On “prerequisite knowledge” as a step towards good learning

One of my most satisfying learnings in recent times has been this idea that every new knowledge is built on some prerequisite knowledge (and not any previous knowledge). That is how our brain makes new connections (that is, new learning). Therefore, it makes sense that as we start teaching a new unit/topic/chapter, we identify the prerequisite knowledge for the unit, and make sure that every student is comfortable with that prerequisite knowledge.

I have started believing that “intelligence”, in large measure, is nothing but having this prerequisite knowledge. That is why in the classroom, those students who have the prerequisite knowledge for the given topic appear to us as “bright”, and those who don’t “slow”.

Many times the prerequisite knowledge is nothing but vocabulary. We assume that students are comfortable with “that” vocabulary but they might not. Therefore, it is a good idea to list down those words and make sure that students are conversant with them. 

In fact every word represents a concept, and in that sense vocabulary is also conceptual knowledge. Here is a meaningful statement that I came across recently – “all words are pegs to hang ideas on”.

In my last five years or so of living with this idea, I have found that a typical teacher finds it very difficult to identify the prerequisite knowledge for a given unit/topic. This happens because we see our subject/discipline as disconnected jumble of so many chapters, and not a connected web of concepts and skills, each building on some previous one.

At Shikshangan, we help teachers develop such a web for each subject across grades.