During my practicum at Glashan Middle School, both of my Associate Teachers suggested the use of a K-W-L chart to begin my units in Social Studies and English. I found this tool gave great insights into student interests and how I could alter my unit plan to meet these interests. K-W-L stands for: What I Know, What I Want to know and What I Learned. The chart is filled in by having the class brainstorm ideas for each column (or alternatively you can break the class into smaller groups and come back together as a big class to collaborate). Students have to determine what they already know and what they would like to know about the topic. The students will then later reflect on what they have learned from participating in the activities and/or assignments on the topic. The chart should be posted in the classroom so students can reflect on their inquiries.
Image 1. My K-W-L chart for a unit on Grade 5 Social Studies focusing on the years 1700-1800 in Canada.
The chart is most commonly used for the beginning of a unit or a project. However, the chart can be beneficial to use before, during or after the learning process:
Using the chart before the learning process - stimulates student interest, allows the teacher to readjust their planning to meet student interests, and allows the teacher and students to collaborate in identifying learning goals and success criteria.
Using the chart during the learning process - gives students a chance to reanalyze their project/subject in a new way, and allows for the teacher to see how student learning has been progressing (and identifies the need for differentiation if students are progressing differently).
Using the chart after the learning process - allows the students to reflect on their learning, gives the teacher an opportunity to see if the learning goals were met, identifies if more time needs to be spent on the topic/subject, and allows the teacher to provide feedback for improvement and next steps (students can identify what went well in the unit and how they could improve for the next one).
As defined by Growing Success, assessment for learning is “the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there” (Growing Success: 31). The K-W-L chart enables students and teachers to identify student knowledge on a subject (the know), where their learning needs to go (the want), and the chart allows students to reflect on their learning (the learn). Furthermore, this tool can be used for assessment as learning by having student’s self evaluate their learning compared to ‘the want’ portion of the chart.
K-W-L charts can be used as a diagnostic assessment tool (occurs before instruction and obtains information about student interests), a formative assessment tool (can be used to monitor student progress), as well as a summative assessment tool (can only be used for anecdotal record to inform further instruction) (Growing Success: 31).
A critique I would give of this assessment tool is that it isn’t particularly engaging by itself. However, by having a good hook to engage students in your subject material, by splitting into small groups to complete the chart or by creating co-operative learning groups, filling in the chart could be more engaging.
Overall, I think the K-W-L chart is a great diagnostic and formative assessment tool that allows the students to establish where they want their learning to go. It also allows the progression of student learning to be identified by the teacher and student.
I will end this critique with an insightful quote by my colleague Christopher Bannan on the inquiry questions created by K-W-L charts - “These are questions you should be asking about every aspect of your life” (Bannan, 2016).