Pre-Assess or Perish

Pre-Assess or Perish

By Taru Nieminen            November 30, 2016

sv8xopkqwnc-milada-vigerova Photo by Milada Vigerova

The 8th graders had just finished reading the play “Anne Frank” and it had been an exciting one! The class actually read the play out loud and acted the parts, and everyone, even Patrick, who really “hated” reading, had begged to be part of the action every hour!

Katie felt that, although the unit had been full of surprises, she still didn’t know enough and she still had a lot of questions. Why had Hitler invaded Poland?  Why were people so engrossed in Nazism that they couldn’t see what was happening in their own back yard? Why did other countries surrender? How could they when they realized what Hitler was doing – eradicating Jews from Europe? Why, why, why?

Why did it have to be Anne Frank?

When Katie asked her teacher all these questions (and more) during a post-unit discussion, her teacher was amazed at the lack of prior knowledge some of her students had. Katie’s teacher sighed, and wowed to do a better job of pre-assessing the students.

That’s why pre-assessment is important. So Katie can understand it ALL.

Of course, there will always be more questions. But to answer the most meaningful questions within a unit is essential. In other words, pre-assess or perish; many of your students will not get it. And that’s a shame.

Definition – or Not

You can’t look up the definition pre-assessment in the dictionary, so we need to make up our own definition as many have done.

Simply put, it just means that you are assessing the knowledge base of your students before you start to dole out the information and knowledge you want your students to have.

The essential questions then of course are: What do my students already know, how will I pre-assess, and how will I use the knowledge to differentiate.

Already Started the Unit?

No problem. Start planning to pre-assess for the next unit. And no matter when you started or where you are in your unit, you can always pre-assess. Granted, you won’t be able to figure out all the unit details and objectives your students already know, but you can check their preparedness in other areas of the unit. You could even pre-assess daily or weekly.

Remember, pre-assessment measures a student’s prior knowledge, background knowledge or schema, and attitudes or preferences towards the subject, concept, and information that will be presented.

Who Needs It?

Everyone. With pre-assessment, you will be able to gauge who needs support, who needs enrichment, and who can do independent study. The one area your students will need to figure out before you start the assessments is their learning styles. Some of your students will whine about taking such a quiz many times, but you remind them that over time, learning styles can change. Some of the learning style evaluations are as easy as taking an online quiz!

P.S. Although you might be well aware of your learning style, you might want to take one with the students; I always find the recommendations which usually follow such quizzes fascinating.

Ways to Take Stock

There are hundreds of ways to figure out what your students prior knowledge is. Here are some of the fastest, tried-and-tested assessment tools:

Entrance/ Exit Slips (Simple, one word/ one sentence answers)

Survey (Online, Yes/ No, Color Cards (e.g. Green for Yes, Yellow for Some, Red for No Idea)

Agree/ Disagree Chart

Q & A with a Partner (You supply the questions)

Mind Maps (Webs, graphic organizers, charts)

Interviews with Students (best done at beginning of the year)

Anticipatory Chart or Guide (This is what I know/ This is what I want to or need to find out)

Rate the Knowledge (I know a lot, some, all, or – not a clue/ Rate knowledge on a scale of 1-5)

Quick Write (Write down 5 or more ideas you know about _______.)

KWL (What I KNOW, WHAT I need to know, What I LEARNED)

Ok, I Have All This Data – Now What?

After you have found your groups (1. Need support 2. Enrichment 3. Independent Study) and the different learning styles of your students, you can start delivering your instruction so that all benefit. Remember, this does not mean you must now come up with three different lesson and try to teach them in one session.

You’d be surprised how much your students can self-select when it comes to their learning. Especially when they know they can choose. Even if you steer them towards the decision you want them to make (because, after all, you are the professional.)

Students Who Need Support

Differentiating for students who need support does not mean “dumbing down” the concept. Not at all. And, by the way, some of your higher-level students might just benefit from some of these as well. Here are some strategies for support:

Modified or adjusted questions, flexible grouping, give product choices, use of manipulatives, graphic organizers, leveled reading in unit materials, modeling, and flexible grouping.

Students Who Need Enrichment

When referring to enrichment, many educators think that the students who need this already know it all. Not so. They are usually very familiar with the subject or concept you are teaching, but they do not necessarily know every facet of it. That’s why I mentioned the benefit in the support section.

Enrichment means that when the student knows the idea you are teaching, they will commence with the enrichment activity you’ve given (or they’ve selected). When they do not have every detail you are teaching, they will take part in the lesson you’ve prepared.

It is amazing to see this in action. You might walk into a classroom with the teacher lecturing, one group of students in deep conversation, another working feverishly on a worksheet, and yet one individual is in his “own world” creating a project depicting his mastery of the unit.

To some, it looks like chaos, but for the teacher, it is heaven (usually in this type of classroom there are very few students who create havoc) and for the student, engaging.

Independent Work

The student in his “own world” is the one working on individual work, using an independent contract model. This is the highest level of mastery, i.e. the student already knows all about the subject and even if not, they will be able to read and study on their own, without being bored. And boredom in a classroom creates discipline problems. No one wants that.

Variety of Learning Styles

Remember to offer a variety of choices, so all learning styles are covered. Most often, the choices would include at least one from each of the categories here: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and written. These can include PowerPoints, Interviews, Drawings, Presentations, Games, etc.







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