Many teachers use a limited amount of student assessments. Often this is due to a lack of the awareness of the importance of frequency and variety in lesson design. However, the climate of high stakes testing and teacher evaluations has created an interest in Checking for Understanding in Professional Learning Circles (PLCs).
Checking for Understanding and Teacher Observations
A few years ago, NYS mandated a new teacher/administrator evaluation system. The new system includes some controversial high stakes consequences. Although teacher observation in our school were very good, we discovered that we used limited techniques to Check for Understanding. Therefore, we created a Professional Leaning Circle (PLC) to learn some new techniques.
Checking for Understanding: PLC
Once we identified the need for varied assessments in lesson design, we created the following 4-step implementation plan.
- Identified 8 (avg. 2 per month) commonly used assessment techniques to use in the first semester. Starting in the second semester, we added one additional technique per month to try.
- Offered teacher-led Professional Development opportunities on each technique led by teacher-presenters. Each workshop included a technique overview, examples and alternate versions.
- Created and used a 3 column (technique, definition, Teacher Notes), teacher-friendly tracking system. The Teacher Notes column was added so teachers could personalize specific ideas (e.g. subjects, examples, student groups).
- Added “cheers and jeers” to each meeting to share results.
Checking for Understanding: Must Haves
- Learning standards are broken down into small objectives and learning is assessed prior to moving on.
- Try to involve all students in answering questions.
- Use both individual and whole group techniques.
- Assessment directly relates to learning.
- Aim to increase participation through questioning.
- Opportunities are natural and meaningful that practice new information and connect to prior knowledge.
- Checkpoints are established throughout the lesson.
- Specific language is included in the questioning to identify exact information not known.
- Help students think about what they are learning to make them aware of their strengths and weaknesses.
- Check for understanding at least three times a lesson: after Introduction to New Material (INM), Guided Practice (GP), and at the conclusion of the lesson.
- Vary assessment to keep everyone engaged.
5 Things We Learned about Checking for Understanding
- Teachers felt that they were more effective.
- Lesson plans became more detailed.
- Teachers became more thoughtful in lesson design to include more assessments throughout the lesson.
- Teachers thought more about “the learning” rather than “the teaching”.
- Teachers enjoyed sharing ideas and learning from each other.
Overall, our Checking for Understanding PLC was successful. For some teachers it refreshed their memory of assessment techniques; for others it provided new resources. It was a good reminder all of us that as educators we are responsible for learning, not teaching.
Tip #1: Teachers found that listing the strategies and identifying them by numbers in their plans helped them track how often they used each technique. The system also helped them try new techniques and/or perfect old ones.
Tip #2: My favorite resource about on-going, formative assessment is
Checking for Understanding by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. The book contains dozens of ways to thoughtfully and systematically monitor student learning.