The fact that your students are staring and nodding at every word that emerges from your lips doesn’t mean they understand what you are saying—sadly most educators interpret it as such. I was faced with this challenge when I was still training to become a teacher. Having a way to measure learner’s understanding is sometimes the skill that separates a professional teacher from an amateur.
Grant Wiggins and Joy McTighe in their book, ‘Understanding by Design’ cautioned that the word ‘understanding’ should not be used too loosely, rather, interchanged with ‘know’. The following set of skills exists among students who understand; explaining, interpreting, applying, having perspective, emphasizing, and having self-knowledge. These traits can be used to measure a student’s understanding.
Whenever I am opportune to speak to other teachers I always emphasize the importance of assessing student understanding at each lesson because of the different learning needs of every student in the class. Without proper assessment, you are likely to leave some students behind. Some teachers give out tests at the end of the lesson and hope it helps them to access the understanding of their students but the best way to access student understanding is to do so while the lesson is still on. Waiting until the next period to correct misunderstandings won’t work because students must have moved on. The following in-class tips should get you started.
I think it is out of respect that many students tend to answer ‘yes’ when a teacher asks a question like “Does this make sense?” It is not surprising that many of them will later admit that they are lost. To really access students’ understanding, ask questions that will require the use of prior knowledge.
A short quiz at the end of the class can help you to ascertain the level of comprehension for that lesson. It’s not all about giving quizzes anyway. After every quiz, try to correct the misunderstanding that it unveils.
Use the last few minutes of the lesson for students’ inner reflection. I usually ask my students to write down what they have learned from the lesson. When they are done I ask them to think about how they can apply the skill or concept to a real-life setting. Some people call this exploration table and will include other sets of questions like;
What did we do in class today?
Why did we do it?
What did I learn from it?
How can I apply this knowledge or skill?
I usually use the last five minutes of every lesson for this exercise.
One of the most difficult tasks an educator will encounter is trying to determine the level of understanding when they are dealing with a group. Hand signal can help at this time to determine the level of understanding of every student. The students can raise five fingers to show maximum understanding or one finger to show minimum understanding.
Telling the students to paraphrase or summarize key concepts can tell you a lot about their level of understanding. A student that truly understands a concept should be able to express themselves in a few words.
One of the ways I practically engage students while teaching is the use of response cards. This can vary from signs, index cards, magnetic boards, whiteboards, or any other item that students can hold up while in class in response to a question. The use of response devices helps the teacher to get the different opinions of the students on a particular question. This is particularly useful when dealing with a group.
One of the many experiences I have garnered during the process of training as a teacher is the ease with which students learn when they learn from their peers. Students are often challenged or motivated to study further when they realize that their peer has a better understanding of a concept than themselves. You can use this to your advantage by letting the students quiz each other. Also, give time for them to go through the incorrect answers for a better understanding.