The Practical Use of Surveys for KWL in Life Science

In Classroom Assessment in Action, Shermis (2011, p. 324) introduces a helpful instructional memory device known as KWL. KWL refers to:

Before learning, K – what do students KNOW about a topic

During learning, W – what do students WANT to know about a topic

After learning, L – what do students LEARN about a topic

In order to get the information that is helpful in these 3 areas, we can use surveys for assessment purposes. For instance, before I began the unit on cells in my Life Science class, I asked the students what they knew about cells.  I wrote what the students shared on the board and it gave me a better picture of where each student was in terms of knowing this topic.

During learning, it is important that we as the teacher receive feedback and assess our students’ progress in learning the unit objectives and then also our effectiveness in teaching the topic. Many kinds of informal assessments can be given during this time to find out what we need as teacher to determine if we need to review again or teach the information in another way. An informal survey could be asking the students by a show of hands if: 1) the topic is still fuzzy (still do not understand fully) or 2) they understand it and can explain it. We want our students to understand and if they do not, we need to know this in order to change our strategy for learning the topic.

Shermis (2011, p. 335) tells us that assessment during learning is similar to assessment after learning but is different in that students are looking at what they have learned. After our unit on cells, I made a survey for my Life Science students asking to reflect on their learning and give me feedback. These are the three questions I asked:

  • Which was your favorite activity this unit?
  • Which activity should be changed, added or deleted from this unit?
  • How long did you spend studying for the unit test (approximately)?

Surveys and inventories are valuable tools to help we as teacher to assess where students knowledge is located for a specific topic. I hope to keep learning better ways to use them well in my classroom.

Shermis, M.S. & DiVesta, F.J. (2011). Classroom Assessment in Action. Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.


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