I had a student stay after my science methods class this afternoon to talk. It was a really good conversation--helped me think through some things for my teaching practice.
Basically, she was wondering whether I practice what I'm preaching to them about assessment. (I love to talk about assessment in science!) In particular, I brought up the idea of pre-assessing to find out what students know and using that to inform your instructional decisions. The longer I taught science, the more I did this. I think it honors the students as "knowers"--they likely already know some of the material I hope they will learn, and finding out how much they know, understand, and are able to do before I start teaching can help me make decisions. And if students already know the material, don't go on and teach it anyway, right? This is the part that can be hard for me...
My student raised the question about whether I pre-assess their knowledge and skills in this course.
And when I reflect on it...in this case, I'm probably not practicing what I preach very well.
I realize now that I make a lot of assumptions about what my students know, and understand, and are able to do. I assume that students know who I'm talking about when I mention Piaget and Vygotsky and Dewey and Bruner. I assume they know what I mean by Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding and constructivism and discovery learning. I assume--as I did today--that they know what I mean by formative assessment and summative assessment and authentic assessment and evaluation. But do I really know if they know what I mean?
I'm cautious about this, because I also don't want to take the opposite approach and assume they don't know what I'm talking about. Because that would be beating a dead horse for sure--who wants to hear about Piaget for the umpteenth time if you know all about concrete vs. formal reasoning skills? I guess I'd say I rather assume that they know more than they do than assume they don't know it yet, because much of this is material they have had the opportunity to learn in other courses. But if they didn't learn it then... Hmmm. I better make sure that they have the opportunity to learn it now, right?
How shall I deal with this? I'm not sure yet. My student was bold enough to give a suggestion that seems wise to me: give a test the first week of the semester on all the things I expect students to know as background knowledge for the course. That way, I'll actually have information about the collective knowledge my students already have coming in to the course. Smart idea there? I have to keep reflecting on this.
But in the meantime, I'm thankful for students willing to challenge me to do as I say.