Archived InformationState of the Art: Reading - November 1993
(Anderson et al. 1985, p.10)
Prior knowledge should be looked at in two ways by the teacher when developing lessons: first, as overall prior knowledge, and second, as specific prior knowledge. Overall prior knowledge is the sum total of learning that students have acquired as a result of their cumulative experiences both in and out of school. Specific prior knowledge is the particular information a student needs in order to understand text that deals with a certain topic. Specific prior knowledge is of two types: text-specific knowledge calls for understanding about the type of text--for example, a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end; topic-specific knowledge entails understanding something about the topic--for example, knowing about dinosaurs before reading a book on prehistoric animals.
Overall prior knowledge is expanded continually by a variety of
means which include extensive reading and writing. The more
students read and write, the more their prior knowledge grows
which, in turn, strengthens their ability to construct meaning as
they read. Teachers must not only recognize that independent
reading and writing activities are crucial for expanding students'
prior knowledge. They must also systematically include such
activities in their literacy program. In addition, both
text-specific and topic-specific prior knowledge play an important
role in helping students construct meaning (Paris et al. 1991).
Activating only students' topical prior knowledge without helping
them to consider the actual structure of the text does not improve
their meaning-making abilities (Beck et al. 1982). Conversely,
teachers can effectively improve these abilities when they activate
all levels of students' prior knowledge appropriately.