When you walk into a classroom today, you might find a variety of activities taking place. The teacher might be in the front of the room talking in a more traditional setting, or students might be working independently in a more personalized environment. Most classrooms use a variety of teaching and learning techniques, but they all have the same goal: student learning. So the question is, how can we check for student understanding before the big test or final project? How can we be sure that what we are saying is being heard and understood? How can we be sure that the personalized project the students are spending time on will result in the understanding and learning we are hoping for? If we wait until the final assessment, it is too late to find out the students didn’t learn what we had hoped. At the same time, if we use a lot of formative assessment techniques, it sometimes feels like we are spending more time checking for understanding than we are allowing for student learning. This article attempts to give you a variety of quick techniques that can be used to check for understanding.
Here are 5 formative assessment techniques to check for student understanding, whether in a traditional classroom setting or more personalized learning environment:
- Think-Pair-Share. At key points throughout the lesson, ask students to respond to a question (or set of questions). Have students work to answer on their own and then have them work in small groups (or pairs) and share their answers with each other. Give them enough time to dialogue and encourage them to ask questions about each other’s answers. Then have someone from within the group share with the entire class. Use a timer to decide how much time to spend on each of the activities. This could be done after key points in a teacher lecture, or at certain points during a project. If students are in a personalized environment where they aren’t working on the same things at the same time, use the class sharing portion of this activity to have students briefly describe what they are working on and what they are hoping to learn.
- Post the learning targets (or outcomes) for the lesson. Research shows that posting the learning targets for a lesson helps a teacher stay focused and helps students learn better. (See this article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) If students are working on different learning targets at different times, help them make their own list of learning targets. Once the learning targets have been established, make sure the students keep them in a visible location.
- Create response cards. These can be generic for use throughout the year or lesson-specific. For example, you might have a set of five cards for each student, each containing one letter A, B, C, D, and E. Create multiple choice quizzes and have the students hold up the response cards as a quick check for understanding in class. If this is a personalized learning environment, you can have students write their own questions. Have the students take turns picking one question to ask the class. This is a quick way to allow students to share their learning with the entire class. You can also do this same exercise using technology. There are many free tools available that allow teachers to have students use phones and/or other personal learning devices to record individual answers. The answers can be displayed on a large screen at the front of the room. This can be quick and anonymous or it can actually be used as a more formal assessment with student names attached.
- Exit Ticket. Have students answer three to five questions at the end of class and write them down on a piece of paper that they turn in as they leave. This method doesn’t require much class time. If you still want to share the ideas and thoughts with the class, start the next lesson by highlighting a few of the responses or creating a summary of ideas.
- Question-Pair. This is similar to Think-Pair-Share except the students write down questions they have about what they are learning. Then have students work in small groups or pairs to help answer each other’s questions. Keep in mind that the time spent discussing the questions is as valuable as actually finding the answer.
- Literacy Solutions - Use Technology based solutions such as Big Universe which have built in quizzing platforms for many of the reading selections. Use these quizzes and the tracking capabilities to gain a clearer understanding of what student know.
What about you? What other performance for understanding techniques do you find effective? How do you keep a good balance between teaching and checking for understanding?