Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement: Research on What Works in Schools

By Robert J. Marzano | Go to book overview

2 Six Principles for Building
an Indirect Approach

This book is about schools making a profound difference in the academic background knowledge of students by using an indirect approach as defined in Chapter 1. This chapter attempts to provide a reasonably comprehensive review, in nontechnical terms, of the research and theory supporting my recommendations. Six principles form the basis of those recommendations: (1) background knowledge is stored in bimodal packets; (2) the process of storing experiences in permanent memory can be enhanced; (3) background knowledge is multidimensional and its value is contextual; (4) even surface-level background knowledge is useful; (5) background knowledge manifests itself as vocabulary knowledge; and (6) virtual experiences can enhance background knowledge.


Background Knowledge Is Stored in Bimodal Packets

One of the defining features of background knowledge is that it is stored in what can be thought of as “packets” of information. Anderson (1995) refers to these packets as “memory records.” Insight into the nature of these packets or records provides clear guidance for indirect approaches to enhancing academic background knowledge.

To understand the nature of the knowledge packets that house our background knowledge, consider a student who has lived his entire life in the inner city of a large metropolitan area but goes on a camping trip for the first time in his life. The experience of the camping trip would initially be stored in the student’s memory in the form of a description or narrative of what occurred. Linguists and cognitive psychologists (e.g., Kintsch, 1974, 1979; van Dijk, 1977, 1980; van Dijk

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