ERIC Identifier: ED312611
Publication Date: 1989-11-00
Author: Alvarez, Marino C. - Risko, Victoria J.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Schema Activation, Construction, and Application. ERIC Digest.
Readers rely on their prior knowledge and world experience when trying to
comprehend a text. It is this organized knowledge that is accessed during
reading that is referred to as schema (plural schemata). Readers make use of
their schema when they can relate what they already know about a topic to the
facts and ideas appearing in a text. The richer the schema is for a given topic
the better a reader will understand the topic.
Schema theorists have advanced our understanding of reading comprehension by
describing how prior knowledge can enhance a reader's interaction with the text.
Accordingly, comprehension occurs when a reader is able to use prior knowledge
and experience to interpret an author's message (Bransford, 1985; Norris &
Phillips, 1987). Educators and researchers have suggested numerous instructional
strategies to help students activate and use prior knowledge to aid
comprehension. Yet, schema theory does not explain how readers modify and create
new schema when presented with novel information in texts.
Because texts are never completely
explicit, the reader must rely on preexisting schemata to provide plausible
interpretations. Yet, there is much evidence that good and poor readers do not
always use schemata appropriately or are unaware of whether the information they
are reading is consistent with their existing knowledge. Also, there is evidence
that students who do not spontaneously use schemata as they read will engage
them if given explicit instructions prior to reading (e.g., Bransford, 1979).
Prereading strategies have been developed to help students relate new
information appearing in written discourse to their existing knowledge. The
design of many of these preorganizers reflects Ausubel's (1959) definition of
readiness and the purpose of their use is to create a mind set prior to reading.
These preorganizers have included advance organizers (Ausubel, 1960), structured
overviews or graphic organizers (Alvermann, 1981), previews (Graves, et al.,
1983), concept maps (Novak & Gowin, 1984), and thematic organizers (Alvarez,
1980, 1983; Alvarez & Risko, 1989; Risko & Alvarez, 1986).
SCHEMA CONSTRUCTION AND APPLICATION
Learning novel concepts
may require the reader to connect new information to a congruent mental model.
Mental models represent an individual's construal of existing knowledge and/or
new information in the domain even though this information may be fragmentary,
inaccurate, or inconsistent (Gentner & Gentner, 1983). A person's mental
model is a representation of a particular belief based on existing knowledge of
a physical system or a semantic representation depicted in a text. For example,
a person may hold a belief that balls are round, inflatable and are made to
bounce. However, this person may encounter a football (an ellipsoid) that is
kicked or thrown, or ball bearings that are solid, or a bowling ball that is
solid and has holes drilled into it for the purpose of rolling rather than
bouncing. This new knowledge is integrated into a new, more complex, mental
structure about the shape, substance, form, and function of balls.
As Bransford (1985) points out, schema activation and schema construction are
two different problems. While it is possible to activate existing schemata with
a given topic, it does not necessarily follow that a learner can use this
activated knowledge to develop new knowledge and skills. Problem solving lessons
and activities can provide learners with situations that aid in schema
construction which includes critical thinking. Critical thinking theory enables
a reader to analyze an ambiguous text. When versed in this process, a reader can
either weigh alternative interpretations, dismiss others, make a decision to
evaluate multiple possibilities, or accept the information as being reasonable.
This process helps students to modify or extend their mental model, or existing
knowledge base, for target concepts.
Several teacher-directed and self-initiated activities can be used to promote
schema construction and application of knowledge to novel situations. Four such
strategies that are designed to foster shared meaning between and among teachers
and peers are: cases, interactive videodiscs, hierarchical concept maps, and Vee
Cases that present learners with single and varied contexts across
disciplines provide learners with scenarios that can be discussed and analyzed
from multiple perspectives (e.g., see Christensen, 1987; Spiro, et al., 1987).
These cases can include written documents, recorded (musical as well as
narrative) interludes, paintings, artifacts, video portrayals, and other
pertinent substances and materials. Another teacher-directed strategy is the use
of interactive videodiscs. Bransford and his colleagues are developing episodes,
revolving around problem-oriented learning environments, that can be
computer-accessed by learners to invite critical thinking and schema
construction (see Bransford, et al., 1989; Bransford, et al., in press).
Hierarchical concept maps and Vee diagrams are two methods that students can
initiate on their own for schema construction and application. Hierarchical
concept maps (Novak & Gowin, 1984) are designed to help the reader clarify
ambiguities of a text while simultaneously revealing any misconceptions that
result from a reading. More importantly they provide the learner with a tool
from which to initiate ideas that can be shared by visual inspection with
someone else. The Vee diagram (Gowin, 1981/1987) is a method by which a learner
can learn about the structure of knowledge and knowledge-making within a given
discipline and use this knowledge in novel contexts.
