Takeaways from TLAC 2.0: Checking for Understanding Part One

In this blog series, we’re digging into Teach Like a Champion 2.0 and discussing what we feel are the biggest takeaways from the book. Collaborating on the series are Petra Claflin (former teacher and instructional leader turned lead writer for YES Prep’s communications & marketing team), Elisa Gibbs (Middle School Math Specialist & math intervention teacher), and Sarah Murphy Traylor (former teacher and instructional coach & now talent recruiter for YES Prep).

Today’s takeaways are from Elisa Gibbs.

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 devotes a huge part of their new book to Checking for Understanding.  This was exciting to see because it’s really one of the most important things we do in the classroom. How often have all of us looked over exit tickets or other short assessments after class and been shocked to see how many misunderstandings students had? “I thought they got it” is a common refrain for teachers until we learn how to effectively check for understanding during class and it can be difficult. Teach Like a Champion 2.0 offers strategies for checking for understanding more frequently throughout the class period so that you are able to give real time feedback and correct misunderstandings in the moment before that final exit ticket and the bell rings. In this post, we’ll focus on strategies you can use during the Do First or Warm-up, right at the beginning of class!

“Real Time” Checking for Understanding

Doug Lemov offers three strategies for real time checking for understanding that will allow you to understand what students understand and fix misconceptions.  I have bucketed these three strategies into three categories:  Planning, Gathering Data, and then Fixing Misconceptions.

  1. Planning Strategy: Standardize the format. This means that you create a consistent space on the Do First sheet where students write their answers or show their work so that you are looking in the same place on each person’s paper as you scan the room.  This saves a ton of time, allowing you to quickly scan to see which students you need to check in with.  You can also standardize the format to help you ensure students are doing the appropriate work necessary to solve a problem or answer a question.  For example, if I want students to check their work to an algebra equation by plugging back in, I create a box that says “Check your work” and place it along the right side of the page.  If I want students to draw a model with algebra tiles to prove their work for simplifying expressions, I create a box for “Model Drawing.”  This allows me to quickly glance at papers to see if students are completing their work appropriately.  For some reason students are more eager to fill in this empty box with their “check” or “drawing” if there is an empty box on the page.  The specific place on the page seems to encourage students to meet my expectations without needing further reminders from me.  It also ensures me that students are thinking about the problem and not just trying to write down a quick final answer. When I see a wrong answer AND an empty box for work, instead of immediately correcting the answer, I can remind the student to fill in this box as a way to check their own work and discover their mistake.  Often students will then fix their own mistake without further instruction from me. Win, win!

 

  1. Gathering Data Strategy:  Tracking, Not Watching.  Once you have a plan in place for what students need to accomplish, the next step is being intentional about how you observe and check students’ work and gather data to know whether students “got it.”  Rather than scanning to monitor behavior, you are scanning to fix misconceptions in the moment! There are two pieces to Tracking, Not Watching.

 

  1. Decide what you want to focus on.  What do I want to ensure that 100% of students understand during this next chunk of time?
  2. Track these questions specifically and ignore other items or distractions.

What does this look like in action? 
In the Do First, if you have a set of basic skills and spiral review problems, choose one problem that you “really care about” and want to check for mastery.  Then circulate and only focus on that one problem as you check-in with students and work to fix any misconception you see pertaining to that one problem.   

Reflecting on this, I realized that normally when I circulate, I often find myself spending too much time checking through all the problems for every student and so not spending enough time going over trouble spots with students. I was also not being strategic about which problems I was talking through with kids, so this strategy is really relevant for me.

And beyond the Do First, this strategy can be applied to any sort of independent work students are engaged in.

  1. Fixing Misconceptions Strategy: Act on the Data. You saw glimpses of this in the strategies above. Acting on the data means having those quick individual conferences where you immediately intervene and have students explain their thinking.  This can also be done whole class if you see a common error that everyone is making and it is something that you need to address.  I think the most difficult piece of acting on the data, whether or not it is individual or whole group, is to focus on student thinking rather than simply on the student output.  Consider how you can ask questions that get students to explain their thought process and reasoning strategies so you can work with students to fix their misconception rather than simply pointing out that the answer is wrong and giving the correct “step” or solution.  Cathy Seely discusses the importance of teaching to “Get It” in her book Smarter Than We Think. She states ‘Getting it doesn’t happen by telling students facts and showing them a list of procedures….Getting it happens when students engage their minds in mathematical activity and connect what they are learning to what they already know or to emerging structures in their minds.”

 
How do you Teach and Correct Misunderstandings to Get It

  1. Use prompts and questions like, “Explain your thinking,” “What do you see when you read this problem?” or “Draw a picture to show me what you know so far.” Asking students to explain their thinking or show you what they already know allows you to build off of their own thinking and understanding to help them better understand the big ideas or concept and how they connect to what students already know.
  2. Be cautious using shortcuts and tricks.  In a math class for example, it can be easy and seem like a quick fix to just repeat a set of steps or procedures that in actuality have little meaning to students.  For example, consider the following problem:  2(x  + 5).  Students often mistakenly simplify this as 2x + 5.  Rather than just repeating a set of procedures to solve this problem, remind students what is actually going on here: “We have multiplication and we can read this as 2 groups of (x + 5).  Ask students to draw this out to represent the problem either as (x + 5) + (x + 5) or using algebra tiles to represent the 2 groups of (x + 5). 

My absolute favorite part of teaching is when I get the opportunity to see a student have one of those “light bulb” moments where everything finally makes sense.  Using these steps to find misunderstandings and fix misconceptions in the moment can lead students to have those real “Aha!” moments.  It doesn’t always happen quickly and sometimes we have to be patient, but imagine if we constantly check for understanding and teach for “getting it” so that all of our students get the chance to have their own  “Aha” moment!

Coming up in the series: More on Ratio and Checking for Understanding!

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