Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Allusions & the Power of Prior Knowledge

Effective readers - and thinkers - use existing knowledge to make sense of new information. This basic reading strategy, which was first introduced to me in Cris Tovani's amazing I Read It But I Don't Get It, is integral to successful learning, even though it comes easier for some than others. Explaining the power of the technique and developing an understanding of how people learn can be as important as the actual content being taught. That is the power of allusion and understanding how writers draw from existing knowledge and familiar stories to create new stories. Jessica Lahey - teacher, writer, blogger - explains the value of allusion in a great piece for The Atlantic this month entitled, "To Read Dickens It Helps to Know French History and the Bible." Jessica speaks specifically of the idea of cultural literacy and understanding how history and the Judeo-Christian ethic are a necessary foundation to making sense of classic literature, notably the early pages of books like A Tale of Two Cities. I concur on the value of such knowledge, for I have the same discussions with my students when we read the first four pages of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird together. Accessing the allusions is key to appreciating the novel on its deepest level. Though these works can be understood and accessed on a more superficial level, that's really like watching a movie of the action - as in the Harry Potter films - as opposed to truly delving in to the thematic magic of the written works. Allusion matters - as does gaining general knowledge - and it is all part of the job of educators (and theme of my blog and class) "Creating People on Whom Nothing is Lost."

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