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Oct 26

Looking for a Way to Inspire Life Long Learners?

Inspiring Life Long Learners Blog PicOf all the new words I introduce and discuss with my students over the course of a school year, the word schema proves to be one of the most powerful and life-changing for my students.  As mentioned in previous posts, schema is everything we have inside our heads.  To further explain… it is all of the experiences, places, people and books we have been exposed to throughout the course of our lives.  It could be argued that it is my most important job every day, as a teacher and as a mother, to help my students and children add to and rearrange their schema. Every time good readers explore a new text they begin by examining the schema they already have and then, throughout the course of reading, rearrange and add to their schema as new ideas are presented.

Encounter CoverAlthough all books provide an opportunity for readers to add to and change their schema, some are more powerful than others in doing this.  I discovered one of these books a few years ago as I searched for a Columbus Day text.  The book Encounter by Jane Yolen may be an excellent Columbus Day read but it is so incredibly useful in helping students shift their schema that it really can and should be visited any time of the year as an exemplar text in teaching students the power of using their schema to help them understand.  

As a class, we discuss the term encounter.  I expand their schema for this word by introducing it in the morning as their Word of the Day.  This year I shared with them about an encounter I had with a bear while I was out bike riding.  This discussion helps hit home the idea that an encounter is a surprise meeting that is often NOT a good one. Before we start to read the book, I have students jot down the schema they already have for Christopher Columbus.  Many students have very surface level knowledge of Columbus.  They know he “discovered” America..  Because of the schema they already have, they are surprised by the cover of this book and its title.  

I use a “My Schema’s Changing!” recording sheet with my students to help them document and understand how their schema changes throughout the course of reading a text.  It is similar to a KWL chart.  However, it also includes a space for students to jot down their thinking as they learn so they can show how they are using their schema to make sense of what they read.  You can download this sheet for free at our YouCan2 store.  

My Schema's Changing Blog Photo


My Schema's Changing! Blank Recording Sheet jpeg

As we read, Encounter provides many opportunities for students to use their schema to understand the text.  Many students automatically assume the text is written from the perspective of Columbus because so much of what they have heard or read in the past about this topic is from a European perspective.  Here they must use their schema to alter this thinking and they soon discover they are hearing the Columbus story from the perspective of a Native American.  The narrator of this story also writes about Columbus giving gifts to the Natives.  The narrator does not have schema for many of the gifts Columbus brings.  Columbus brings bells as a gift, however, the narrator describes them as “hollow shells with tongues that sang chunga-chunga.”  The students really enjoy using their personal schema to understand what each of the gift items are. They are enthusiastically searching their schema to make sense of the text.  Exactly what good readers do!  

In the end, we discuss how their schema has changed.  Many students have had to completely rearrange their schema to make room for new ideas.  Many others have had to abandon bits of schema that no longer work or make sense.  An author’s note follows the text and year after year the students eagerly ask me to read it.  They want to continue to extend their schema.  The author mentions that of the original 300,000 native islanders Columbus encountered, within 50 years, only 500 remained.  Encounter‘s author, Jane Yolen, does not give an in-depth explanation as to why this is and many students want to find out.  This year a student was so intrigued that he spent a great deal of time at home learning about smallpox and its effect on Native Americans.  When I see this happen I know I have reached one of my ultimate goals; students who are self-motivated to investigate, rearrange and add to their schema.  This is the recipe for a life-long learner.  Give Jane Yolen’s Encounter a try to help your students along the path to becoming life long learners.  You may be surprised with this book’s effect on not only your student’s schema, but yours as well!  

1 comment

  1. Aunt Teri

    Wow! This is a powerful lesson for teachers of kids of all ages. I know you work at the elementary level but most of my experience is at the high school level and I can see how it would be powerful tool for meta-cognition at the higher levels as well. I am anxious to share this with my daughters who are both teachers.

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