Chelsea L's Field Experience

Prior Knowledge Interview

For my prior knowledge interview, I used two high school students- one 9th grader and one 12th grader.  The questions were focused on images/timeline of events, history, government/civics, and content.  The students did well on the timeline of images and were able to recognize the most important themes in history, but had more trouble in the area of government/civics and answering some of the content questions.  The areas that the students focused on were very different, with the 9th grader showing a greater interest in modern history and the 12th grader focusing on ancient themes.  The 9th grader also expressed moderate interest in history while the 12th grader ranked history as his top subject.

The three findings that I was able to gather from the evidence include:

1. Students’ interests in certain subjects or time periods shaped the way they thought about historical events and their importance.  This lead to leaving out certain concepts, areas, or people, which seems to be a problem in real-world application of knowledge.  I can see value in the fact that the students were aware of their particular interests and types of history, but there was a lack of overall understanding and appreciation.

The way that I used this finding was to think about the ways that teachers could scaffold interest and use that to the learners’ advantage.  One way to do this would be to work with a team of teachers to discuss trends among different subjects or classes and recognize areas that students show interest in.  From that information, teachers could try and create new lessons throughout different history classes that would peak the same type of interest, even for “boring subjects”.  Another idea is to use student-directed investigation for topics that peak particular interest.  In my paper I discussed an example with the Civil War, a popular subject among many history buffs.  If a student or group of students seems particularly excited or in-tune with the topic, assigning them an inquiry learning assignment may be helpful in order to consider another issue that they may not be aware of.

2. The next finding was that in the areas of government/civics and content knowledge, students had trouble explaining the effects of events or what impact the government has on their lives.  While students knew pieces of information about WWII, for example, they would not be able to explain what the outcomes/effects of the war were.  As a historian, this is discouraging because the reason we study history is to learn about the impact of past events on culture, society, politics, economics, etc.  There seems to be a lack of contextualization in history classrooms, or maybe a lack of cause-effect relationships.

One strategy for dealing with this is to create unit plans and essential questions.  By sharing the essential questions with the students, they will have a greater understanding of what’s important and the teacher can frame the topic in a way that requires real-world contextualization and understanding of the effects of events.  Another idea would be to use the GRASPS framework presented by Tomlinson and McTighe, in which students interact with information and are required to present, perform, and use the info in a real-world context.  This would help to give a greater scope to information and prevent simple information recall, like that experienced in the interview.

3. The last finding was positive, and relates to imagery and visual resources.  The students did an excellent job at creating the timeline based on images throughout history, dating back from the beginning of society until modern day.  They were also able to explain their reasoning based on context clues such as place, the types of people in the photo, or distinguishing certain events they already knew about.  Therefore, I decided to focus on ways to integrate visual learning in the classroom.

One strategy is to use visual imagery to review the material in a particular unit.  The nice thing about visualization is that students often can relate pictures they’ve seen to different events or time periods and this would stretch to a wide variety of diverse learners.  Another idea is to integrate cooperative learning or group exercises with visual imagery and have the students categorize pictures, place them on a timeline, distinguish trends, etc.

Overall, I really enjoyed this interview and feel that it helped me to recognize some areas in which history education is lacking today.  I also was able to brainstorm some ideas that I can implement in my own classroom as I enter into student teaching.


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One thought on “Prior Knowledge Interview

  1. Hi Chelsea,
    My students were also pretty good at placing the pictures at the right spots on the timeline, whether or not they knew what was actually going on in the picture. I agree with you that this says a lot about using visual resources in the classroom. I even thought of doing something similar to this exercise as part of a unit plan – I think it really helps kids to think about history differently, as real people, places and events instead of just words on a page.
    I think it’s interesting that your 12th grader focused on more ancient themes, because it’s likely been a few years since he/she learned it. The students I interviewed were both all about World History, and I think it had to do mostly with their current teacher. It’s encouraging to hear that someone in 12th grade has committed some ancient history to his long term memory!
    My students also had some trouble identifying key long term consequences of historical events, which I agree, was discouraging. Most of the time they gave me vague answers like, “Well, that was the first time anything like that had happened before.” I think this serves as a signal to teachers that explaining significance is just as important as the facts and figures. Knowing about why they are studying a certain part of history, I think, helps them to be more successful in it.

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