Influences on Constructing Meaning

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  • 0:00 Constructing Meaning
  • 0:40 Prior Knowledge
  • 1:50 Sociocultural Differences
  • 3:00 Linguistic Understanding
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Learning to read requires much more than phonemic awareness. Students must also be able to construct meaning. This lesson takes a look at this process by examining the influences of prior knowledge, sociocultural differences, and linguistic understanding.

Constructing Meaning

Years ago, sounding out words took center stage in reading instruction. Students sat in desks, arranged in lines, as the teacher instructed how to decode words like 'cat,' 'catch,' and 'catastrophe.' Nowadays, the stakes are much higher. Students are asked to construct meaning from what they mean. Phonics is no longer the end game. Forming ideas about the intent of the text is now key.

Of course, teaching students how to do this is often easier said than done, since there are many influences that affect how each young reader constructs meaning. Today's lesson will take a look at a few of these influences, specifically prior knowledge, sociocultural differences, and linguistic understanding.

Prior Knowledge

Often considered the overarching influence on constructing meaning, we'll start with prior knowledge, or what is already known. Experts refer to the relationship between prior knowledge and constructing meaning as the schema theory. Stated simply, this theory asserts that readers view what they read only through the lens of what they already know. Students use what they know to interpret what they read.

For example, if as a child, you asked me to read a book about a girl and her dog, I would approach that story with excitement. After all, my dog was my best friend. So my prior knowledge told me dogs were good.

The opposite would have been true for my cousin. As a toddler, she was bitten by a dog. It was a nasty bite that required not only stitches but surgery. Understandably, her prior knowledge of dogs would see her constructing a very different meaning from a story about a dog. Where it would be very easy for me to construct positive meaning from a canine character, it would be very hard for my cousin.

Sociocultural Differences

Very similar to prior knowledge, we come to the role sociocultural differences play in constructing meaning. With sociocultural differences, denoting things like gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, they have a huge impact on how students decipher and decode what they read.

For example, suppose a fluent student from a close knit, two-parent home, and an inner city student, from a struggling, single-parent home, are given the same texts to read. Now, suppose this story is about a family relocating to a new place. Even before the book is opened, each of these students will hold preconceived notions based on sociocultural influences and differences.

The suburban child may picture the family relocating because of the career advancement of one of the parents, while the inner city child may picture being forced to move due to lack of funds. If the theme of the story is that moving is exciting and fun, the suburban child will most likely have a much easier time constructing this meaning from the text.

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