Prior Learning 101 – why pre-assessments are foundational to any unit
Prior Learning 101 – why pre-assessments are foundational to any unit
Pooja Bajaj
3 min read

As a teacher, I probably love and own more picture books than regular literature. We’ll blame it on it being a professional hazard!!

One of my favourites is the classic “Fish is Fish” by Leo Lionni. If you haven’t read it, here is a quick summary –

It is a story about 2 friends – a fish and a tadpole. The tadpole grows and becomes a frog – moving his home to land! One day, the frog returns with tales of what he saw on land. The frog describes his adventures – “I have seen birds! They have wings and can fly about! Birds have two legs and many, many beautiful colors!”. As the frog spoke, the fish saw the bird fly through his mind like a large-feathered fish!!

friend fish

Pause for thought!

  • What connections can you make to the classroom?
  • What assumptions does the fish hold that limits his perception of reality?
  • How is his world contracted?
  • Why does the fish hold this limited view? What is the danger in it?

This beautiful story illustrates the creative opportunities and possible dangers inherent to the fact that people construct new knowledge based on their current understanding. 

Like the fish, all of us hold misconceptions and incomplete understandings based on our experiences. Click To Tweet

These form the basis of all learning unless something or someone challenges us to reexamine, revisit, and think otherwise.

Assessing prior learning gives us the opportunity to take a step back, a step into the individual worlds of our students before launching into a new inquiry or learning new information. It gives us the ability to bridge the gap between what we assume children know and like and what they actually know and like. 

rote learning deep learning

Well-designed prior learning assessments provide us with the vital insights about a child’s understanding, interests, and learning preferences. Equipped with this information, we can create learning opportunities that promote student agency. 

The idea of agency is closely connected to self-efficacy or more simply – a belief in one’s own ability to succeed. When learners are kept at the center of learning / made an active part of their own learning, they are motivated and engaged!

Through this series of blogs on Prior Learning Assessments – we will explore strategies and tools to pre-assess, to understand our students better, and to use that information to design high-quality learning environments. We will examine how you can involve students to take ownership of their learning right from the beginning of the unit and how you can use inclusive strategies to cater to the learning needs of every student.

We’ll design prior learning assessments with a goal to help our learners learn better. 

In this Prior Learning series, we will inquire into the why, what, and how of prior learning and useful strategies and tips on how to assess prior learning in your classroom.

prior learning series a

Blog 2 (coming soon) – Start by exploring what you can assess before a unit begins?

Blog 3 (coming soon) – Deep dive into strategies for your classroom with this eBook that goes beyond the KWL

Blog 4 (coming soon) – Recipes to design high-quality pre-assessments

Blog 5 (coming soon) – Breaking the the ice with data and knowing how you can use the results! 

Pooja is an experienced PYP teacher, tech integrationist, school leader, and curriculum coach! Her last role was that of an Assissant Coordinator at the Bombay International School (BIS). She loves leading workshops for teacher training and believes that meaningful technology can transform classrooms! When she's not in school, she's travelling, reading, and learning new tech tools.

Disclaimer - The ideas and resources presented in this blog have been developed independently from and are not endorsed by the International Baccalaureate (IB).
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