Good reading material for young children should include a wide variety of sources—nursery rhymes, the National Geographic Magazine and Laura Ingles Wilder’s stories of her childhood on the prairie, for example. But as unfamiliar subject matter is introduced—a good thing—children might have no previous knowledge with which to understand it—a bad thing.
The solution is for parents and teachers to prepare children for what they are about to read (or have read to them). Sometimes this prereading preparation is called “frontloading.”
The diagram below shows a child’s understanding of new knowledge without any frontloading. The first circle—prior knowledge—represents what the child already knows about a given subject. The second circle shows new knowledge—what the child is about to learn about the subject. If the two circles do not intersect, that means the child is making no connections between his knowledge and new information. The child is likely to struggle to learn the new information, and without connections to what he already knows, the child is likely to forget the new information quickly.
Now compare the above diagram to the diagram below which shows a child’s understanding of new knowledge with frontloading. The intersection shows the overlap of what the child knows and the new knowledge. The larger this intersection is, the larger is the mental scaffold to which the child can attach the new information. The larger the intersection, the easier it is for the child to learn new information.
Many poor readers don’t think about what they already know before they try to learn more. Sometimes they were never taught this skill in preschool or at home, and then later, teachers assume students know they should do this and the teachers don’t teach this skill. Yet rehearsing what one already knows about a topic it is an essential skill that good readers use all the time to prepare themselves for acquiring new information.
In our next blog, we’ll talk about how to help a child to frontload.