Assessment Strategies
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Pre-Assessment: What Students Know

Students come to the classrooms with a host of experiences, beliefs, and ideas about the way the world works. Some of these are only partially developed; others conflict with widely held scientific ideas. When you find out what students know or think they know at the beginning of a Journey North study or unit, you are better able to identify gaps and misconceptions so you can plan instruction. You and students can also revisit these benchmarks over time to measure their growth.

KW(H)L Charts

This familiar multi-column graphic organizer enables students to reflect on what they know about a concept or topic before they dig in, consider questions they have, muse about KWHL Charthow they could find answers, and finally, document what they’ve learned and compare it with their initial ideas. The process enables you to get a sense of student thinking and misconceptions before your Journey North studies, gives you a springboard for investigation, and enables you and your charges to assess their gains over time.

Set up a chart for the whole class or have small groups or individual students create them as follows:

  1. Students write down what they know (K) or think they know about a topic or concept.
  2. Next they generate questions revealing what they want to know (W). These might be inspired by observations.
  3. Students brainstorm how they might answer their questions (H) (e.g., observing, analyzing data, experimenting, asking an “expert”).
  4. At the end of the study or throughout it, students refer back to the chart and document what they have learned (L).

You may want to add these extra columns or lists to the chart:

  • Questions we still have.
  • What we think we know but aren’t sure about.
  • How we know what we know.
  • What we want to do next.

Concept Maps

One way to gain insight into what students know, help them organize and represent concepts, and assess what they've learned, is to have them create "concept maps" before launching a unit of study. They can then revisit these maps later in the study (using a different color marker to add new ideas) or draw new ones that reveal their expanded understanding. You can also use student maps as springboards for Journey North lessons and research.

Option 1: Before beginning a topic or study, ask students to generate a "map" of ideas associated with a topic or concept (e.g, migration). Ask them to consider what mental images or concepts this evokes and to think about how they could "connect" these images to visually represent their understanding. Some teachers have students simply draw lines to show the connections and hierarchies; others have students use "linking" words to describe relationships.

Option 2: Rather than leave the process open-ended, give students a list of related concepts (10 maximum) and have them write each one on a Post-It Note or piece of paper. Students then arrange the labels on a blank sheet of paper to show how they think the concepts relate to one another. They can use connecting lines with arrows and write words on the lines that describe the relationships. Students can share their thinking as they show the maps to you and classmates.

Also see Journey North’s Instructional Strategy on Concept Maps.

Writing About or Drawing Concepts

Compare students’ explanations or drawings early on and toward the end of a Journey North unit. For instance, ask them to mark a blank map showing the route they predict monarchs will take on their way to Mexico (that is, which states they’ll pass through) and then write about why they chose the route.

Pre/Post Questions

By posting selected questions to individual students, small groups, or the entire class before launching a study, during the study, and afterward, you can evaluate how their thinking evolves. For instance, ask, What does sunlight have to do with animal migrations? You might document their responses with informal notes or with audio or video tape.


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