Why Blog

I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.

So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yet Another Nod to Background Knowledge

I just returned from the International Reading Association Conference in Orlando, FL where I presented a session on "Re-Envisioning the Five Pillars of Reading." One pillar that I include in my re-envisioned paradigm is background knowledge since it's most essential in helping children comprehend what they read.

After the session, a teacher shared the title of this YouTube video that I'm now sharing with you. It's by cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham and it's called Teaching Content Is Teaching Reading. I highly recommend it. It's only ten minutes long and although the music is a tad annoying, the message—that kids need prior knowledge to comprehend text—is dead on. I hope you enjoy it, share your thoughts, and then, of course, pass it on.


  1. Sharon,
    Really enjoyed the way this professor communicated his point. I'll share this with the teachers in my building/district. As always, thanks for your keen insights and willingness to share. I didn't get to go to IRA, so it's fun to be able to grab tidbits and not feel so left out of the loop...building knowledge!
    Thanks! Janiel

  2. I loved this video and the way it shows how reading is everywhere in the curriculum. It really drives home your contention, Sharon, about the need for background knowledge (and vocabulary, which is developed as we build that). I plan to share this with my staff as well as Janiel above. As we continue to expand our capacity as teachers, this will be another useful tool to incorporate. Thanks! Stephen

  3. Janiel and Stephen, Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. I feel so negligent about my infrequent postings. I've been so very busy planning professional development to occur throughout these next several weeks that I haven't a moment to spare. however I'm so pleased that you both found this posting helpful and hope you help to spread the word. Background knowledge is so important and we need to do what we can to help push it to the forefront.

  4. hi janiel. glad you enjoyed the video. and that you can share it with colleagues. hope you're well and looking forward to well-deserved summer break. sharon