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Diagnostic assessment

All students bring prior knowledge, skills, and experiences with them to school and they are dependent on this prior learning to make sense of new learning. To be effective, teachers need to find out just what it is that their students already know and can do.

This is particularly important for students who do not share the same cultural background as their teacher. They will come to school with rather different packages of knowledge, skills, and experiences with which to make sense of new learning.

When teachers know their students, they can select contexts, content, and strategies that will engage them and facilitate their learning. Both the focusing and teaching inquiries in the teaching as inquiry cycle rely on knowledge of students.

  • Find out about the backgrounds and experience of your students before you start developing programmes for them.
  • The proportions of New Zealand’s population that are of Māori, Pacific, and Asian ethnicity are increasing. If you are an experienced teacher, consider how your teaching has changed in response to the changing ethnic makeup of your classes.

Some suggestions for diagnostic assessment

  • Strengths and gaps in content knowledge can be identified from assessments and units of work.
  • Literacy and numeracy testing can identify whether lack of reading skills or number understanding are barriers to learning. Prior NCEA results needed to analysed to gather information.
  • The achievement criteria from the standards (for example, demonstrate understanding, explain, analyse, evaluate) can be a guide for what to look for when students are engaged in discussion or oral explanation.
  • Use “know, want to know, learned” (KWL) charts as the basis for a class or individual activity.
  • Use trigger activities (for example, movie clips, YouTube clips, newspaper articles, guest speakers, charts) to stimulate curiosity and elicit prior knowledge.
  • Set up structured learning conversations or interviews: teacher–student or student–student.
  • Set up practical activities that allow students to demonstrate what they know, for example, creating a chart of definitions by matching cards.
  • Observe students in practical activities for leadership, interpersonal skills, risk management, practical performance.
  • Assign a rich task as a diagnostic tool. Observe how students approach it and what they make of it.
  • Set an activity to be done in co-operative learning groups.
  • Direct questioning has a place: teacher to student, student to student, student to teacher.
  • Students assess themselves against known criteria: their own knowledge and skills, things they need to revise, and new territory.
  • Use activities such as postbox, graffiti sheets, pass the paper, values continuums, learning journals, blogs, e-portfolios, that allow students to express their thinking in non-threatening ways.

Last updated August 13, 2013