head. And what do we already know in our head?
STUDENT: Some things that might have happened to us.
LINDA DIAZ: Like what? Give me a specific example.
STUDENT: Like how we learned to ride our bike.
LINDA DIAZ: Okay, learning to ride a bike would be a good prior knowledge. All right? I want you to think about your cousins.
STUDENT: When my cousin came her and her dad took me to the beach and
we took a bath for three hours.
STUDENT: My cousins are nice to me. They're fun, and they like to play and stuff.
DR. FORD: The first question I'd like to ask is what were your objectives with this lesson?
LINDA DIAZ: My primary objective was to activate their prior knowledge in order for them to be able to connect with the book that I wanted them to read. So, I wanted them to bring in their own experiences about coming to a new country, or spending family time together.
What we're going to be doing today is bringing in about four or five of our reading strategies that we've been working on all year. The most important one we're going to try to do today with each other in your book clubs is you're going to be activating your prior knowledge. You're going to be thinking about what you already know in your head. You're going to be thinking about things that are in your life, some other books that you've read, and especially lately, we've had some really fun stories that are going to connect with what we're going to do today. And then, you're also going to think about what's happening in our world.
DR. FORD: We could see that you were making connections to other kinds of comprehension strategies. How important is it to bring those other strategies in while you're focusing in on a single strategy?
LINDA DIAZ: It's very important. I, as a teacher, don't really know
that you can separate them. You can't tap into a student's prior knowledge without asking them to make some connections to their lives and to other books they've read, and to what's going on in the world. They have to be able to make those connections in order to understand what they're asked to read. And then, bring it up to the inference level and the synthesizing level. They have to be able to have that good foundation to do that.
All right, I want you to think about your experience crossing into another country, on a trip, or on a move here.
STUDENT: When I moved here from Mexico, I was really scared because I didn't know the language and stuff.
LINDA DIAZ: Okay.
STUDENT: It's a little bit scary when you have to cross by, like when you have to cross rivers, or like when you have to give your passport, and all the important stuff you have to give.
DR. FORD: It seems like it would be very critical, then, to know the lives of your own students.
LINDA DIAZ: We spend a lot of time sharing with each other and in large group formats. I also have them journal, often about things that they've read, or experiences that they've gone through. And I read those journals. Sometimes, they take those journals and share in front of the class. So, everyone pretty much gets a good idea of what's going on in other students’ lives.
Let's do a quick write. I want you to think about something that someone has given you, maybe it was something your grandmother or grandfather, or an uncle or an aunt, something that maybe someone has given you.
DR. FORD: Can you talk a little bit about the role of writing within your reading program and how you make those kinds of connections.
LINDA DIAZ: We keep daily writing journals. And oftentimes, I'll have the students write about what they've read. They have a bookmark that gives them some reading response prompts. We have it in large chart form in the other part of the room. And what's great about the writing journals, for English language learners, is they get the choice to write in whatever language they choose. Some of them will put part of it in English and part of it in Spanish. I allow them to do that, so they can get their true ideas down, and the language isn't a brick wall for them.
I want you to picture a family gathering, where lots of your family members are together. Now I want you to listen. Do you hear all those family voices?
LINDA DIAZ: Concentrate, you don't have to answer me. You're just kind of doing it in your mind. Can we see all those family members together? Okay. There's always one aunt that's a little louder than the rest. There's probably some little two and three-year-old kids running around. Let's do some whole group sharing, because I think these stories are probably very good.
STUDENT: My aunt lives in Milwaukee. And we're at the playground. We're
barbecuing. All the kids are playing tag outside.
DR. FORD: Today's lesson had a significant amount of attention to the pre-reading phase. Can you talk a little bit about why you feel that's important.
LINDA DIAZ: It gives the students a foundation for what they're going to read. Because we have, you know, a good amount of limited English students. They can't go straight to the text, because they're not going to understand a lot of the vocabulary, a lot of the higher-level words in a story like this. So, if I can tap into what they already know, and help them preview the story, they are going to have a better understanding. Then, if they don't get all those words from the text, they're able to understand the narrative elements of the story. What do we do in order to get a better understanding of a book? What do we do? Eric?
STUDENT: Run through the pictures and see what it's about.
LINDA DIAZ: Run through the pictures and see what it's about. I want you to look deeper into those pictures, and the connection to everything that you've talked about, those family gatherings, cousins, things that we've passed down. We're also going to connect it to a couple of the Ellis Island books you've already read, because the character has to come through Ellis Island with his uncle and aunt and his cousins. And he faces some scary problems at the border.
STUDENT: This is the night when they're traveling. And here is where the boat is getting in the morning.
DR. FORD: You divided your students into five groups. Talk a little bit about how you form your groups.
LINDA DIAZ: We had the children write down some interests that they had. And then, my assistant and I looked at the common interests, and we grouped the kids according to what they thought they would be interested in. I also look at the ability of the kids when they're put into groups. I don't want them, you know, careful readers in one group, proficient readers in another group. I want them to be able to have role models in the group, and some stronger readers, some less strong readers working together.
STUDENT: There always seemed to be a baby crying in the cradle. Covering her ears and shushing them.
DR. FORD: As you moved around, you were monitoring your groups. What were the sort of things you were watching for? And when did you intervene with a group?
LINDA DIAZ: I was watching for concentration on what the task was that they were supposed to be doing: sharing, reading, focusing on the pictures. A couple of times, I had to remind students where their focus was and direct their behavior, but not too much of that. They're really quite good at what they're doing.
I want you to remind yourself about the strategy that you used today. You took that prior knowledge and you built upon that. You took what you knew. You took some of the new ideas you may have heard from either the other students, or from me when we were describing. And now, you have some ideas from the book. You have those other stories that we've read. And so, you've kind of taken that all together with your prior knowledge and you're getting a better understanding of this story. And next time that you hear about somebody having something passed down to them, or maybe next time when you're with a family, you might be reminded of what's going on in this book.
DR. FORD: What did you enjoy the most about teaching your lesson today?
LINDA DIAZ: I would have to say the interaction between the kids. They never cease to amaze me. You have an expectation in your mind as to what you want them to accomplish in a given lesson. But when they exceed those expectations, and they prove just how very good they are at interacting and reading, and involving themselves in the text, there's nothing better than that to see that as a teacher.