#2 Meaningful Connection to Prior Knowledge and Self Knowledge

Students learn better when material is meaningfully connected to prior knowledge including self-knowledge. They understand and care why the material is important.

  • “All new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.” [1]
    • Students connect new knowledge to prior knowledge when learning
    • Students retain more if they connect new knowledge to prior knowledge that is both accurate and appropriate
    • Teachers can and should help students activate prior knowledge. Some tools for this include:
      • Minor prompts
      • Questions designed for retrieval and recall of prior knowledge
      • Active knowledge sharing as an activity to engage and assess prior knowledge before lecturing on a new topic[2]
    • Teachers should assess student’s prior knowledge for accuracy and appropriateness. Reliance on inaccurate or inappropriate previous knowledge it can hinder learning. [3]
      • Unlearning inaccurate information is more difficult than learning new information
    • Students are more likely to remember, learn, and use information that is connected to their self-knowledge in a meaningful way[4]
    • Self-knowledge is an important type of metacognition[5]
      • Through metacognition students develop self-knowledge and awareness of their own knowledge, cognition, and motivation
      • An accurate understanding of one’s depth and breadth of knowledge on a topic can help students focus on necessary areas for growth.
      • Students who are poor performers often lack the meta-cognitive skills to assess their own performance. So they are often surprised when they perform poorly. Think Lake Wobegone effect; most students think they perform above average.[6]
      • Help students avoid “illusions of knowing” or inaccurate self-knowledge that can lead to making poor decisions about learning[7]
        • Give feedback so that it focuses on performance and not the identity of the student.
        • Have student process out loud their reasoning so that they understand how they came to their answer.
      • Students make meaning based on new experiences and information. Without retrieving and reflecting on prior self-knowledge developed through experiences the meaning can be limited or distorted. Teachers should provide opportunities to reflect on prior self-knowledge in order to support student’s development as meaning makers instead of just meaning receivers. [8]
        • Students with self-knowledge are able to adapt to various learning situations and tasks.


[1] Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Pres, 2014), 5.

[2] Linda Nilson and Barry J. Zimmerman. Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students Self-Awareness and Learning Skills. (Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing), 37-38.

[3] Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marcha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman, How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010).121-152.

[4] James Eison. “Teaching strategies for the 21st Century, in R. Diamond (ed), Field Guide to Academic Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002)

[5] Paul Pintrick. (2002) The Roll of Metacognitive Knowledge in Learning, Teaching and AssessingTheory into Practice, 41(4). 219-225.

[6] Dunning, D. (2005). Self-insight: roadblocks and detours on the path to knowing thyself. New York: Psychology Press.

[7] Brown et al. Make it Stick. 102-131.

[8] L. Dee Fink. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses(San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003). 127.