Explore Strategies - Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation - Carnegie Mellon University

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students complain the exams are too hard.

Students lacked prerequisite knowledge and skills.

An exam can be particularly difficult for students if it requires them to draw on prior knowledge and skills from prerequisite courses. Even when students have completed these courses, there is no guarantee that they will have the knowledge and skills you expect or that they will be able to use the knowledge and skills in a different context. This reflects the different ways a prerequisite course can be taught over various semesters as well as how students come out of a given course with different levels of knowledge and skills.

Strategies:

Administer a prior knowledge assessment.

Adjust your instruction when insufficient prior knowledge affects many students.

Advise individual students when insufficient prior knowledge affects few students.

Administer a prior knowledge assessment.

Determine students’ level of prior knowledge and skills by administering a prior knowledge assessment early on in the course. This assessment can help you diagnose students’ understanding of and proficiency with the material you expect them to have, so that you can design your subsequent instruction and exams accordingly.

Adjust your instruction when insufficient prior knowledge affects many students.

When the majority of your students lack sufficient understanding of a prerequisite topic, it is best to provide targeted remediation (e.g., spending class time on the topic, having your TA do a special session on the topic outside of class time, or suggesting reading material). Of course, the way you approach this remediation will depend on the resources you have available.

Advise individual students when insufficient prior knowledge affects few students.

If only a few students lack sufficient prior knowledge, you can counsel them individually according to the nature of the gaps in their knowledge and skills. For example, if a student needs help in only a few areas, you can suggest tutoring help from Academic Development. If a student has deeper or broader gaps in knowledge and skills, you can mention the options of dropping or postponing your course (if possible), so that the student can do what it takes to fill those gaps.

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  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning. MORE >
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know. MORE >
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn. MORE >
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. MORE >
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning. MORE >
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning. MORE >
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning. MORE >

learning principles