Thursday, February 24, 2011

Regular Checks for Understanding--A MUST in Any Class or Grade Level!

What do you do with students who seem a bit confused about your lesson? What do you do when you thought you had the perfect test, but your test results proved otherwise?

Every teacher has faced these situations. I have had my share of such moments and learned from them. In fact, if the test results are dismal, I ask my students what they found difficult about the test? Such test results I always throw out because for most of the students to fail, I didn't do a very good job preparing them for it so I won't penalize them for my errors.

So, how can teachers minimize those disappointing days? Regular check-for-understanding activities make all the difference. There are many ways to do this and I am sure everyone reading this blog has his/her own special strategies for this. Here I will share some of mine that I have used with both university students ( I am an adjunct in the teacher education department of a local university), high school students (I am a full time high school ELD teacher), and high school teachers (I am an English language instructional coach helping teachers at my site support their ELLs).

My favorite strategies to check for understanding:

1. Exit cards: just about 5 minutes before the bell rings, I put 3 questions on the board that address the main points of the day's lesson. I then pass out 3X5 index cards for students to write their responses on. When the bell rings signaling time to change classes, each student on the way out hands me his/her card. I then take about 10 minutes to quickly scan the cards to see how much of my lesson the students understood and how well. I have been doing this now for 5 years and am now more aware of how much my students actually learned and how well.

2. Random Calling On Students: I use poker chips with names on them. I place the chips in a sack. When it comes time to get student responses, I don't call on raised hands. Instead it is chip time! This also addresses the equity issue in that it guarantees the every student has an equal chance at being called on. If I call out a name of a student who is fuzzy on the answer, I let him ask students around him/her for help (but he/she can't leave his/her seat).

3. Games: Games are always fun for review (and for me to see how well prepared the students are for a test). Bingo is a good game for this task. If students are preparing for a key vocabulary test, I set put the definitions in the boxes. Once a student has 5 across, that student must provide me with the word that goes with the definition (I have also had them give me the word in a sentence, or an antonym/synonym, or an example).

4. Quick Review Before Giving a Test: Carousel is a favorite of grown-ups (teachers in teacher training classes) and students. I put up 8 (6-9---depending on how much material is to be reviewed) pieces of chart paper around the room with the name of one key concept at the top of each paper. I put together groups of 4 students and 1 marker. Each group goes to different poster. When I say GO, the groups have 2 minutes to write down everything that they can remember about that topic. When I say STOP and MOVE to the next poster (clockwise or counterclockwise---your choice), each group moves over 1 and again has two minutes to write. The review is over when every group has had the opportunity to visit EVERY topic. Great review! After this, students are ready to take a test and do well.

5. Creating Test Questions: Have students in small groups of 4, write 4 multiple choice questions on the topic. This works only if they have had practice in creating question stems. One motivator I use here is telling them that I will take 2 questions from each group to include in my final version of the test. This is real buy-in! I get 10 question from them and then I had 10 of my own. Students again do well here.

There are many more and hopefully some of you might like to share one of yours:)

So now to the fun part of this post:

Seinfield's world history lesson from SNL If you could give advice to this teacher about better ways to connect to his students, what would you tell him (enjoy the clip---though 20 years old, it still brings a chuckle to every teacher no matter what his/her age or years in the classroom).


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