Most teachers recognise the need to check that their students understand what you have taught them. They mark work at the end of their lessons; they keep an eye on weekly test results; and, they pay close attention to formal assessment tasks.
However, few teachers routinely check for understanding throughout their lessons. Any time you teach something to children you need to check for understanding before moving on to the next part of the lesson. Remember the saying knowledge is power. Knowing whether your students understand what you had taught them before you finish the lesson is powerful because you still have time to reteach things that students didn’t understand.
A simple way to check for understanding involves asking questions. Such questions help you to gauge if you need to explain certain things again or if the students are ready to move on.
There are two types of questions that can help you check for understanding during a lesson. You can ask students to:
- Tell you what they know.
- Tell you what to do.
Questions That Tell You What Students Know
Most lessons start with the teacher telling students some new things they need to know. This might include facts, explanations and rules. The simplest way to check if students know and understand the things you have told them is through asking your students a question. Questions that relate directly to the subject matter you are teaching the class help you to gauge if you need to explain certain things again or if the students are ready to move on.
For example, you may be teaching a lesson where the goal is for students to be able to identify
prime numbers. You would normally start this lesson by explaining what prime numbers are and what it means to identify something. After explaining these things to your students, you could then ask them:
- What is a prime number?
- What does it mean to identify something?
Asking questions is easy and powerful, especially when you use the students’ answers to decide whether you should reteach things or move on. However, there are several common traps you need to avoid.
- DON’T ask questions that require answers beyond what you have just taught.
- DON’T ask just one student a question, ask the question of the whole class.
- DON’T pick someone to answer the question straight away.
- DON’T have students raise their hands if they want to answer.
- DON’T ask students if they understand, ask them what they know
One way to ask good check for understanding questions is to use the Pause, Pick & Provide Feedback model.
|Pausing||When teachers ask their class a question, it is common for them to see the same hands go up quickly every time. As a result, many students don’t even bother to think of an answer, relying instead on the efforts of their more eager and confident peers. To counter this, you should pause whenever you ask a question so that everyone has time to think of an answer.|
|Picking||You should always pick a random student to answer the question. This motivates students to use their earlier thinking time well, and makes the answer more representative of the whole class. Depending upon the nature of the question, you may pick 2-3 random students.|
|Providing Feedback||You should always provide either affirmative or corrective feedback. If your student gets the answer correct, you should say so and then repeat (paraphrase) their answer to reinforce it with the class. If your student gets the answer wrong, you should say so and then re-explain what the correct answer is before picking another student to give you an answer. If two students get the answer wrong, stop and reteach what it was that you wanted your students to know.|
You can enhance this model by:
- Having students share their answer with a partner, before selecting someone to share with the class.
- Telling the children to show their agreement
with a classmate’s answer by putting their hand up.
Other ways you can use questioning to check for understanding include:
- Having students write their answer on a small whiteboard
before having every child hold their answer up for you to see.
- Using interactive whiteboards and student response systems
such as ActivExpression
Asking Students What To Do
While it is important that students know facts, such as what a prime number is, it is also important that they know how to do things. Many of the things that you teach students will involve a series of steps. For example, you might teach students the steps involved in:
- Writing the letter h
- Answering an inferential question
- Finding the factors of a number
- Writing a paragraph
- Lighting a Bunsen burner
When you teach students how to do something, you normally start by showing them the steps yourself. You should always repeat these demonstrations a few times, using think-alouds to articulate the key steps involved. When modelling how to find the factors of 18, you could say:
Find the factors of 18, you could say, I always find factors in pairs. I start with 1 and its partner 18 (1 × 18), I check the next number, which is 2. 2 × 9 = 18, so 2 and its partner 9 are both factors of 18. I check the next number, 3. 3 × 6 = 18, so 3 and its partner 6 are both factors of 18. I check the next number 4, and it doesn’t go into 18. I check the next number 5, and it doesn’t go into 18 either. The have already found that the next number 6, is a factor of 18, which means I have found all the factors of 18.
As you do more examples, you simply ask the class what you must do next. When doing so, you should still ask the whole class and:
|Pause:||To provide thinking time|
|Pick:||A random student|
|Provide Feedback:||To affirm or correct their response|
You could summarise the steps with a succinct visual.
You could then ask students to tell you what the three key steps of finding factors are.