For example, consider the second-grade book pictured left, part of the Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading curriculum discussed in a prior post. I display a primary text because educational psychologists like Neitzel, Alexander, and Johnson (2008) have demonstrated that young children eagerly absorb new content, manifesting burgeoning interest along with a verbal and academic advantage over peers not comparably enriched by engaging content. By exploring interesting yet readable texts, including digital materials, students can further their facility with decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. They potentially become both word savvy and world savvy even as they develop interest in a specific topic.
Topic knowledge is essential to inference and inference is essential to comprehension. Readers are almost always required to draw an inference, connecting what they know with what was written to make sense of what was NOT written. Authors omit information, assuming the reader will "get it" but if we have frail or faulty knowledge of the topic we cannot easily infer. We cannot make bricks without straw! (To fully understand that figurative expression prior knowledge was required.)
In the videoTeaching Content Is Teaching Reading, Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist, illustrates the process of inference. Be sure to note the baseball study and the stats on time not dedicated to subject matter inquiry in primary grades. Credit the source as www.danielwillingham.com (video references here.). To further explore the topic, read Willingham's Washington Post blog entry about comprehension strategies. Willingham describes why strategy research is conducted more readily than content knowledge research, thus influencing reading curriculum.
Morphological note: The word infer contains the prefix in- meaning 'in' plus the Latin root fer meaning 'to bear, to carry.' Thus, to infer is to carry input into one's mental schema and merge it with one's knowledge, perceptions, and experiences, thereby drawing a conclusion. Explore more words with the root fer at this site, included in Vocabulogic's Useful Links (in page footer), labeled Affixes (and some roots).
- Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (2006). The knowledge deficit: Closing the shocking education gap for American children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Willingham, D. T. (2006, Spring). How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning—and thinking. American Educator, 30-37.
- Neitzel, C., Alexander, J. M., & Johnson, K. E. (2008). Children's early interest-based activities in the home and subsequent information contributions and pursuits in kindergarten. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(4), 782-797.