Logo ESF Logo ESF   Logo UP

Improving Quality of Science Teacher Training in European Cooperation

  Assessing Science for Understanding (CZ) Training Module Based on Socio-cognitive Constructivism (CY) European Dimension in Integrated Science Education (LT) Development Procedural Skills in Science Education (BG) Using Laboratory to Enhance Student Learning and Scientific Inquiry (TR)  
Unit 1 - Purpose and Characteristic of Classroom Assessment Unit 2 - A Constructivist Approach in Assessment Unit 3 - Planning and Implementing Classroom Assessment Projects
Unit 4 - Techniques for Assessing Knowledge and Skills Unit 5 - Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values and self-awareness Unit 6 - Assessing Learner Reactions to Instructions

Unit 4
Techniques for Assessing Knowledge and Skills

Valid XHTML 1.1

Valid CSS!

©2007 - 2009    created by: Petr Hamal

Techniques for Assessing Knowledge and Skills


Background Knowledge Probe

Background Knowledge Probe are short, simple questionnaires prepared by teachers for use at the beginning of the topic, at the start of a lesson, or prior to introducing an important new topic. Background Knowledge Probes are meant to help teachers determine the most effective starting point for a given lesson and the most appropriate level at which to begin instruction.

Before introducing an important new concept, or topic, teacher should consider what students may already know about it. It is recommended to prepare two or three open-ended questions, a handful of short-answer questions, or ten to twenty multiple-choice questions that will probe the students´ existing knowledge of that concept, subject or topic. These questions need to be carefully phrased, since a vocabulary that may not be familiar to students can obscure assessment of how well students know the facts or concepts. Students answer open-ended questions succinctly, in two or three sentences if possible. Teacher encourages students to give thoughtful answers that will help to make effective in instructional decisions.


Before the first lesson-demonstration-lab session, the teacher wanted to determine what students might already have learned – whether through unit work or on the experience – about measuring current, voltage, and resistance. To find out, teacher prepared Background Knowledge Probe that contained five illustrations representing the displays of the following instruments: voltmeter, ammetr, ohmmeter, deflection multimeter, and digital multimeter. Each illustration clearly indicated a different reading or readings through the pointer positions and switch settings, or digital readouts shown. Teacher asked students to determine, and write out, the readings for the five instruments shown. The responses to this probe indicated that most students were familiar with digital instrument displays and had some idea what the readings on at least one of the instrument meant. But there were also students who did not use standard vocabulary in their responses and that there quite a range of prior knowledge. A few students had no idea how to respond. To capitalize on the diversity in preparation, teacher decided to start with small group work on the basis their prior understanding.

Focused Listing

This technique focuses students´ attention on a single important term, name or concept from a particular lessons or class instruction and directs them to list several ideas that are closely related to that focus point. Focused Listing is a tool for quickly determining what students recall as the most important points related to a particular topic. Focused Listing can be used before, during, or after the relevant lesson. As a result, teacher can use this technique to gauge the best starting point, make midpoint correction, and measure the students´ progress in learning one specific element of course content.


Physics teacher hands out half-sheet of scrap paper and asks students to write a list of five or so words or phrases that define work in physics. After about two minutes, teacher collects their responses. Once teacher has read them quickly, physics teacher sorts the responses into three piles: those that do at least a fairly good of defining work in physics_: those that confuse work in physics with work in everyday life; and the rest. Teacher explains and differentiates the two distinct but easily confusable meanings of work. The everyday and the scientific. Can help students learn other key concepts, such as mass, velocity, energy, impulse, and momentum.

Misconception/Preconception Check

Misconception/Preconception Check also assesses students´ prior knowledge, but with a twist. Its focus is on uncovering prior knowledge or beliefs that may hinder or block further learning. The greatest obstacle to new learning often is not students´ lack of prior knowledge but, rather, the existence of prior knowledge. Most teachers know from experience that it is much harder for students to unlearn incorrect or incomplete knowledge than to master new knowledge in a unfamiliar fields. Consequently, teachers can benefit from discovering early in the term which common misconceptions or preconceptions students have that likely to interfere with the learning in a given lesson.

