Check for Understanding: Are Kids Learning?

Checking for Understanding (CFU) is an important step in the teaching and learning process. When teachers check for understanding they identify learning goals, assess learning, provide feedback, and plan instruction based on student needs.

Using hand gestures is a good strategy to check for understanding.
Using hand gestures is a good strategy to check for understanding.

Teaching is NOT about teaching but about LEARNING

Checking for Understanding (CFU) is an important step in the teaching and learning process. Throughout the lesson, teachers check that students are learning. This allows a teacher to identify a child’s learning needs and adjust their teaching.  When teachers check for understanding they identify learning goals, assess learning, provide feedback, and plan instruction based on student needs.

How Do I Know They Are REALLY Learning?

There are hundreds of variations of classroom assessment techniques.  A useful ratio of work time to checking for understanding is seven minutes of work time, followed by two minutes of teacher- directed clarifications.  Here are suggestions for how you can add some variety to informal assessments.

Check for Understanding 7 Quick Ideas

  • 3-2-1- Students write 3 ideas about topic, 2 uses or examples and 1 question or idea that might be unclear
  • Response Color Items (cards, poker chips, popsicle sticks) -Students display items: (Red = Stop-I need help, Green = Keep going, -I understand, Yellow = I’m a little confused.
  • Muddiest Point – Students write down the most difficult or confusing part of a lesson on post-its or individual whiteboards.
  • Use gestures – Hand/thumb up/down signals, fingers up (5=understand, 3=a little confused, 1-don’t get it!
  • Glass, Bugs, Mud – Students identify their understanding or readiness for application using the windshield metaphor for clear vision.  Glass: totally clear; bugs: a little fuzzy; mud: I can barely see.
  • Table Tags– Students sit in areas that are designated (e.g. color, symbols) by their level of understanding. They move to a new area when relevant.   
  •  Exit Slips -At the end of a lesson students write down a few main ideas from the lesson or ask any questions that are unclear. This information is used to modify the next lesson.


Check for Understanding: Extended Ideas

  • One Minute Paper– Students write a response to a prompt or question. Papers can be collected or used for discussion.
  • Think-Pair-Share (Turn and Talk)- Students share their knowledge with another student. During sharing the teacher circulates to listen to discussions.
  • Concept Maps– Student use drawings or diagrams to organize information.
  • Quiz Show Format– A great review strategy to reinforce information.  (e.g. Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire)
  • Use “graphic organizers” (KWL), Anticipation Guides, outlines, concept maps) to account for learning.
  • Summarize the main idea – Students write one or two sentences, and share it with a neighbor.

Checking for understanding is NOT a lesson extension. Checking for Understanding is an integral part of every lesson. Using it often will teach kids that learning involves sharing both what they know and don’t.  

Next Post:  Part II: Check for Understanding: Implementation and Teacher Effectiveness

Isn’t education ALL about reaching the kids? 
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