Daniel Willingham on Prior Knowledge and Inferring

I noted that making inferences is sometimes possible when you lack background knowledge and vocabulary the writer assumed you have, but that doing so is mentally taxing. Much of the reading expected of students (especially in the later elementary grades and beyond) is difficult. It’s not only difficult in terms of vocabulary and knowledge; they read texts with more complex structures, texts that convey abstract and subtle ideas, and they are asked to put these texts to new purposes, like understanding the author’s technique. In short, students don’t do the type of reading where comprehension is smooth and there’s an opportunity to get lost in the story. They mostly read in situations where reading feels like work. What impact do you think that has on students’ attitude toward reading? Do they confuse leisure reading with the reading they do for school? If so, what might be done to disabuse them of that notion?”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

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