Phase Steps Description
I Planning a classroom assessment project 1. Choosing the class in which to carry out the project In your initial project focus on class you will teach again
  2. Focusing on assessable questions about student learning Identify single teaching and learning goals and questions
  3. Designing an assessment project Map out the path by which you will seek an answer to the assessable question and choose the tools that will help you get that answer
II Implementing a classroom assessment project 4. Teaching the lesson related to questions Plan to integrate assessment activity into your regular class activities as smoothly as possible
  5. Assessing learning by collecting feedback Choose a simple assessment technique
  6. Analyzing the feedback Prepare yourself for surprising feedback. Look carefully at both positive and negative results.
III Responding to the results of assessment 7. Interpreting the results and formulating response to improve learning Try to understand students´ feedback. Think through how you can respond to their feedback in way that will help the students to improve their own learning.
  8. Communicating the results to students and learning Maximize the possible positive impact of assessment
  9. Evaluating assessment project´s effect on teaching Assess the outcomes and impact your teaching on students learning

Teacher starts by identifying some of the most troublesome common misconceptions or preconceptions students bring to instruction. Brainstorming this question with colleagues can be very effective way to generate such a list. Teacher selects a handful of these troublesome ideas and beliefs and focuses Misconception/Preconception Check on them. The next step is to create a simple questionnaire to elicit information about students´ ideas and believes in these areas. It is possible to use multiple-choice format or a short-answer format.


The teacher handed out half-sheets of paper and asked students to write their best answers to the following question: What makes the seasons change on Earth? Teacher told to students that any sincere answer was acceptable except “ I do not know”. Students do not write their names on the papers. Later teacher looked through the student responses very quickly, dividing them into the following four piles, based on the type of explanations given: the correct pile, the distance pile, the weather pile, and the others pile. After that teacher picked out the clears, most articulate example from each of fur piles and transcribed those four answers onto a one-page handout, which is distributed to students then. After students had read all four explanations, teacher asked them simply to circle the one correct answer and to turn in the handouts. Teacher quickly tallied the responses. The second time around, the proportion of correct responses was much higher. This is a common effect, occurring because students can more often recognize the correct answer when it is presented to them than they can independently produce that same answer. At that point, the teacher invited several students to explain their choices. Proponents of each of four major positions explained their models of seasonal change. Each student´s assignment was to find out which of the answers really was correct and why. Students present their explanations and teacher offers minor corrections.

Minute Paper

One-Minute Paper provides a quick and extremely simple way to collect written feedback on student learning. Students respond briefly to some variations on the following two questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class”? and “What important questions remains unanswered”? Teacher can quickly check how well students are learning what they are teaching. One-Minute Paper also ensures that students´ questions will be raised, and in many cases answered, in time to facilitate further learning.


A few minutes before the end of lesson, teacher asked students to list five most important points from this lesson, along with one or two important questions they had. Then teacher collected the responses and quickly read them making a list of the most important points and questions. Teacher explained the relative importance of these points and their relationships to one another. Teacher also let students know which points were definitely not related.

One-Sentence Summary

One-Sentence Summary enables teachers to find how concisely, completely, and creatively students can summarize a large amount on information on a given topic. This assessment technique can provide feedback on students´ summaries of just about any information that can be represented in declarative form. This sentence is created on the basis of following questions: Who?, Does what?, To what or whom?, When?, Where?, How?, Why?.


After the class with the topic of Assessment Techniques the teacher students are asked to write One-Sentence Summary of this unit. One of the student created the following One-Sentence Summary: Teachers assess their students´ learning regularly during their lessons in their own classrooms, by using Classroom Assessment Techniques and any other appropriate tools and methods of inquiry, so that they can understand and improve teaching effectiveness and the quality of student learning.

Word Journal

The World Journal can help teacher assess and improve several related skills. First, it focuses on students´ ability to read carefully and deeply. Second, it assesses skill and creativity at summarizing what has been read. And third, it assesses the students´ skill at explaining and defending, in just a few more words, their choice of single summary word. This practice helps students develop the ability to write highly condensed abstracts and to understand large amount of information for more effective storage in long-term memory.

