Determining prior knowledge to effectively teach students.
Assessments used before instruction are called diagnostic assessments. Students begin your course with prior knowledge, using past experiences to actively make meaning of new experiences in your course (see Constructivism). Assumptions about what students already know, or “should” know are built into course design and may be incorrect. Therefore, determining what students know, before teaching a topic, can help improve teaching in two ways:
While we will focus on conceptual inventories (assessments that check for student understanding), often, current conceptual inventories may not exist or cover content that you want to assess. Consider the following steps for creating your own measure:
Creating your own diagnostic assessment is not as rigorous as a previously validated or tested conceptual inventory, but it is a feasible way to gauge each new group of students.
Conceptual Inventories (CIs) are designed to identify critical, common misconceptions and content knowledge among students (see Figure 1 below). These can be administered in large lectures and tend to be multiple choice quizzes or tests, with answers based on the more common misunderstandings about a topic. CIs can be administered again after misconceptions have been addressed to determine whether there has been conceptual change.
A list of CIs by discipline is provided below. Many of the CIs are already available for you to use, while others may require permission from the author before using.
It is important to understand that CIs do not include all the possible misconceptions or content knowledge that students may have about a topic. In addition, students can answer correctly in the CI without understanding why it is so. It is recommended to use other formative assessments in conjunction with CIs.
If you want to use a diagnostic assessment in your course, consider the following:
When you are done choosing or creating diagnostic assessments continue:
or move on to: