Diagnostic Questions

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Prior to starting a lesson unit, students respond to diagnostic questions about a particular subject. On a piece of paper, students are able to respond to open-ended questions with both words and pictures. Diagnostic questions help students assess what knowledge they already have about a subject and what they would still like to find out. When students provide candid responses, teachers are able to gauge student understanding and plan more appropriate lessons.

Once students have written responses to diagnostic questions, we often encourage them to share their ideas with other students in their small group. Then, the whole class has a discussion about some of the initial ideas expressed. At other times, we do not discuss student responses to the diagnostic questions immediately afterward; the responses simply document students' knowledge at that point in time. Though some diagnostic questions provide the basis for the day's lesson, other questions serve to begin the development of ideas that will extend over many class sessions.

Documenting students' initial ideas about a particular subject is an important aspect of the learning process for both students and teachers. This is especially apparent after we have completed a unit. Students sometimes respond to the same diagnostic questions near the end of a unit. By comparing their responses from before and after the unit, the students can reflect on what and how they learned in this class.

Diagnostic Question Topics

Throughout the term, students respond to diagnostic questions before and sometimes after studying topics, including: light, reflection, refraction, heat and temperature, electric circuits, falling objects, motion graphs, and the sun, phases of the moon, seasons, the nature of scientific explanations, and inquiry approaches to learning and teaching, and climate change. Here are diagnostic question documents and examples of student responses.

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