Assess the knowledge and understanding of your students

Ideas for measuring growth in student knowledge and understanding.​

The following three examples offer ways to uncover students' knowledge and understanding of curriculum content, including their ability to connect prior knowledge with new ideas and concepts.

Concept mapping

Concept mapping can be built on over time to show progress and growth in knowledge and understanding and also reveal connections or misconceptions that help you target need.

Concept maps come in many forms. For example:

  • spider: students write the central idea inside a bubble in the centre of the map. They add sub-ideas by labelling a line drawn from the central bubble
  • hierarchical: students present information in a hierarchical fashion with the most general or important concepts at the top of the map and the more specific or less important concepts arranged below
  • flowchart: students organise information as a linear process to describe a sequence of events, stages, phases or actions that lead to an outcome
  • systems: students organise information in a format similar to a flowchart, but with the addition of 'inputs' and 'outputs'.

The educational evidence base

Concept mapping was found by Project Zero  to be a robust instrument for uncovering students’ thinking about thinking. As an assessment tool, it is:

  • non-threatening
  • open-ended enough to allow for rich and detailed responses (including associative, emotional, strategic and meta responses)
  • manageable for you to incorporate into your assessments.

How it might be used in practice

You can use concept mapping at the beginning of a unit to uncover what students know and understand. You can then add to it throughout a unit to show a student’s growth and depth of understanding over time.

You can use individual maps as the basis for constructing a whole-of-class map.

Guides on concept mapping:

Making thinking visible

Tools and processes that make knowledge, understanding and thinking visible to both teachers and students can take the form of a wide variety of simple scaffolds. These are designed to prompt or deepen individual or collective thinking, while simultaneously revealing where learners are in their learning at any point in time.

The following examples are thinking routines developed by Project Zero to support teachers and students to make thinking visible. They can be used across various year levels and content areas to uncover what students know and understand, and to see the connections they are or aren't yet making:

The educational evidence base

Visible thinking is the product of research conducted by Project Zero, which included a team of researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The research focused on children's thinking and learning, and incorporated a sustained research and development process in classrooms.

How it might be used in practice

Tools and processes that make understanding and thinking visible are everyday tools that enrich a teacher's repertoire while offering insights into learners. They can be used at the beginning, during or at the end of a unit.

Six facets of understanding rubric

For Wiggins and Jay McTighe, when someone truly understands, they:

  • can explain concepts, principles, and processes by putting it their own words, teaching it to others, justifying their answers, and showing their reasoning
  • can interpret by making sense of data, text, and experience through images, analogies, stories, and models
  • can apply by effectively using and adapting what they know in new and complex contexts
  • demonstrate perspective by seeing the big picture and recognising different points of view
  • display empathy by perceiving sensitively and walking in someone else’s shoes
  • have self-knowledge by showing meta-cognitive awareness, using productive habits of mind, and reflecting on the meaning of the learning experience.

The educational evidence base

The six facets of understanding were identified by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their seminal framework understanding by design and are informed by theoretical research into cognitive psychology and the findings of a series of studies of student achievement.

How it might be used in practice

The six facets of understanding rubric can inform the design of assessments relating to a broad range of content areas because the focus is on depth and complexity of learner understanding not simple recall or recount.

As a teacher, you can draw on and make explicit these six key areas of development to scaffold learner understanding of what it means to understand something deeply.

This has implications for the design of a final performance of understanding or culminating assessment. This provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of their new knowledge and understanding through meaningful application and sharing with an audience.

The Six Facets of Understanding rubric can also support you to reflect on and consider your unit designs and the extent to which they are likely to lead to the kind of deeper understanding that this framework promotes.