Knowledge is important

I think educators get that, but sometimes our students don’t.

I thought this was a little obvious, too.

The researchers found that when reading unfamiliar texts, subjects more often reread parts of sentences and they more often looked back to previous sentences. Their reading speed was also slower overall compared to when they read familiar texts. These measures indicate that processing is slower when reading about something unfamiliar to you.

One of the reasons we read multiple essays on one topic is the above. And it works because

A rich network of associations makes memory strong: New material is more likely to be remembered if it is related to what is already in memory.

Yes, if you don’t know a lot about a subject, reading about it is slower. Did someone not know that?

This study illustrates the importance of the working memory advantage that background knowledge confers (see also Morrow, Leirer and Altieri, 1992; Spilich, Vesonder, Chiesi, and Voss, 1979). Most of the time when we are listening or reading, it’s not enough to understand each sentence on its own—we need to understand a series of sentences or paragraphs and hold them in mind simultaneously so that they can be integrated or compared. Doing so is easier if the material can be chunked because it will occupy less of the limited space in working memory. But, chunking relies on background knowledge.

And that is what our students don’t always get. It’s one of the reason that reading multiple articles on the same topics gets easier. As you read, you learn more.

The intensity of learning matters too.

Since everyone’s memory gets better with prior knowledge, assuming equal exposure to new knowledge (as in a classroom without extra support for slower students), the student with overall lower aptitude will still be behind the student with higher aptitude (Hall and Edmondson, 1992; Hambrick and Engle, 2002; Hambrick and Oswald, 2005; Schneider, Bjorklund, and Maier-Brückner, 1996).

Why does knowledge improve thinking?

Knowledge enhances thinking in two ways. First, it helps you solve problems by freeing up space in your working memory. Second, it helps you circumvent thinking by acting as a ready supply of things you’ve already thought about (e.g., if you’ve memorized that 5 + 5 = 10, you don’t have to draw two groups of five lines and count them).

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