Teacher choices of the short texts that students will be assigned to read. Teacher decides what aspect of that text – main theme, central conflict or problem, core metaphor, which students should focus on. Students should know that the choice of a specific word is less important than the quality of the explanation for that choice.


To help students prepare for discussions for lesson, the teacher used the World Journal. The students´ summary words became the starting points for the discussions. Teacher listed a number of those words on the board and then asked students to explain their particular characterizations of the case´s central problem.

Concept Maps

Concept Maps are drawings or diagrams showing the mental connections that students make between a major concept the teacher focuses on and other concepts they have learned. This technique provides an observable and assessable record of the students´ conceptual schemata – the patterns of associations they make in relation to a given focal concept. Concept Maps allow the teacher to discover the web of relationships that learners bring to the task at hand – the students´ starting points.

The map is composed of concept labels, each enclosed in a box or oval; a series of labeled linking lines, and an inclusive, general-to-specific organization. By reading the map from top to bottom, an instructor can:

Figure 1: Concept Map Of Concept Maps

Concept maps provide a useful and visually appealing way of depicting the structure of conceptual knowledge that people have stored in long-term memory. As a result, they offer a readily accessible way of assessing how well students see "the big picture." They are not designed to tap into the kind of process knowledge that students also need to solve novel problems or for the routine application of algorithmic solutions. Because they probe an individual's or a group's cognitive organization, they are very idiosyncratic and difficult to compare, either among individuals or groups, or across time for the same individuals or groups.

Figure 2: Jason's Concept Map on the Human Circulatory System
[From Mintzes, Wandersee & Novak, 1998]
Teaching Goals

Suggestions for Use

Instructional Tool

The instructor can present "expert" concept maps to the whole class to highlight key concepts and connections. These should be more detailed and flow from the global maps executed for the course design. At first, students will find concept maps very strange and may even try to memorize them, rather than use them as a thinking tool.

This technique also helps the teacher assess the degree of “fit” between the students´ understanding of relevant conceptual relations and the teacher´s Concept Map – which is often a “map” commonly used by members of that discipline. With such information in hand, the teacher can go on to assess changes and growth in the students´ conceptual understandings from instruction. The Concept Map allows them to scrutinize their conceptual networks, compare their maps with those of peers and experts, and make explicit changes.

Before beginning instruction on a given concept or theory, teachers can use Concept Maps to discover what preconceptions and prior knowledge structures students bring to task. This information can help teacher make decisions about when and how to introduce a new topic – as well as discover misconceptions that may cause later difficulties. During and after a lesson, they can use Concept Maps to assess changes in the students´ conceptual representations.

Learning Tool

Ask students to construct their own concept maps covering a section of the course material from class or the textbook. Most (if not all!) of them will probably never have seen a concept map before, and many have not developed the learning skills needed to construct them. As a result, the instructor will need time (either in class, or perhaps in the lab) to work with groups and individuals. The impact of student-created concept maps is so powerful that it is worth the investment of time!

Step-by-Step Instructions


Collaborative Concept Mapping

Sometimes the frustration levels can be very high when concept mapping is first introduced, especially in large classes of relative novices. To counter some of this anxiety and to encourage students to reflect on their own thinking, ask groups of 3 or 4 students to work together on a concept map. This exercise is often a very rewarding and rich learning experience as peers argue, debate, and cajole each other. The result is a genuine effort to negotiate the meaning of scientific concepts, attempting (as scientists do) to reach consensus, or to stake out different points of view. The power of the process resides in the interpersonal sharing of ideas, which are made explicit to the instructor.

Fill-in Concept Mapping

You construct a concept map and then remove all of the concept labels (keep the links!). You then ask the class to replace the labels in a way that makes structural sense. Best done with small classes; a good way to introduce a new topic.

