Highlight Conditions of Applicability It is important to help students see when it is and is not appropriate to apply prior knowledge. For example, a statistics instructor might explain that a regression analysis can be used for quantitative variables but not for qualitative variables, or a biology instructor might instruct students to save their expressive writing for other courses and instead write lab reports that focus on conciseness and accuracy.
If there are no strict rules about when prior knowledge is applicable, another strategy is to present students with a range of problems and contexts and ask them to identify whether or not a given skill or concept is applicable and to explain their reasoning.
Provide Heuristics to Help Students Avoid Inappropriate Application of Knowledge One strategy to help students avoid applying their prior knowledge inappropriately is to provide them How Learning Works 36 with some rules of thumb to help them determine whether their knowledge is or is not relevant.
For example, when students are encountering different cultural practices and might be tempted to assess them according to their own cultural norms, you might encourage them to ask themselves questions such as “Am I making assumptions based on my own cultural knowledge that may not be appropriate here?
If so, what are those assumptions, and where do they come from? ” By the same token, if you know of situations in which students frequently get confused by the intrusion of prior knowledge (for example, students ’ understanding of negative reinforcement in the second story at the beginning of this chapter), you might want to provide them with a rule of thumb to help them avoid that pitfall.
For example, an instructor teaching classical learning theory could advise his students, “When you see ‘ negative ’ in the context of negative reinforcement, think of subtraction. ”
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