My First Experiment with Checking for Understanding

I just finished reading Checking for Understanding by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher.  It is one of the most practical books I have read in a while. In it I found techniques that I could immediately apply in my classroom.

Assessment is a huge challenge for me.

I see most of my students 45 minutes a week and I teach about 300 students over the course of a week. As a previous post discussed, I have recently been working on the learning goals and focus of my lessons and projects. Now that I have semi-solved that issue I am now working on assessment.

This year I also have a new classroom setup with an Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) at the front of the room and the computer facing it. This makes it impossible for me to see the student screens if I'm demonstrating something at the front of the room (we don't have wireless, so a wireless computer controlling app for the iPhone is a no go).  In my former labs I didn't even have a wall to project on, so all demonstration had to happen through Apple Remote Desktop on the students screens. As a result, part of the challenge this year is getting used to a new classroom configuration.

These changes and realizations have caused me to be extra reflective in what I do and why in the classroom.

Wikimedia Commons
After reading Checking for Understanding I decided to use the 'thumbs' method to pace my demonstrations. As we move through the steps, for example, to insert an image into a project, I stop and tell students to 'show me your thumbs.' A thumbs up means "I'm with you and ready to move on" and a thumbs down means "stop, I need to catch up or I'm lost."

It has worked wonders for checking that everyone 'gets' what we are doing. I have found more of my students retaining the steps and more capable of applying their knowledge to other functions of the program. One of my 4th graders exclaimed today, "Ms. Hertz, I can insert a picture all by myself! I did it!" 

Of course, even a simple sounding procedure such as thumbs up/thumbs down needs to be practiced, so I'm excited at the possibilities for ensuring that my students are getting the base skills I want them to have so we can begin to push toward more complex, content-based projects.

Another goal of mine has been to have an assessment clipboard on which I have each child's name and a skill I want them to master. Today I walked around while my 2nd graders were practicing typing lowercase letters and uppercase letters using shift as well as sentences with capital letters and and periods. I was able to go student to student, checking that they knew how to make a capital letter and write a sentence with a period and a single space between their words. I now feel that I have a true snapshot of whether they have mastered the learning goals for the lesson.

In addition to these assessment goals, I have been clearly stating the learning goals at the beginning of the class period and restating them at the end. For instance, "Today you will....." and "Today we......" I've found it makes ME even better reflect on what we accomplished for the day.

A big factor, I believe, in my ability to implement these new practices is that, now in my 4th year teaching in a lab, I have most of the big stuff down so I can now focus on more reflective practice than before. I also have a school climate that is more organized and more predictable than my previous 5 years. This gives me more time to focus on my students, not on the fact that there are 5 teachers out and I have to cover a class for 3 hours.

I'm excited to keep trying new ways to check for understanding and to focus on how and what my students are learning in a more organized, deliberate and meaningful way.


Save Trees: Don't print me!