A baby grows up in a house with a dog. Quite early the child learns the word “dog” and can reliably use the word to refer to them when she sees, not only her own, but other neighborhood dogs as well. One day she goes to visit her aunt who doesn’t own a dog, but has a cat. When the child sees the cat, what does she say?
From A Story Told in Parts by Deirdre Forgione, art teacher
“Dog!” Why? Because she has an idea in her mind of what a dog is, perhaps something like “a dog is a furry animal that walks on four legs and has a tail.” This is the paradigm, the previous knowledge, she uses to name the new animal.
This is also the paradigm that allows the parents and aunt to teach a new word, “cat,” and with practice, the child will be able to distinguish a dog from a cat, goat, squirrel, and other animals. All of this learning happens through connections — links to something the child already understands.
Some concepts we teach are difficult to understand, abstract, or foreign. For students to learn them, we must make connections to something the students already understand.