The research presented in this study sought to determine the kinds of prior knowledge students bring with them from the high school concerning essay writing, and more specifically the argumentative essay. The study was conducted to gather this information because over the years it became increasingly clear that even though the students professed to know the terms they did not understand what the terms meant or how to apply them when writing their essays. As the instructor, I often find that the students’ prior knowledge can either be beneficial or can hinder them when they are attempting to acquire new information concerning how to find affordable assistance with essay paper needs. Schaap, Schmidt and Verkoeljen reported that “initial learning is known to be positively correlated with the level of prior knowledge, class attendance, and sometimes study time . . .”. They further point out that prior knowledge differs from the level of initial learning because prior knowledge is the knowledge that students possess prior to enrolling in a curriculum. They further hypothesized that the amount of prior knowledge can positively affect the level of initial learning but only if the students’ prior knowledge is correct. Shapiro endorses the idea of prior knowledge as a kind of cognitive structure that lays the foundation for new learning. Therefore, first- year instructors can help facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge by pointing out what the students already know on the subject and explaining the way in which the new information builds on the prior knowledge.
The findings reported in this paper provide evidence for the need to take into account students’ prior knowledge of writing when they come to the university. The answers provided on the surveys indicate that some students come to university with partial or incorrect concepts of argument and with formal schemata that do not help them write appropriately in the expected genre. The findings further indicate that the students may know the terminology of the argument but do not necessarily have more than a surface understanding of what the terminology means. This is a problem especially when we take for granted that our students know more than they do just because they indicate that they have heard the word before coming to university. Wingate theorized that “the fact that argumentation is a key requirement of essay writing is obscured through the use of vague language and an emphasis on surface features”.
Term after term the teaching assistants and I observe that students spend a great deal of their time learning how to format their paper even though that portion of their mark is only worth 10% of their total grade. The fact that 43% of the students indicated that formatting meant learning how to structure an essay shows that students think they know what it means to format an essay but the evidence does not support that view.