Importance of assessing Prior Knowledge

Prior knowledge is the knowledge of skill, belief and attitude. A learner gains this knowledge in the form of principles, concepts, facts or rules. This knowledge student has gained from the exposure to different backgrounds or educational experience.

It is very important for learner to be able to connect the prior knowledge with the new learning experiences. Therefore, assessment of prior knowledge is an important tool for educator. This tool helps educator to scaffold the learning goals for the student as per their ability and understanding. It also guides them about the different learning levels for a topic in class and helps in incorporating differentiation in teaching methodology.

The prior knowledge is considered as the foundation of a building, any misconception at this level will lead to weak structure. This weak foundation will hinder student’s ability to make connections with new knowledge. Then despite of best efforts given by teacher, the student will not be able to show any improvement. These misconceptions in prior knowledge can be:

  • Preconceived notion
  • Nonscientific beliefs
  • Conceptual misunderstanding
  • Vernacular misconception
  • Factual misconception

The only way to breakdown these misconceptions, to ensure new knowledge is not build on shaky foundation, to help student grasp quickly and correctly in class is to assess prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge can be of two types declarative knowledge, which is gained by reading concepts or facts and procedural knowledge, which is gained by personal experience. Before starting, a new concept both the type of prior knowledge is assessed. It is important of educator to bring every student to a level where they are able to apply prior knowledge and then only start with delivering of new.


Ways to assess prior knowledge:

  • Conduct hands on activities before beginning a new topic. These activities trigger the brain to recall the prior knowledge.
  • Give short question on the topic, which will help them to recall and then explain their prior knowledge.
  • Give diagrams for annotation and opportunity to describe the process.
  • Give situation where problem can be solved using prior knowledge.
  • Give opportunities to make conceptual maps.
  • Encourage classroom discussion by prompting questions.
  • Conduct group discussions


Ways to improve prior knowledge:

  • Promote comparison with alternative solution: Give an alternative solution to the problem and ask students to think about its possibilities.
  • Encourage Self explanation
  • Give opportunities to explore problem
  • Encourage debate on topics, this helps brain to recall and exhibit prior knowledge
  • Encourage students to do role-play, it give opportunities to exhibit procedural knowledge.




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