Are teachers connecting lessons with students’ lives and prior knowledge?

Publication Details

This paper describes how often teachers are connecting classroom material to the lives and prior knowledge of their students.

Author(s): Emma Medina [Evidence, Data and Knowledge: Ministry of Education]

Date Published: August 2019


Using data from international research studies, international comparisons can be made to give insight into how New Zealand’s practice compares in this respect. The relationship with academic and non-academic outcomes is also analysed. These findings will be of interest to education professionals as well as providers of initial teacher education and professional development.

Key Findings

  • The majority (60-80%) of New Zealand students have teachers who link new content to students’ prior knowledge ‘every or almost every lesson’, and the proportions are similar to international averages.
  • Between 40% and 50% of students’ teachers relate lessons to students’ daily lives ‘every or almost every lesson’, except for Year 9 maths teachers, who do this far less often than other year and subject levels, and less than international averages.
  • Students in schools with moderate to severe school discipline problems (as reported by the principal) are more likely to have a teacher who makes connections between the lessons and prior knowledge or students’ lives.
  • Year 5 reading and 15-year-old science students in lower decile schools have teachers who relate lessons to their lives more often.
  • Many positive student attitudes and dispositions are associated with teachers explaining the relevance of science to students’ lives, such as higher enjoyment of science, improved self-efficacy and greater interest in science. The strongest relationship was between students’ perception of their teacher being supportive and their teacher explaining the relevance of science.
  • There was also a slight positive relationship between teachers’ linking content to students’ prior knowledge and academic outcomes in Year 5 maths and science and Year 9 maths classes.

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