Fundamentally, checking for student understanding is our principal aim as teachers. The below six techniques can prevent that uncomfortable moment when we are concluding lessons/reviewing workbooks and realise that students have significant misunderstandings. These strategies offer a means to check understanding more frequently throughout the lesson in order to act on these misconceptions.
Rejecting self-report: The aim with this technique is to avoid checking understanding through rhetorical questions: “Is everyone clear on/does this make sense? Inevitably students will answer with yes. Avoid this with rapid targeted questions to a strategic range of students to take a small, brief data sample of understanding from the class. This should take only one or two minutes and should be a consistent feature of lessons. To be most effective this could involve planning questions for the lesson in advance and seeking to ‘cold call’: asking students who have not volunteered. Following this with “why” and “how” questions will ensure that students can articulate in detail and show more understanding. The primary goal of this is to gauge understanding quickly. I now use this as “rapid response time” in lessons and students are familiar with its purpose.
Show me: This is useful when trying to ascertain understanding from a more reticent group of students. Moving away from thumbs up, thumbs down answers, this involves tracking student responses by asking students in unison to complete a task. This then involves asking students to rationalise their particular answer or asking other students to explain why the answer is correct/incorrect. Asking all students to hold up their work completed in class can also be a useful strategy to stress accountability and to check understanding.
Affirmative checking: Building into lessons pass points/progress checks etc. Useful in ensuring that all students are completely confident before moving on to different points in the lesson. This can be teacher led, for example the students have to have confirmation from the teacher that their work is correct before moving on, or it can be student-driven in the form of a paired/group check off. With younger students it can be useful to nominate a learner monitor who assists you in reporting back on how progress checks are going and articulating their progress.
Standardise the format: A strategy to ensure that you know exactly how students are recording their notes/ideas on the page. This allows you to track work easily and see where students are struggling. This involves standardising how students present their information on a worksheet or even in how they will use a page for the lesson. Your understanding of how students are performing is then absolutely clear.
Tracking not watching: A technique to ensure that the time spent circulating whilst your students are working is purposeful by ensuring there is a direct focus to the tracking. There are two strands: 1) decide what you want to focus on, what you are wanting students to achieve and 2) track this as you walk around the room and ignore all other distractions. This involves a disciplined focus to circulating the room, rather than a generic circulation. This can then be shared with students.
Own and Track: A technique to ensure that there is no confusion over right and wrong answers. This involves students correcting and revising their work to ensure they are accountable for the correct answers. Importantly with this technique students should be able to articulate why they have changed/added to a paragraph and why it is correct/more detailed as a response. This “upgrading” of work in lessons as a consequence of clearing up misconceptions can be a powerful way to build student motivation and engagement.
Jason, can you tell me the definition of …?
Who else can add to that definition?
There is one thing missing, can we build on that?
Why is that?
Can we apply that?
Good, it sounds like we are ready to move on.
I need to be confident that we all understand this so I will be asking a selection of random individuals in five seconds.
Rapid response time, you have thirty seconds to check your notes to make sure you are confident on your understanding of everything we have covered in this lesson.
In three minutes I will be asking you to hold up the page you are working on to see how much progress we are making.
Now we will hold up our work and check our understanding with the individuals around us.
I will be circulating the room in thirty seconds and looking for a model workbook to show to the class.
After five can we signal which answer is correct, hold up one figure for one, two for number two etc.
Time to show off what we have completed so far this lesson.
Standardise the format:
You will be completing your question point for the lesson in this area of your workbook; now move on to box two on the sheet.
Now ensure that this model answer is placed halfway down a blank page.
Can you now record your answer in the red box on the sheet?
This is a checkpoint we all must arrive at before we continue with our learning, I will be walking around the room giving you a green tick if I am confident you can move on.
Lesson leader, can you tell me why we are going through this progress check?
We need to all have a common understanding of this before we can move to our next stage so I will be checking your work.
Progress point, can we all record a summary of…
Tracking not watching:
I will be looking at how you use… as I walk around the room.
My purpose for the next five minutes will be to look at how well you can….as I circulate the room.
Three spelling champions will now walk around the room to check the quality of spelling in the workbooks.
Own and Track:
Can you explain your thinking?
What do you see when you read this?
Now make sure you have added in the additional information to your answer.
Now summarise that feedback by expanding on your answer and including the points we discussed.
Now rephrase your answer below based on our conversation.
Now upgrade that response as a result of our work in the past few minutes.
Can you explain how you have improved that?
– Jamie Thom