Select and Fill-in Concept Mapping

You create a concept map and then remove concepts from the nodes (about one-third of them). These deleted concepts are placed in a numbered list on the map and students choose among them. Scoring can be as simple as "percent correct." Instructors of large classes may use multiple-choice type scanning sheets. The assumption of this technique is that as students' thinking approximates that of the instructor, the closer their connected knowledge is "expert-like." The key is to select nodes that are at different levels of the hierarchy and have nearby or antecedent links.

Figure 3: Select and Fill-in Concept Map on Concept Maps
[See Figure 1 for the "answers"]

Selected Terms Concept Mapping

You provide a list of concept labels (10 to 20) and ask students to construct their maps using only these labels. The focus here is on the linking relationships, and the evolution of structural complexity of students' knowledge frameworks.

Seeded Terms Concept Mapping

In this approach, also known as "micromapping" (Trowbridge and Wandersee, 1996), you furnish a small set of concept labels (5 to 10) and invite students to construct a concept map using these, and an equal number of labels drawn from their own knowledge of the topic.

Guided Choice Concept Mapping

Here you present a list of some 20 concept labels from which students select 10 to construct their maps. When done over a period of time, the instructor focuses on which concepts appear and which disappear. The assumption is that these changes represent significant restructuring of the students' knowledge frameworks.

Pros and Cons


The teacher asked students to draw a Concept Map centered on Darwin´s theory of natural selection. The map was to connect Darwin´s theory with its predecessors, contemporaries, competitors, and descendants. Teacher urged the students to use their imaginations in representing the relationships but to stick to the facts in characterizing them.


Annotated Portfolios

Assessment of portfolios is a common and well-accepted practice. Annotated Portfolios used for assessment contain a very limited number of examples of creative work, supplemented by the students´ own commentary on the significance of those examples.

Annotated Portfolios provide the teacher with a limited sample of students´ creative work, along with the students´ explanation of that work in relation to the content or goals. In this way, the technique allows teachers to assess students´ skill at making explicit connections between their creative work and the content. In other words, it helps teachers see how well students can apply what they have learned and how well they can explain those applications. Annotated Portfolios prompt students to show and tell their teachers - and themselves – how their creative and self-evaluative skills are developing.

Kinds of Problem Rate Rate Rate Rate
Understanding of electric charge None Low Medium High
Understanding of electric current None Low Medium High
Using Ohm´s Law in problem solving None Low Medium High
To create electrical circuits None Low Medium High
Comparing electric circuits None Low Medium High
Using electrical power and energy in society None Low Medium High

Annotated Portfolios allows students to express their conceptions of problems or topics. It requires students not only to select work samples that are personally meaningful but also to interpret the meaning of those sample for others. This technique allows students to choose the work on which they will be assessed, the teacher gains insights into what they value and appreciate. In some fields, this technique also helps students prepare to present their work to prospective employers.


The physics teacher required students to make Annotated Portfolios of materials they had created during school year. Specifically, each student put together a folder containing materials from the lessons (projects, labs, tests, reports, presentations, solved problems,…) along with an explanation of the principles applied in these materials.

Tasks (assignments)

  1. Which techniques for assessing knowledge and skills of students will suit to you the best and why?
  2. Try to apply one of the techniques for assessing knowledge and skills on real situation in the classroom.
  3. Apply one chosen techniques for assessing knowledge and skills on a specific topic with the regards to scientific content.
  4. Which mistakes teacher can make in the use of portfolio for students´ assessment?
  5. Is it possible to use only portfolio for students´ marking in sciences?

Assessment techniques presented in this chapter provide information on skills and competencies identified in the latest development in cognitive assessment, but the techniques are familiar and useful to the average science teacher.

Next Reading

Mintzes,J.J., Wanderee, J.H., Novak,J.D. (Ed) Assessing Science Understanding. A Human Constructivist View. San Diego: Academic Press, 2000. ISBN 0-12-498365-0.


Angelo T.A., Cross, K.P. Classroom Assessment Techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher, 1993. Second Edition. ISBN 1-55542-500-3.

Mintzes, J.J., Wandersee,J.H. & Novak, J.D. (1998). Teaching science for understanding: A human constructivist view. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.