Scenario 3: Incorporating Prior Knowledge into Predictions
“Okay, what do we know so far?” asks Mr. Jackson of his sixth-grade social science class. “Yes, Jessica tell us something.”
“Well, Greece is a great place. They created a country that other people envied.” Jessica reported to the class.
“The art, the politics, the architecture, they had everything. Other groups had tried to conquer them, but they always won. They were the best of the best!” added Brian.
“So, will Macedonia attack Greece?” asked Mr. Jackson. “Using what you know so far, do you think this small country will attack the ‘best of the best’ as Brian put it? Write your predictions in your history journals – let’s take three minutes. Ready?”
As the timer rung following three minutes of independent writing, Mr. Jackson started reading from the text:
Macedonia lay north of Greece. The Macedonians raised sheep and horses and grew crops in their river valleys. They were a warrior people who fought on horseback. The Greeks looked down on them, but by 400 B.C., Macedonia had become a powerful kingdom. (Spielvogel, 2006, p. 399)
“Let’s talk about this. The author seems to provide support for both sides of the issue. Have any of you changed your minds or are your predictions still holding?” asked Mr. Jackson.
“I’ve changed a bit,” said Dominique. “I originally wrote that Macedonia wouldn’t be so stupid as to attack powerful Greece. After hearing that, I think they will attack, but that they’ll lose. They fight on horses, but Greece is so powerful and has so many people.”
“I didn’t change my prediction,” noted Kaila. “Greece isn’t a big deal now, so they had to lose at some time.”
“Let’s see if you’re right,” Mr. Jackson said and continued reading:
In 359 B.C., Philip II rose to the throne in Macedonia. Philip had lived in Greece as a young man. He admired everything about the Greeks – their art, their ideas, and their armies. Although Macedonia was influenced by Greek ideas, Philip wanted to make his kingdom strong enough to defeat the mighty Persian Empire. In order to achieve this goal, Philip needed to unite the Greek city-states with his own kingdom. (Spielvogel, 2006, p. 399)
“Okay, so this guy Philip wants to make this happen. It seems pretty clear that he’s going to make a try for Greece. Now the author has given you his strategy. He needs to unite the city-states. What do you need to know to make a good prediction about the outcome of this strategy?” asked Mr. Jackson.
Jeff said, “Well, you gotta know what a city-state is and you have to know about Greece and Macedonia.”
Gabby added, “You gotta use everything you know AND what the author is telling you. He said that the new king was named Philip. So, I remember Philip the Great. His name tells me something. I also know that Greece loses power. Their government was organized into city-states, which has both good points and bad points. The author also said that Philip lived in Greece, so I think he knows how to get at the city-states. I think his strategy will work and he’ll be the ruler of all of the land.”
Having glimpsed the instruction in three different classrooms, what are your thoughts about the usefulness of making predictions as a learning strategy? Did you notice that the use of predictions were not of equal use in each of the three classrooms we visited?
In the first classroom, Ms. James missed a number of opportunities to model and teach predictions. The students probably wondered why their classroom environment had changed and why all of the sea life cluttered the room. Simply using the book title and back cover copy did not result in sophisticated predictions or increased interest or engagement in the text. In this classroom, a good idea – helping students make predictions – was not implemented in a way that helped students learn.
In the second classroom, Ms. Martinez taught her kindergarteners to pay close attention to the text to make, confirm, and revise their predictions. The students in this classroom benefited from classroom talk, teacher modeling, and purposeful instruction that served to focus their attention. With practice, the students in this classroom are likely to learn how to use features in the text – both the author’s words and the illustrator’s ideas – to understand what they read.
In the third classroom, Mr. Jackson activated his students’ background and prior knowledge and helped his students make connections between what they know and what they are reading. These students are engaged in authentic interactions and transactions with the text as they learn to negotiate meaning (e.g., Rosenblatt, 1995). Mr. Jackson clearly communicates that idea that answers are not simply found in the text or that the text has one right interpretation. Instead, he is teaching his students that reading is a complex interaction between cognitive engagement, textual understanding, and stored knowledge.
From these scenarios, at least three reasons for creating and maintaining a focus on teaching students to make predictions are evident; engagement, activating background knowledge, and exercising the use of reading strategies.