Assessing student understanding can be difficult to do during class. Teaching the material and keeping lesson plans on track takes a lot of focus and the extra task of regularly checking in with students is an added challenge but it also guarantees an effective educator. Adopting some or all of these strategies will both ensure better learning outcomes and increase student engagement as they are asked to actively participate in that day’s lesson.
The ultimate goal of teaching is to do just that – teach, not stand up in the front of the room and talk. But sometimes it’s easier to talk than to teach, as we all know, especially when we need to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. We hope students will understand, if not now then before test time, and we keep our fingers crossed that their results will indicate we’ve done our job.
The problem is, we rely on these tests to measure understanding, and then we move on. Few of us take the time to address weaknesses and misunderstandings after the tests have been graded, and by that time it’s too late for students to be interested. This means we need to rethink how we approach assessment during class.
The most effective way to test student understanding is to do it while the lesson’s still going on. Asking students to fill out a questionnaire and then correcting misunderstandings during the next class period won’t work because students have already moved on. You’ve got to take advantage of the moment. If you hope to spend the majority of your time getting through to students, and not just talking, then understanding must be measured and dealt with as soon as the first frown appears on a face.
Here are a few in-class tips to get you started:
1. Avoid Yes/No questions.
Avoid yes/no questions and phrases like “Does this make sense?” In response to these questions, students usually answer “yes”. So of course it’s surprising when several students later admit that they’re lost. To help students grasp ideas in class, ask pointed questions that require students to use their own prior knowledge.
2. Ask students to reflect.
During the last five minutes of class ask students to reflect on the lesson and write down what they’ve learned. Then, ask them to consider how they would apply this concept or skill in a practical setting.
3. Use quizzes.
Give a short quiz at the end of class to check for comprehension.
4. Ask students to summarize.
Have students summarize or paraphrase important concepts and lessons. This can be done orally, visually, or otherwise.
5. Hand signals.
Hand signals can be used to rate or indicate students’ understanding of content. Students can show anywhere from five fingers to signal maximum understanding to one finger to signal minimal understanding. This strategy requires engagement by all students and allows the teacher to check for understanding within a large group.
If you have any best practices for assessing student learning please share them in the comment section below.