How often do you find yourself unsure if students are learning what you want them to learn? If the answer to that is “often”, you’re not alone, but it’s probably time to review what research-informed practices tell us about the importance of checking for understanding. Below are four ways to effectively check for understanding during and at the end of each lesson.
During The Lesson
1. Checking With a Clipboard
It is essential that you are hyper-aware of where students are in their learning on any given day. One way to do this is to carry around a clipboard with your class roster in “spreadsheet” fashion. On the spreadsheet, you can include the criteria by which students are being assessed for the day, and provide check marks, likert scales (e.g. 1-5), and/or notes about their progress. The can also be done via Google Sheets, like this one.
Two other ways you might use a clipboard to check for understanding are how this teacher used it during this Teacher Channel video. In it, she revisited her roster as she checked on students: this was a deliberately executed practice to check for understanding.
2. Checking Through Calling Practices
Using different calling practices through a lesson will help you gauge the extent to which students are understanding the lesson goals. This should never be a “gotcha”, and should be anticipated by all. Doug Lemov, in Teach Like a Champion, explains how to implement the “Cold Call” method, for one example:
- It’s predictable: “It’s an engagement strategy, not a discipline strategy.” It should be used every day, using the same directions and expectations.
- It’s systematic: “…these calls are about…expectations, not about individuals.” You must communicate that cold calling is universal and for all – this is how we operate as learners.
- It’s positive: “The purpose of Cold Call is to foster positive engagement in the work of your class…” A positive cold call is substantive: questions should add to the conversation and build onto the lesson, not a simple “yes” or “no.”
- It’s scaffolded: Start with lower-level questioning, and move up as needed: “…reinforce basic knowledge before pushing for greater rigor and challenge.”
At The End of The Lesson
At the end of each lesson, students should be provided opportunities to demonstrate their learning for the day, and allow for reflection. Otherwise, how do you know that students learned what you planned for them to learn? It is not enough to say to yourself, e.g.: “I think most of them got it.”
1. Use an Exit Quiz
If you use an exit card, it should explicitly measure the new learning for the lesson. When you present your exit question for the class, include the objective (students deserve to know that their learning has a purpose; that it ties back to the mastery objective), and provide a brief verbal explanation about what was learned and how you got there so students better recall how the day’s activities tied into the objective. Here are some examples on what to ask at the end of your lessons.
2. Allow for Student Reflection
Oftentimes, teachers can get caught up in only focusing on the content, and the extent to which students learned the day’s objective (still super important), while neglecting the social-emotional needs of children. After providing students with a content-area question, add a reflection question about how they perceived their learning for the day and/or gauge their comfort level. According to the The Teaching Commons via Georgetown University, reflection allows for “rigorous processing that makes it more likely that students will be able to absorb, remember, and master what they’re learning.” On that note, here are some examples of questions you might ask:
- During today’s group work exercises, what were you most proud of?
- During today’s lesson, what made you struggle? How did you overcome the struggle?
- What about today’s lesson made you want to learn more about [insert subject or topic]?
- How did my teaching help or hinder your learning today?
- What are two things that you can do tomorrow to help your peers learn at higher levels?
- When were you most creative today?
What should your takeaway be? How do you know if your students are learning during and at the end of each lesson? If you are just starting out the aforementioned strategies, priority #1 for you should be to measure learning at the end of the lesson. Priority #2 for you should be to experiment with as many strategies and processes to gauge student learning mid-lesson. It’s tough, but you can do it!