What is Schema Theory?
Readers can better understand what they are reading when they have general background knowledge of the topic being presented. This existing information is used by the reader to tie together the individual sentences and paragraphs in a passage. In fact, the reader's previous organized knowledge of a topic adds a great deal to the comprehension of a new passage about the same topic.
Previewing helps readers activate their background knowledge and form a schema or outline about the topic. As the reader previews a passage, he or she calls to mind previous experience or mental associations; in other words the reader gets the mind ready to take in new information about the topic. This "mental readiness" helps the reader fill in missing information and connect sentences and paragraphs.
With a schema in mind, the reader can actively assess the new information to judge how it fits into prior knowledge. Sometimes the prior knowledge needs to be adjusted based on the current reading. The reader's schema also helps the reader set goals for the current reading and to judge important and non-important parts of passage. This continual comparison and active thinking aids reading comprehension.
Read the following passage. Notice that it is intentionally untitled so that you, the reader, will be unable to form a schema for the passage prior to reading.
What is the passage about? Did you find it difficult to follow? Could you form mental images about the passage as you read?
Now, reread the passage with new understanding and see how much prior knowledge and "schema" aid comprehension. First read this title before reading the paragraph.
Write in the space below your reaction to the second reading. Was the passage easier to understand? What were you thinking as you read this time?
How will you change your reading behavior now that you understand the importance of schema theory and previewing.