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Have Students Assess Their Own Prior Knowledge

In some fields and at some levels of expertise, having students assess their own knowledge and skills can be a quick and effective — though not necessarily foolproof — way to diagnose missing or insufficient prior knowledge. One way to have students self – assess is to create a list of concepts and skills that you expect them to have coming into your course, as well as some concepts and skills you expect them to acquire during the semester.

Ask students to assess their level of competence for each concept or skill, using a scale that ranges from cursory familiarity ( “ I have heard of the term ” ) to factual knowledge ( “ I could define it ” ) to conceptual knowledge ( “ I could explain it to someone else ” ) to application ( “ I can use it to solve problems ” ). Examine the data for the class as a whole in order to identify areas in which your students have either less knowledge than you expect or more.

In either case, this information can help you recalibrate your instruction to better meet student needs. See Appendix A for more information about student self – assessments. Use Brainstorming to Reveal Prior Knowledge One way to expose students’ prior knowledge is to conduct a group brainstorming session. Brainstorming can be used to uncover beliefs, associations, and assumptions (for example, with questions such as “What do you think of when you hear the word evangelical?”).

It can also be used to expose factual or conceptual knowledge ( “ What were some of the key historical events in the Gilded Age? ” or “ What comes to mind when you think about environmental ethics? ” ), procedural knowledge ( “ If you were going to do a How Learning Works 30 research project on the Farm Bill, where would you begin? ” ), or contextual knowledge ( “ What are some methodologies you could use to research this question? ” ).

Bear in mind that brainstorming does not provide a systematic gauge of students’ prior knowledge. Also, be prepared to differentiate accurate and appropriately applied knowledge from knowledge that is inaccurate or inappropriately applied.

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