Language Arts Canadian Lead Primary School
A Knowledge-Rich Curriculum
“It’s not so much that particular bits of information are vital in and of themselves – although some certainly are. It’s more that people need to have enough facts in their heads to have what one commentator has called a ‘knowledge party’ – a bunch of accumulated associations that will enable them to absorb, retain, and analyse new information. Education certainly shouldn’t end with facts. But if it doesn’t begin there, many students will never acquire the knowledge and analytical abilities they need to thrive both in school and in life.”
Natalie Wexler, The Knowledge Gap (2020)
Up until this point, we have looked at the components of reading and writing and the underlying cognitive processes that mediate them. But we also need to address the whole point of teaching reading and writing: to gain knowledge.
Knoweldge is nourishment. Whether it be knowledge about how sounds can be represented with symbols, knowledge about how our writing system operates, knowledge about how words work together or knowledge about the world in general, an understanding of these things grows a child’s mind in the same way that high quality food grows their body.
Since, in many cases, no one else can build this knowledge, it’s up to schools to do so.
Since so much time and energy is invested in learning to read and write, an interwoven scope and sequence of knowledge makes for the most nutritious educational diet. Never let a deliberate exercise in any of the aspects of reading and writing be a decontextualized event that does not support the learning of facts and the deepening of understanding on a chosen topic.
We cannot divorce the accumulation of knowledge from learning. Aligned with the principles of spaced and interleaved practice, teaching words, phrases, sentences and so on are doubly powerful if they are linked to a specific subject.
Again, this is where the narrative genre falls short. It is the least likely genre, in both reading and writing, to deliver the core knowledge a child needs in order to access the higher echelons of society. Those echelons include democracy, independence, employment, self expression, and social connectedness.
Background knowledge drives reading comprehension. Knowledge is the producer of Matthew effects in education.
We have strayed very far from the path of knowledge-building in modern education. Natalie wexler traces its decline and offers intelligent solutions for its reversal.
Sticking to a knowledge-rich curriculum is not about cutting the opportunity for free choice, but about building mental models of the world so that further study, deeper knowledge, and then specialisation can be achieved.
In Language Arts, we think about the essential lessons from history, geography, science and art and weave our practice around them.
The best type of literature tells stories that feed back into children’s knowledge of their world. Choose wisely.
Think: does this word, sentence, book we’re working on tie in with the knowledge goals we have in this time period? No? Then don’t waste your time! Facts are not nutritious if they’re offered as individual scraps. Every bite counts!
The link below will take you to an organisation put together by E.D. Hirsch, called Core Knowledge. This particular pdf is a guide to knowledge instruction from foundation to grade 6. It is an absolute treasure trove.