Towards a Theory of Transferable Knowledge: helping students to build meaningful mental shapes

Adam Robertson suggests a way towards a theory of transferable knowledge that does more than simply ask students to reuse directly taught knowledge in a new context. Building on Counsell’s (2000) notion of students working as ‘similarity spotters’, he suggests that students need to build ‘meaningful mental shapes’ so as to be able to quickly make sense of newly encountered material, fitting it into pre-existing patterns constructed from previously learned knowledge.

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There are two familiar facts that shed light on what transferable historical knowledge could be: the fact that teachers are able to gloss over a new topic entirely unfamiliar to them and quickly familiarise themselves with it, to a degree that it would take their students many hours longer to achieve; and the fact that presenting a student with an analogy for the topic or story under discussion can prompt a ‘eureka’ moment in which everything suddenly makes perfect sense. Both are instances in which knowledge is being transferred, of transferable knowledge enabling people to make sense of newly met topics and to ‘get better’ at history, and both point towards how we might begin to harness the power of transferable knowledge in the classroom. Continue reading “Towards a Theory of Transferable Knowledge: helping students to build meaningful mental shapes”