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Strategy Stretch: To Pre-Assess or Not

For several years I taught woodshop to sixth graders. Some of you may be shaking your head and you would be correct. 😊 One of the interesting early lessons I learned was that although all the elementary schools that fed our middle school taught measurement, not all students retained much of that information. Knowing the parts of an inch was important as each student was cutting wood. The adage of “measure twice; cut once” carried weight when you considered the cost of resources.

It only took one quarter for me to start using a pre-test where students labeled the increments of an inch to a sixteenth. This information was critical to help me estimate how much time was necessary to allocate to teaching measurement before we started woodshop skills. The data from this brief quiz also allowed me to better differentiate for those who could measure and get them started on projects sooner.

Pre-assessment has both advocates and critics. I am an advocate. That said, I firmly believe these assessments should not be graded; they are formative in nature. Tom Guskey (2018) tells us that pre-assessments can measure cognitive, affective or behavioral skills. Many of us use pre-assessment to check for pre-requisite skills (from previous grades, courses or lessons), present skills or knowledge or as a preview of a new unit or task. For my learners, pre-requisite and preview were the most common uses.

There are so many strategies to choose from when a pre-assessment is employed. Technology options include quizzes on Google Forms or Plickers and Padlet for responding to questions. One of my favorite strategies when starting a new unit is a Synectic. Predictions and entrance slips also work well. In my class, while I often used a pre-assessment to see what learners already knew, there were times when I was interested in seeing what they wanted to know. For this, I sometimes used a Parking Lot as a pre-assessment. One additional idea is an Anticipatory Guide.

There was a time when I needed to introduce behavioral data to the district accountability committee, which was comprised of parent and guardians. Before we started, we used a Synectic to see how or what people felt about data. We wanted to get a feel for where people were coming from when it came to talking about data in general before we got to behavioral data, the affective aspect. The information from this pre-assessment helped us craft the frame and adjust some of the questions we wanted to consider when we reviewed the data.

Pre-assessment is one of those strategies that some of you use, some have tried in the past and some have wanted to try but for whatever reason haven’t. In the coming month, look for an opportunity when you start a new lesson or unit to ask a question (or a few) to help you identify where learners are regarding the new topic. Plan the question(s), plan how you will use the results, make any adjustments indicated by the data, and see how learning might change in the lesson or unit. You might be surprised.

We’d love to hear about your experience with pre-assessment.

Resources

Does Pre-Assessment Work? - ASCD

Response: Underutilized Teaching Ideas (Opinion) (edweek.org)