One of the Habits of the Mind is “applying past knowledge to new situations.” This is a critical piece in the how do we make learning stick puzzle. We are always looking to connect new learning with what is already known. In the school setting we have called this activating “prior knowledge”. When children come to school they know things. Actually they probably know much more than we think. What they need help with is tapping into what they know and seeing how that information applies to a new situation. For example, if a child understands that when you place a toy car on an incline plane it will roll down the incline and that the speed will accelerate based on the height of the ramp, that information can be applied to understanding why when you are 16 and driving for the first time on a downhill stretch of the freeway, it is important to check your speed and realize that you are picking up momentum just like the toy car did when it went down the incline ramp.
Accessing prior knowledge and connecting it to the current situation needs to be routinely encouraged. While there are many strategies to do this, here are three of my favorites. You can help youth make connections by asking questions that require youth to think about the specifics that they know. You can then guide the conversation until the youth has discovered his/her own connections to the present situation. You are encouraged to ask “what” and “how” questions rather than getting stuck on “why.” Another way of activating prior knowledge is to ask the youth to close his/her eyes and visualize a certain experience they have had. Remember, that the more concrete the visualization (complete with color, sound, size, textures), the easier it is to make a connection. A third strategy is asking youth to describe an experience they have had and then answer questions about the experience from a peer group. Each descriptive answer should help to make the experience more real for the listener and the speaker. Helping youth access prior experiences and knowledge is one of the keys to supporting learning.
Applying past knowledge to new situations is one of the 16 identified Habits of the Mind, fundamental in the actualization of the Common Core Standards. Check in with C4K to learn about training on strategies to implement the Habits of the Mind in your afterschool program. Log on to www.consultfourkids.com, and enter your interest in the Training Request Tab.