Why check for understanding? Why is it important to check for understanding during instruction? What are some useful strategies for checking for understanding? How frequently should teachers check for understanding during a typical lesson or school day?
A teacher may produce an amazing lesson. The instruction may be perfect, the preparation: consistent, even the students seem to be interested in what is being taught. The teacher assumes by the smiles on the students’ faces and their nodding heads, he has actually taught them something. The hours of research, the painstaking effort put into forming an insightful lecture, and the creative manner by which the classroom activities were applied, all seem to encourage a feeling of success. However, this fleeting feeling is soon crushed by the onslaught of poor performance on the next exam. How is this possible? How does a well-developed lesson lead to dismal performance? The answer is simple: assessment.
By checking for understanding, learning is consistently reinforced. A teacher can create an interesting lesson with engaging material; yet, students may not comprehend. A teacher may fill the room with logical reasoning, but some students may not function in a ‘logical’ manner. There is a large gap between student and teacher. This is especially evident in the relationship between what a student wants to learn and what a teacher wants to teach. The entirety of education is an attempt to bridge this gap and develop a passion for learning. By constantly assessing students, teachers provide opportunities for engagement. Fisher and Frey suggest that by, “using assessment regularly, teachers are enabled to determine what students know, what they need to know, and what type of instructional interventions are helpful”. Through assessment, a dialogue is opened between teacher and student. Both are allowed to ask questions, both are allowed to answer questions, and most importantly both contribute to the discussion. Within such an open conversation, growth can be found.
Unfortunately, an open conversation is not always effective in education. “The background knowledge students bring into the classroom influences how they understand the material you share and the lessons or learning opportunities you provide”. Therefore, we as teachers must understand that new, different approaches to assessment will always be a necessity. If a classroom reflects a desire to learn mechanically or systematically, a teacher must design forms of assessment that follow suit. For instance, small quizzes would be a wonderful idea for this class. At the end of each lesson, students will be asked to think critically, mathematically about the material and answer a set of questions developed to gauge understanding. If a classroom tends to be more artistic, a reflective project asking students to draw a picture of what they learned that day would be incredibly effective. Students would then be able to form understanding because of the use of images the visual medium. If a classroom seems more set on moving and kinetically approaching material, then a teacher should create a physical game in which understanding can be assessed. For example, in a lesson about gravity, students could be grouped together and compete against one another in order to build small-scale models of bridges able to stand up even against the pull of gravity. All of these are forms of formative assessment, or assessment which gauges student learning through engaging, insightful means.
Through the process of assessment, teachers can better understand their students, students can better understand their teachers’ goals, and all may better understand the material.