Knowledge: It’s about what they know and they don’t know, and often what they think they know


In my teaching I aim for students to learn something new. However I don’t know what that might be unless I use some sort of diagnostic tool to find out. Here are some suggestions of how to do this:

What they want to know – Socrative (website/app)

The easiest way I have found to use this is asking an open question “What do you want to learn about X?”. Students then submit as many questions as they want about that topic. You then have the class view of what they want to learn. The assumption is that if a student has asked a question on it, they don’t know the answer. I then plan my lessons around answering some, usually not all, those questions.

Google forms

Before a GCSE unit I create a small questionnaire based on the content of the topic. I then ask students a range of question on what they ‘think’ they know. I say this because unless they are fully aware of what you mean they may claim to know something when in fact they don’t. Again I use this to plan the lessons and the groupings/work within a lesson. If a student has said they 100% know something I do a quick check at the start of the lesson either by questioning them or a quick task. It soon differentiates whether they really do. More often than not, they don’t.

Knowledge testing – Multiple choice

There are a few tools for this including both above and an app called Quickey. Also, simple paper and pencil will do.

This is more about checking the exact facts that they need to know. I have blogged on this before and I think if you’re using MC questions for this there should be a ‘I don’t know’ option for them to clearly show they’re not guessing.

A summary analysis of this data will show what needs teaching and who needs it to be taught it.

Knowledge testing – Written test

This one has to be explained to them. You don’t want them to prepare for it and there are no consequences for getting nothing correct. At GCSE this is really easy to do as you can give them a past paper to complete. In subjects like Maths this may be one of the best ways to find out what they already know. I have also blogged before about not telling them what they got right/wrong. The results of what they can/can’t do isn’t necessarily for them but for the teacher.

The nice thing about using a test is that you can use the exact same test later on to see what they’ve learnt.

Problems with finding out what they know

The biggest issue with doing this is when you have the results in and there is a huge variation in the class, it won’t be simple ‘one lesson fits all’. In some ways them all knowing something or all not knowing is the easiest to manage.

As mentioned above they don’t’ always accurately self diagnose.This can be overcome with practice when they realise there are no consequences for ‘not knowing’ it becomes more accurate; it’s no consequence testing.

Also the more specific and detailed the questions, the more accurate a picture you will gain. It is worth spending time creating the questions to get the most accurate answers.

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