At the end of the last lecture on Jan. 26, our teaching seminar reached another new level of inspiration. Dr. Halpern brought three pottery bowls created and made by a potter, herself, and her daughter, respectively. Initially, however, we were given no clue to these three unique artworks and their mysterious creators. Only three bowls of different shapes and colors were displayed in front of our eyes. Using our acquired prior knowledge about the art of pottery, we started to analyze their features, such as their decorative and functional qualities, production technology, and their use of materials. In turn, we checked three bowls with our hands and eyes, gaining a visual and subjective observation of these unknown objects.
Dr. Halpern asked us to consider together the question of who had made each of the bowls. Based on our collective prior knowledge about pottery, an unexpected idea emerged that the biggest bowl, with its flawless surface, seemed to be produced by a machine instead of human hands. In reality, we embarked on the wrong road to approach the truth. The biggest bowl was actually made by a proficient potter whose skillful craft defied the assumption, or even the supposed authority, of prior knowledge.
It indicates that the prior knowledge affected our thinking pattern, and then drove us to believe in a self-assumed conclusion. A useful lesson I learned is that the earlier gained knowledge can’t be guaranteed to work as the universal foundation for the construction of real learning at a new situation. To some extent, thinking outside of the box may transfer the prior knowledge into true learning. Thus, in confronting the issues of literary appreciation in literature teaching class, a potential instructor may encourage the students to share their collective prior knowledge, and then help them to reconstruct their prior learning to analyze the literary materials from a new point of view.