More Adventures in Checking for Understanding

I'm almost halfway through a wonderful book, Applying Standards-Based Constructivism: A Two-Step Guide for Motivating Elementary Students. It has given me a lot of practical advice and it has given me a better understanding of some of my instructional practices and methods and at the same time justifies practices I've been doing for years.

I will write more about the Two-Step model later, but today I wanted to briefly reflect on a new method for checking for understanding that I found in the book. In the section on Assessment, the book stresses that teacher observation really is a valid form assessment because (gasp) teachers are professionals and are the most qualified to determine whether and how their students are learning.

The authors describe how you can easily gauge student understanding by having each student take 10 seconds to say one thing they learned at the end of class.

photo courtesy of farleyj on Flickr
Today I tried it with my 1st graders after their first time using MS Paint and was amazed as they stated, "I learned how to use the paint brush," "I learned how to use the magnifying glass to make my page bigger," "I learned how to change the color," and other things. What an 'ah ha' moment. In 2 minutes I had a snapshot of the actual learning that had happened during the 45 minute period. I tried it again with my 5th graders who had started typing stories. They shared, "I learned how to change my font," "I learned how to put my heading in the middle," and other statements that really helped me understand whether they had met the learning objectives of the class period. (They had.)

Part of the success I had today was due to the fact that I had clearly outlined the learning objectives at the start of the period and limited them to a few observable behaviors (put one space between each word, center a heading, use return key, use capitals and periods).  I was easily able to know whether the students had learned what I wanted them to in a matter of minutes.

I am still amazed by Geoffrey Canada's bold statement that he was a 'Master' teacher in his 5th year of teaching. I feel like this year, my 6th year of teaching, I am finally 'getting it' when it comes to assessment. It's a messy process, but I'm loving it.  I can't wait to see what I'm working on 6 years from now.


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