Bolstering Backpacks

Every day, every student walks into every classroom with an invisible, but very impactful, companion – his/her schema backpack.  This backpack contains a lifetime of skills, experiences and personality traits unique to that particular learner.  The composition of each student’s backpack is fluid, as new situations arise and existing skills and interests are constantly being reinforced, refined, or replaced.   It is imperative for teachers to recognize and respect its contents, and, most importantly, to activate these accumlulated attributes as frequently as possible.

Just as traditional backpacks come in a wide variety of colours and designs, schema backpacks also vary greatly in both the quality and quantity of their contents.  Family dynamics and/or socioeconomic challenges can create a profound inequity in the experiential base of students and related skill development, as well as attitudes towards future learning opportunities.  In an attempt to level the playing field, teachers must routinely utilize field trips, guest speakers, and special activities within the classroom to generate common classroom schema.  Technology can further enhance this classroom schema, by offering students an almost endless range of virtual trips and activities.

Creating and referencing an abundance of common classroom schema also helps teachers more accurately identify and address the root causes of students’ challenges and misconceptions regarding a given concept.  It is often unclear if a student’s struggles are based on specific content skills or a certain contextual application.   For example, if a student has never been to a farm, never visited the zoo and/or never gone on a camping trip, assessing content skills within one of these contexts will undoubtedly produce invalid results.  The student may well understand the overall concept, but has no personal connection to the imposed context.  This profound misalignment has unquestionably impacted various standardized test results over the years.

The composition of any student’s backpack is clearly a combination of nature and nurture, but no learner’s intellectual capabilities should ever be confused with his/her experiential opportunities.

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