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TEFL Masterclass – Tapping into Students Prior Knowledge

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Jennifer Schmidt – CLIL Teacher Trainer, Specialist in Bilingual Education & Erasmus+ Trainer.

Jennifer Schmidt has been a collaborator in 3 bilingual and international education master’s programs with the University of Alcalá in Spain for the past 13 years. She has been a teacher, trainer, and professor for over 23 years. She has created and taught over 100 courses in centers of teacher formation in all parts of Spain, Europe and worldwide. She specializes in maker education CLIL, project-based learning, social and emotional learning, creativity through music, cognitive skill development, neuroeducation, and growth mindset.

What you will learn

In this masterclass, we will start off by taking a look at the foundational theories behind constructivism.  We will discover how schema and prior knowledge are constructed. We will discover the complexity of the mind and possible issues and misinformation that can be part of our schema. We will take a look at how worldview, mindset, and fast and slow thinking affect our schema.

Next, we will discover how advance organisers can help us engage students, activate prior knowledge, adjust misinformation, and be used to introduce driving questions.  We will take a look at different types of advance organizers and how to use them with different levels of students and subjects.

Finally, we will look at some techniques that help us build upon prior knowledge and promote strong schema.  We will discover ways of revisiting prior knowledge and developing it by increasing content, thematic, or language complexity.

Workshop Summary

Engaging with Prior Knowledge: A Foundation for Learning

Jennifer Schmidt introduces a masterclass for Gallery Teachers, focusing on the vital role of engaging with students’ prior knowledge. The session covers constructivism, the significance of linking new information to what is already known, and the concept of schema — a framework for organising and interpreting information. Schmidt emphasises the impact of prior knowledge on learning and memory retention, showcasing an experiment that highlights the transformative power of a simple preface in understanding complex content. This underscores the need for activating schemas at the learning moment to enhance knowledge acquisition.

Constructivism and Cognitive Theories

The workshop delves into constructivism, advocating for a learning process that builds upon existing knowledge and external inputs. Central to this approach are the theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, who stress the importance of innate schemas, cognitive development stages, the zone of proximal development, and the role of social interaction in learning. These theories underscore the necessity of engaging with students’ pre-existing knowledge and providing external guidance to construct new knowledge, illustrating the mind as a library where information is categorised for efficient retrieval.

Advanced Organisers and Schema Development

The masterclass highlights the use of advanced organisers, a concept introduced by David Ausubel, to prepare students for new learning by activating prior knowledge and correcting misconceptions. Real-world examples and relatable content are used to lower anxieties and spark interest, creating a solid foundation for building upon prior knowledge. This approach not only addresses misconceptions but also enhances student engagement by connecting learning to their experiences and worldviews, emphasising the importance of multimodal instruction to cater to diverse cognitive processes.

Building Complexity and Creativity

The session explores the process of building upon activated schema through progressively increasing complexity, as advocated by Jerome Bruner’s spiral curriculum. Tools such as Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge guide students from basic recall to higher-order thinking skills. The masterclass also discusses the integration of multimodal input and design thinking to appeal to diverse learning styles and foster creative problem-solving, illustrating this with a unit on art that encourages students to explore and develop their own talents.

Reflection and Application

Finally, the masterclass underscores the importance of reflection in consolidating learned concepts and reinforcing new knowledge. This reflective practice, supported by neuroscience, is crucial for the consolidation of schema and the application of knowledge in varied contexts. Educators are encouraged to employ advanced organisers that resonate with students’ experiences, address misconceptions, and progressively deepen their understanding, fostering a rich and enduring learning experience. This multifaceted approach aims to engage students effectively, activate and build upon their prior knowledge, and facilitate a deeper understanding through reflection and complex application.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. What is one unit you will be teaching that you know your students probably have some misinformation or fear in their minds related to that topic?
  2. How could that misinformation or fear create issues with learning new content?
  3. How could you engage the students, activate prior knowledge, lower fear, and adjust the misinformation?

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