To ensure that students learn what is taught effectively, teachers at Wells International School often start classes by assessing learners’ prior knowledge. This is important because when new learning is connected to old knowledge, learning become fun, meaningful and permanent. Inter-neural connectivity in the brain is enhanced when students are allowed to bridge the gap between past learning and their immediate intellectual experiences.
One good way of doing this is by allowing students to express what they already know about a particular lesson (especially a new lesson), gauge overall prior knowledge and understanding about the topic, and then proceed to extend and create new knowledge.
This is seen in the following introduction to a Social Studies unit on “map reading”. To gauge what and how much students already know about map reading, the Grade 5 Social Studies teacher (Mr. Gary) asks them to draw a map, indicating whatever elements of a map they think is necessary to be included in the same for submission. It was fun to see all sorts of ambiguous looking “countries” that students created in an attempt to show the teacher how much of map reading they already know.
When the maps were turned in, the teacher noted that students already possess some basic understanding about a few, if not all aspects of a map like latitude, longitude, the hemispheres, directions, time zone, scale, and map legends. This assessment was made from a simple, open-ended task that allowed students to share their knowledge freely. The teacher then goes about planning for subsequent lesson(s) based on these findings.