Assessing background knowledge is an often misunderstood idea, and subsequently fumbled as a process.
Background knowledge is a product of the experiences–academic and otherwise–that a student brings to a lesson. These provide both knowledge in terms of content, as well as schema in terms of analogs students can use to make sense of new ideas.
The purpose of assessing background knowledge is not to get everyone on the “same page,” but rather to make visible the nature of what a student knows (rather than a list or academic labels like “proficient). This makes it possible to create personalized learning pathways for students as each learner approaches new–or familiar–thinking on their own terms.
From a planning point of view, it can also allow teachers to identify knowledge gaps, prioritize standards, and revise imminent lessons and units in response. As for how this is done? Conversations, concept maps, drawings, writing prompts–traditional assessment forms can work here, but you’ve got some flexibility because what you’re trying to assess may not be entirely academic or urgent.
Mia MacMeekin created the following infographic that offers 27 ways to assess background knowledge. Ideally, we’d like to see a bit more writing–formal and informal, along with some more conversational dialogue that didn’t demand debate protocol, but other suggestions, including mindmapping, creating a prototype, and even the “shout all at once” may have a place in your classroom.
27 Ways To Assess Background Knowledge