Noticing, naming and not allowing “ready-made knowledge” in the classroom

The first time I came across the term “ready-made knowledge” was when I read the following quote by Seymour Papert:

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge” – Papert

Ever since reading that quote I can’t get this notion of providing students with “ready-made knowledge” out of my head. It got me reflecting on my years in the classroom and I realized that like many teachers, I am guilt of providing my students with an endless supply of ready-made knowledge… and not much else. Worksheets, workbooks, textbooks, readers…. Knowledge that has been decontextualized, oversimplified and often sterilized.

Our students deserve better.

This notion of ready-made knowledge reminds me of a picture I came across recently on Twitter.

orange in packaging

Like selling peeled oranges in plastic containers, I am beginning to think that pre-packaging knowledge for students is silly, time-consuming and above all else – completely unnecessary.

This year I aim to shift my search for resources away from pre-packaged, made for school, sources of knowledge. This may have you nervously wondering “Then what will students use to learn?” To answer that I ask you in return (as I have asked myself while reflecting on this idea) “What do the rest of us use to learn?” Answer – tweets, YouTube videos, TedTalks, podcasts, news articles, blog posts, research journals, interviews, documentaries… and the list goes on.

So I’ve begun to curate a list of potential learning resources that could be helpful to support our Units of Inquiry this upcoming year. I started a Google Doc and listed the main concepts for our six UOIs and anytime I come across a tweet, a video, an article, or a podcast this summer that relates to one of our concepts I added a link to the doc. I will continue to do this throughout the year. This way when it comes time for a new UOI I will have a collection of sources of knowledge  to chose from that have not been ready-made for student consumption.

Here is what it looks like so far:

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 8.43.50 AM

Are these sources free of bias and error? Absolutely not! But that makes them even more valuable. They provide opportunities for discussions about critical thinking, critical literacy, perspective, sourcing, citations and the like. These are essential skills to be developed because these are the types of sources of knowledge students will be encountering in their real life that they will need to be able to decode, deconstruct, analyze and make informed decisions about… not worksheets and workbooks.

I look forward to letting go of years-worth collections of school-land learning resources and instead replacing them with the same sources of knowledge that people are exposed to in their daily lives. I also look forward to sharing this Google Doc with my students so they can add resources they come across during their inquires too!

What sources of ready-made knowledge have you used in your own teaching?

How do you avoid pre-packaged knowledge in your classroom?

What questions or suggestions do you have for me to stretch my thinking further?

6 thoughts on “Noticing, naming and not allowing “ready-made knowledge” in the classroom

  1. Graeme August 17, 2016 / 4:54 pm

    I love your thinking so much. Thanks for sharing. Will start a google doc now too 😊


    • tbondclegg August 18, 2016 / 3:49 am

      Thanks Graeme! We should see if we are exploring any of the same concepts and exchange resources.


  2. Pati Wagner August 22, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! My school just started PYP and it has been a challenge for us to select concepts and contents. We were so used to what we were taught and what WE thought it was important/relevant to students, as oppose to what actually matters and their own opinion about it. It’s a journey, but we’ll get there (:


    • tbondclegg August 23, 2016 / 6:32 am

      Hi Pati, thanks for your comment and good luck with the PYP! It is an amazing program. But it does take lot of inquiring and thinking and reflection on our part as teachers. It is definitely a process of unlearning and relearning. Enjoy! 🙂


  3. Elbey Borrero (@MrsEBorrero) October 29, 2016 / 3:11 pm

    Hi, I appreciate the thoughts you share in this blog and use them to trigger my team’s reflection on our practice. I love the idea of this Google doc. I have a question, could the doc’s headings be organized by key concepts instead of by UOI? In the example you shared I see mainly related concepts. Thank you very much.


    • tbondclegg October 29, 2016 / 3:16 pm

      Absolutely! Resources could be organized lots of different ways 😊


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