When I ventured into my first classroom, I distinctly remember the look on my students’ faces after delivering a boisterous monologue on the themes present in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. Mouths agape. Hollow. Lost. It obviously wasn’t my best teaching moment. My first year was full of cringe worthy moments, but this one in particular left me wondering what happened? Where did I lose them? How do I ensure all students stay with us during the lesson?
According to Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey‘s book, Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, 2nd Edition, “Checking for understanding is part of a formative assessment system in which teachers identify learning goals, provide students feedback, and then plan instruction based on students’ errors and misconceptions.”
In those early years, I would ask, “Does anyone have any questions?” “Does everyone understand?” I assumed the silence meant we were all on the same page. I wasn’t providing an opportunity for every student to share their thoughts. I failed to see the importance of hearing everyone’s voice and offering a platform for their thinking to be visible to others. How do we know students have reached their goals? Do we provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their understanding during the lesson?
How to Check for Understanding:
1) Google Forms – create online quizzes or surveys. Post a link to the Google Form on your LMS platform (Schoology, Google Classroom, or your website).
2) Pear Deck – pairs with Google Slides to make your slide shows interactive. You embed multiple choice, true false, short answer questions within your slide show and students join the it by following a link on their device and adding a specific code. The student responses show up immediately.
3) Kahoot – create online quizzes in a “game show” platform. Once you create a quiz, post a link to Kahoot on your LMS platform. Once students land on Kahoot, they join the quiz through a code generated after the quiz is created.
1) Conferences – If you have the time, one on one conferences are one of the best ways to check for understanding. Not only does it provide valuable insight into the student’s thinking, but it’s also an opportunity to build a trusting relationship with a student.
2) Self-Assessment Cards -I found this strategy on the Upper Elementary Snapshots blog. Students hold a card to show they need help (orange card), to show they’re still working independently without the need for help as of now (purple card), or they’re understanding the lesson and nearing completion (green card).
3) Paper Exit Tickets – The classic paper method. Before I moved to a Learning Management System, I had students write down the goal at the beginning of the class, copy a question from the board toward the end of class, complete the question and hand it to me as they walked out the door.
4) White Boards – If you have a tiny white board for each student (maybe a sheet of paper if you don’t), students answer a short question by writing the answer on the white board. You can pull the ones who are not understanding the lesson into a small group for a reteaching.
Why Check for Understanding:
1) Goal checking – Students need to know what they’re doing, how they’re going to do it, and why they’re doing it. One reason for doing any of the aforementioned online/face-to-face strategies is to ensure every student understands the purpose of the lesson.
2) Student Feedback – Instead of gazing across a sea of lost students, let’s get them involved in the learning process and provide opportunities for them to share their ideas and thoughts. It’s not just about assessing how they perform on the end-of-unit test but rather how their understanding the concepts along the way so we can plan our lessons accordingly.
3) Instructional Impact – We need to use the feedback we receive from students to change our instruction. Once we know what students are or are not understanding, we can begin to differentiate our instruction to meet their needs.
**One of the best options for learning about Checks for Understanding and the resource from where I learned the most: