Take a moment to evaluate this statement:
The canary is an hour long.
You didn’t have to think very hard to decide that this statement is false.
Why? Because “canary” and “an hour” belong in different mental categories. One is a physical object; the other is a unit of time.
Unless you’re Emily Dickinson, they can’t be the same thing.
Over at 3-Star Learning Experiences, Mirjam Neelen and Paul A. Kirschner want us to think about our students as they learn new concepts.
In particular, students often have ideas in the wrong categories. When that happens, these “prior misconceptions” make correct understanding extremely difficult.
To help them learn new concepts, therefore, we don’t simply need to ply them with more information. Instead, we need to help them rethink prior misconceptions.
In other words, we need to help them reshelve old ideas in new mental categories.
In my classroom, students struggle with the idea that The Scarlet Letter is a romance.
Why? Because they already have a very clear concept of the word “romance.” Their pre-existing definition doesn’t include … well … anything that happens in Puritan Boston.
Could anything be less romantic than, say, Hester and Dimmesdale meeting in the woods with Pearl?
My teacherly mission: help students build a new concept of “romance.” Once they think about romance as Hawthorne did, they’ll have a new category of knowledge. And, that category quite comfortably fits all the oddities that make Scarlet Letter so strange and wonderful.
For further thoughts on this process, check out Neelen and Kirschner’s post. Me: I’m looking forward to Part II!