“Knowledge-building” has become a buzzword in reading instruction.

It refers to English/Language Arts approaches that aim to systematically build students’ understanding of the world, rather than focusing solely or primarily on comprehension skills and strategies. Studies show that this approach can be effective in improving students’ reading ability.,

In a recent Education Week webinar, two researchers who study the role of learning materials in reading comprehension talked about what this body of evidence says, and how it might inform the way schools teach early reading. Can use the findings to do.

Anna Taboda Barber is a professor and associate dean for research, innovation and partnerships in the University of Maryland College of Education. Gina Cervetti is Associate Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture at the University of Michigan School of Education.

Watch below for some highlights of their conversation.

‘Background knowledge’ doesn’t just mean academic knowledge

Most research on background knowledge and reading has focused on academic or experiential knowledge, Cerveti said.

Children who come into school with greater academic knowledge tend to have better early success in reading comprehension than children with less. Children who have learned a lot about specific subjects, such as soccer or baseball, do better when asked to read passages on subjects that children do not know much about. Are.

“But if we go back to the early research on the relationship between reading comprehension and background knowledge, the focus was on what we might call a type of cultural knowledge,” Cervetti said.

The researchers looked at whether knowledge about certain cultural experiences—what happens during a meal at a restaurant or a trip to the grocery store—would affect children’s reading comprehension.

“Recently, we have begun to think about everyday knowledge and cultural knowledge, but with a stronger focus on the cultural knowledge that students bring to school as a result of their involvement in racial and social groups outside of school, and it how that might play a role in their reading comprehension,” Cervetti said.

Children come to school with different forms and combinations of all kinds of such knowledge—academic, experiential, and cultural—and teachers can draw on all of them as assets, said Cervetti.

Schools can play a role in enhancing the knowledge of the students

Cerveti said several studies have shown that lessons structured around a set of related concepts in ELA classrooms can help students systematically build knowledge. He added that teachers do not need to present a new “universe” of knowledge every day.

For example, there are so many different ways to approach the topic of “water”. Students can learn about discrete issues that pertain to water: potable water, rainfall or the ocean. But without a comprehensive framework, these are only superficially connected, Cervetti said.

“What we’re looking for is deeper and connected understanding,” she said. “For this we need to be motivated by a question like, ‘What role does water play in the weather?’ For example, or a set of concepts.

Taboda Barber said that with young children, reading aloud is a great way to build knowledge for students who are still learning to decode on their own.

Reading aloud, and having rich conversations, is especially important for English learners and emerging bilinguals as they are developing their oral language in English, she said.

How teachers do this will look different in bilingual or English-only settings, he said. But in an English-only setting, she said, “we know from research that [best practices] Not much different from what we do with monolingual children.”

Teachers should focus on vocabulary development as well as morphology – teaching children the underlying structure of words and the meaning of root words. Taboda Barber said that all of this literacy instruction should happen in ELA classes, but also in content area subjects like social studies and science.

“the idea of ​​pulling [English learners and emergent bilinguals] Going out only for language instruction, and not letting them benefit from the rich content knowledge in the classroom—we are doing them an injustice,” she said.

It’s not a strategy or knowledge to understand – it’s both

Cerveti said the focus on knowledge-building doesn’t mean schools should abandon comprehension strategy instruction. In fact, combining the two may yield stronger results, she said.

“When we develop students’ reading and writing at the same time as we are also developing their knowledge, those interventions are especially powerful,” Servetti said.

Taboda Barber discusses her work concept-oriented reading instruction– An approach that mixes lessons on reading comprehension strategies with lessons arranged to build knowledge around certain topics.

“Strategies were taught, and the children were using the strategies, but in direct service to learning, understanding the text, and building knowledge,” Taboda Barber said.

In studies with elementary school students, children who received concept-oriented reading instruction performed better on measures of reading comprehension than students who received strategy instruction alone. The first group of students was also better able to apply reading strategies independently to the new text.

For more research insights and practical tips, watch the full webinar here,

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