Students prior experiences, interests, and thought processes can influence the learning of current content area concepts due to their prior experiences, stress, perceptions and attitudes that can interfere with or distort the material that they are trying to learn. However, learning cannot occur without having prior knowledge because this gives a foundation from which to build from.
The link between past experiences, student interest, and present learning is that we draw upon previous experiences and memories as we learn. Teachers need to consider the past experiences as well as interests of students in order to make the lessons more appealing, accessible and interesting. The students past experiences can assist with building new knowledge on top of prior knowledge. Students will learn much faster and learn more if they have a foundation to build upon instead of introducing random bits of information. The sensory registers show us that there are two important educational features present. One, we have to pay attention to any of the information that we have before us so that it can be processed, retained and filed away for further use. The second feature is that it takes time to take the information that has been stored away and bring it to the front for use later. (Slavin, 2006)
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The Principle of Relevance is one that has been studied and debated about for many decades. Deirdre Wilson & Dan Sperber are two individuals how are well known in this particular field where the Theory of Relevance is based on two principles, one being the Communicative Principle and the other being the Cognitive Principle of Relevance. Looking at the Principle of Relevance as the theory within education and students it can be seen how students learn, have learned and will learn as well as relate and recall that information in the future as needed. According to Wilson and Sperber, “relevance is a potential property not only of utterances and other observable phenomena, but of thoughts, memories and conclusions of inferences.” (Wilson & Sperber, 2002) So it can be seen that with students, their past experiences, learning and life as well as interests and the ability to relate and store into memory along with recalling the information can determine how they learn all based on what foundations were put in place prior.
Students’ interests are just one of the factors that are known to influence learning in content areas. The teacher needs to use a variety of methods or ways to keep the students interest in the lesson; otherwise they will exhibit a lack of attention or possibly disrupt the class for others. If students do not have any interest in learning what is being presented, then they will not achieve the maximum results in learning the content.
There are key principles in brain based learning, these are Importance of meaningful learning, knowledge background, levels of processing development of neural connections, relevance, and activating prior knowledge otherwise known as the Schema Theory. (Slavin, 2006) Looking first at the Importance of meaningful learning it is said that it requires active involvement of the learner who has prior experiences and knowledge to bring understanding as new information is incorporated into memory. Slavin states that it is “Mental processing of new information that relates to previously learned knowledge.” (Slavin, 2006) Looking next at knowledge background it can be said that the more the person knows about a particular topic or lesson, the more they will be able to learn about. It is said that previous or background knowledge is very important in determining the amount the student will learn, they have a better network already in place in their brains in which the information can be processed and stored. (Slavin, 2006)
With levels of processing, or otherwise known as the Levels of Processing Theory which was proposed by Craik and Lockhart in 1972, suggests “people subject stimuli to different levels of mental processing and retain only the information that has been subjected to the most thorough processing.” (Craik;Lockhart, 1972) Meaning that the more details that people are subjected to, the more mental processing that must be done and the better the chances are that it will be remembered. This is why repetition of material is necessary for learning and for some, is one of the main processes they use to retain material for later use.
It is said that learning starts at birth and continues on through life, this happens with the development of neural connections within the brain. Parents are the first teachers with the environment that they create and expose the child to. As the child grows, teachers are then brought in and the environment that is created within the classroom is added to the mix. All of these are factors that are supposed to help students increase their skill levels; this allows the brain to work more efficiently and effectively. With repetition, the process leads to an automatic response in which as tasks are introduced, it starts to take little effort mentally due to the growth of the neural connections which allows the student to recall information easier. (Slavin, 2006) So when looking into the lesson plans, simple repetition allows the brain to recognize and file away the needed information, and makes it easier over time to recall it for use. This is why providing students more opportunities to practice skills that are needed for the future is very important for it allows the student to gain more knowledge as well as more skills which makes the brain work more efficiently.
The Schema Theory otherwise known as activating prior knowledge allows us to gain access to information that we have stored away in our long term memory by following set paths that have been created as stepping stones. (Slavin, 2006) This theory states that information is stored in the long term memory in the schemata, which is a network of connectors to facts and concepts, which provides the basic structure for making sense of all the new information. An example is the memory of riding your first two wheeled bicycle, it’s thought about, the steps that were taken and the steps flow together along the path to the final goal of riding that bicycle with no training wheels as well as no help from anyone. This memory is stored in the long term memory.
Consideration of past experiences, learning, and student interests should be an important part of lesson planning for the teacher because learning is a process that occurs over a long period of time, under different circumstances, with different environments and methods of introduction as well as the interaction socially. Students all interpret instructions differently, while some may receive the correct interpretation, there are those that don’t quite understand what is meant all the time. This can lead at times to different explanations though they may arrive at the right answer, the path taken is not the one preferred and identified prior. The learning experience needs to be the process in which it draws upon different interests, past experiences and prior knowledge to draw it all in as one agreeable process. By considering all of this, the student opens up to what is being presented more, filing it away in steps to be identified and recalled at a later time as it’s being repeated though possibly with different methods, as it all draws in to the same end result the light bulb at the end of that tunnel turns on when the information is called forward.
Craik, F. &. Lockhart, R.S., (1972). Levels of Processing: A framework for Memory Research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior , 11, 671-684.
Roshelle, J. (1995). Learning in Interactive Environments: Prior Knowledge and New Experience. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Public Institutions for Personal Learning: Establishing a Research Agenda: http://www.exploratorium.edu/IFI/resources/museumeducation/priorknowledge.html
Siemens, G. (2006, November 12). Connectivism: Learning Theory or Past Time of the Self-Amused. Retrieved June 20, 2010, from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism_self-amused.htm
Slavin, R. E. (2006). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice. Boston: Pearson Education Inc.
Wilson, L. (n.d.). Overview of Brain Based Learning . Retrieved June 10, 2010, from http://www.sonoma.edu/users/f/filp/libs_200/brain.pd
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