Flexible grouping is one of the best ways to meet learners at their readiness level, or Zone of Proximal Development. In order to figure out a learner’s readiness level in any given subject, there needs to be a pre- assessment. Given at the start of new learning, a pre-assessment helps both the teacher and the learner determine where to begin and are essential in learner centered proficiency based education. We cannot assume what learners do, or do not know, based simply on their social grade is school. Nor can we assume that performance in one content area or topic will indicate performance in others. In order to be truly learner centered and proficiency based, we need to use pre-assessment strategies to determine what our learners are ready for.
There are many ways to go about pre-assessing learners. One quick way is to give a condensed version of the end of unit test, if you are still working with end of unit tests. The pre-assessment should be relatively short, and take no longer than one class period to complete. Ideally the pre and post assessment will show growth, which means they really should be identical. Another way is to engage learners in a task that requires them to use the knowledge and skills they are about to learn. The task should have very little scaffolding, as you want to be able to see what the learners can do on their own. Below are some examples of pre-assessment tasks:
Argument Writing On-Demand
Think of a topic or issue that you know a lot about or that you
have strong feelings about. You will have 45 minutes to write an
opinion or argument text in which you will write your opinion or
claim and tell reasons why you feel that way. use everything you
know about essays, persuasive letters, and reviews to do this.
Please keep in mind that you'll have forty-five minutes to complete
this, so you will need to plan, draft, revise, and edit in one sitting.
Social Studies Pre-Assessment
Describe the what you see in the picture using the five themes of geography.
Of course, the learners should be aware that they are taking a pre-assessment, and the purpose for that pre-assessment. Once learners have had the chance to show what they know, or can do, then they can be a part of the conversation about where they need to begin in their learning for a particular content or topic. Learners and teachers can work together to set up groups. Let’s take the Social Studies example. Perhaps a handful of learners were able to use a few of the themes correctly, they can start their learning with the ones they did not know. If the majority of the learners showed no understanding of any of the themes, they they will start at the beginning. The same can happen with the math, and writing.
Pre-assessment enables us to hone in on the learning needs of individuals. It is no longer acceptable for learners to be waiting for others to catch up to move on, or for the learning to move on while a learner is still trying to catch up. Quick, unscaffolded pre-assessment gives us the data we need to make sure learners are working right where they need to be.
Courtney is the Instructional Coach for KIDS RSU #2 in Maine. She also hosts a podcast about personalized learning, and is available for independent consulting work.
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