Is there a definition of what ‘meaning-making’ is? Well, we are not aware of a single definition, however it is agreed by all that it is the opposite of ‘rote memorization’.
Niki Kaiser sees meaning making as much more than this, she believes it is highly individual:
“It implements something personal to each pupil, so they have to build it up themselves. As teachers, we cannot make it for them. So, the skill is to give learners opportunities to think about what they learn and expand on it. But it’s also important to remember that meaning is contextual.”
We define meaningful learning as ‘connecting new information to already existing knowledge in a functional way’. That is the level of our understanding of a certain concept is determined by what we can do with it in a certain context.
For example: the word “solid” becomes meaningful for a child once a child can use it in a sentence to describe their desk or a wall or the floor.
It also means ‘unbreakable’ or ‘stable under pressure’ and later, in science lessons they may learn how to assign additional meaning to it.
So, we start with our prior knowledge that should be activated prior learning new material. We then focus on embedding a new concept into the existing network, focusing on making these new connections in the brain. In later stages we can weave a larger and more intricate network around this concept, creating schemas and mental models.
We cannot enter a student’s head and make sure they make the “right” connections, we cannot manipulate their networks directly, and we do have to appreciate that any individual has their own way of making associations on the basis of their prior knowledge, their schemas and their experience. At the same time, as teachers in the classroom, we wish to teach specific content and guide students to understand it in the best possible way, so it will be useful for them in the future.