Methods to Address Insufficient Prior Knowledge


The first step toward addressing gaps in students’ prior knowledge is recognizing where those gaps are. This requires identifying in your own mind the knowledge students will need to have to perform effectively in your course. To identify what the prior knowledge requirements are for your class, you might want to begin by thinking about your assignments, and ask yourself, “What do students need to know to be able to do this?”

Often instructors stop short of identifying all the background knowledge students need, so be sure to continue asking the question until you have fully identified the knowledge requirements for the tasks you have assigned. Be sure to differentiate declarative (knowing what and knowing why) from procedural knowledge (knowing how and knowing when), recognizing that just because students know facts or concepts does not mean they will know how to use them.

Identify the Prior Knowledge You Expect Students to Have

And just because students know how to perform procedures does not mean that they understand what they are doing or why. (See “Strategies to Expose and Reinforce Component Skills” in Chapter Four.) Remediate Insufficient Prerequisite Knowledge If prior knowledge assessments (as discussed in previous strategies) indicate critical gaps in students ’ prior knowledge relative to the learning requirements of your course.

There are a number of possible responses depending on the scale of the problem and the resources and options available to you and to your students. If only a few students lack important prerequisite knowledge, one option that might be open to you is simply to advise them against taking the course until they have the necessary background.

Final Words:

Alternatively, if a small number of students lacks prerequisite knowledge but seem capable of acquiring it on their own, you might consider How Does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning? 35 providing these students with a list of terms they should know and skills they should have and letting them fill in the gaps on their own time.

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