We’ve been thinking about knowledge and reading a lot recently. Christine Counsell has given the leaders of my trust reading homework. Chapter 2 of Hirsch’s On Cultural Literacy has some penny-dropping lines. My favourite is: Our cognitive life takes place through a small window of attention that is framed by short-term memory. Yes it does.
One of the key points in the chapter is the impact of prior knowledge on that window of attention and on children’s ability to comprehend texts. My colleagues and I have been discussing this for some time. We’ve been dissatisfied with our current literacy course and how it does little to develop knowledge and vocabulary. It occurred to two of us simultaneously that our pupils already have a bank of stored experience and knowledge, but that we have left it to lie dormant: topic work.
In common with most primary schools, we teach science, art and the humanities through topic work. Each topic (Romans, Victorians, creatures of the deep, etc.) begins with a stimulus, a trip or activity, which leads to a piece of writing each week. For our children, this has been distinct from reading.
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