Students can be taught to incorporate new information into their existing
world knowledge. This can be accomplished through teacher guided instruction and
self-initiated strategies that includes methods and meaningful materials that
induce critical thinking with conceptual problems. In order for schema
construction to occur, a framework needs to be provided that helps readers to
elaborate upon new facts and ideas and to clarify their significance or
relevance. Students need to learn more about themselves as learners. Notable in
this learning context is the relationship between facts and ideas learned in
formal school settings and those encountered in everyday learning environments.
Perhaps within this inquiry we will be led to discover the ways individuals
choose to relate new information to existing schemata and how this new
information influences their future knowledge and decision-making.
Additional material on schemata can be found in the ERIC database. Some
recent articles are:
Anstey, Michele. "Helping Children Learn How to Learn," Australian Journal of
Reading, 11 (4) November 1988, p. 269-77. [EJ 383 664]
Blachowicz, Camille L. Z. and Fisher, Peter J. L. "Defining is an Unnatural
Act: A Study of Written Definitions." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of
the National Reading Conference, 1988. 17 p. [ED 301 854]
Bloom, Charles P. "The Roles of Schemata in Memory for Text." Discourse
Processes, 11 (3) July-September 1988, p. 305-18. [EJ 381 725]
Mealey, Donna L. and Nist, Sherrie L. "Postsecondary, Teacher Directed
Comprehension Strategies," Journal of Reading, 32 (6) March 1989, p. 484-93. [EJ
Scales, Alice M. "Teaching College Reading and Study Skills Through a
Metacognitive-Schema Approach." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
International Reading Association, 1987. 39 p. [ED 298 428]
Alvarez, M. (1983). Using a thematic
pre-organizer and guided instruction as an aid to concept learning. Reading
Horizons, 24, 51-58.
Alvarez, M. (1980). The effect of using an associate passage with guided
instruction to evoke thematic conceptual linkage. Dissertation Abstracts
International, 41, 1000A. (University Microfilms No. 8019163).
Alvarez, M. & Risko, V. (1989). Using a thematic organizer to facilitate
transfer learning with college developmental studies students. Reading Research
and Instruction, 28, 1-15.
Alvermann, D. (1981). The compensatory effect of graphic organizers in the
learning and retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational
Research, 75, 44-48.
Ausubel, D. (1960). The use of advance organizers in the learning and
retention of meaningful verbal material. Journal of Educational Psychology, 51,
Ausubel, D. (1959). Viewpoints from related disciplines: Human growth and
development. Teachers College Record, 60, 245-254.
Bransford, J. (1985). Schema activation and schema acquisition. In H. Singer
& R. B. Ruddell (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading, 3rd ed.
Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 385-397.
Bransford, J. (1979). Human cognition: Learning, understanding, and
remembering. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Bransford, J., et al., (in press). Teaching thinking and content knowledge:
Toward an integrated approach. In B. F. Jones & L. Idol (Eds.), Dimensions
of thinking and cognitive instruction. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Bransford, J., et al., (1989). New approaches to instruction: because wisdom
can't be told (pp. 470-497). In Vosniadou, S. & A. Ortony (Eds.), Similarity
and analogical reasoning. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Christensen, C. (1987). Teaching and the case method. Boston, MA: Harvard
Gentner, D. & Gentner, D. (1983). Flowing waters or teeming crowds:
Mental models of electricity (pp. 99-129). In D. Gentner & A. L. Stevens
(Eds.), Mental models. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Gowin, D. (1981/1987). Educating. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Graves, M., et al., (1983). Effects of previewing difficult short stories on
low ability junior high school students' comprehension, recall, and attitudes.
Reading Research Quarterly, 18, 262-276.
Norris, S. & Phillips, L. (1987). Explanations of reading comprehension:
Schema theory and critical thinking theory. Teachers College Record, 89, 2,
Novak, J. & Gowin, D. (1984). Learning how to learn. New York: Cambridge
Risko, V. & Alvarez, M. (1986). An investigation of poor readers' use of
a thematic strategy to comprehend text. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 298-316.
[EJ 337 401]
Spiro, R., et al., (1987). Knowledge acquisition for application: Cognitive
flexibility and transfer in complex content domains (pp. 177-199). In B. K.
Britton & S. M. Glynn (Eds.), Executive control processes in reading.
Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.