An essential (but sometimes overlooked) aspect of unit planning is determining the background knowledge of the students in the class. Equipped with an understanding of students’ background knowledge, teachers can design learning experiences to meet the needs of the students. This is important, because, “What students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content” (Marzano, 2004, p. 1). We want to make sure we utilize background knowledge rather than let a lack of it hinder our students.
One great way to assess the background knowledge of the students is the Prediction Guide. A prediction guide is a question or set of true/false statements that require students to make predictions about upcoming subject matter.
Create your Prediction Guide by generating a list of 8-10 true/false statements about the upcoming topic. Statements should be short and simple. The statements will come from the most important issues relating to the upcoming unit. Teachers may find inspiration from key headings in relevant textbooks or their own topic areas in the unit plan.
Provide the Prediction Guide before starting the unit and collect the student responses. Giving students an opportunity to discuss their reasoning for their answers is also valuable for providing data on student thinking about the topic.
Use the information from the prediction guide and the class discussion to assess what students already know about the topic. The information will inform planning, differentiation and fine-tuning of activities and resourcing for the subsequent unit.
Give the Prediction Guides back and have the students amend their responses during or at the end of the unit of work. This is a valuable self-reflection artefact for students.
Why are Prediction Guides great?
- Quick to prepare.
- Valuable data for teachers to move learning forward.
- Creates buy-in because students will be eager to find out whether they are correct.
- Sets the context for learning and gives students a purpose, which is motivating.
- Assists with metacognition if used at multiple points during the unit.
Prediction Guides are part of my teaching repertoire because they are valuable to teacher and student in many ways.
“Chapter 2, Background Knowledge: The Glue that Makes Learning Stick”, in Cossett Lent, 2012, Overcoming Textbook Fatigue: 21st Century Tools to Revitalise Teaching and Learning, ASCD. Access here: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/113005/chapters/Background-Knowledge@-The-Glue-That-Makes-Learning-Stick.aspx