Takeaways from TLAC 2.0: Checking for Understanding Part Two

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 (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.
 
TLAC 2.0 discusses two main ways to check for understanding (CFU): observe student work and ask questions. An earlier post in this series discussed how to use observation as a CFU and we’ll cover questioning today. This seemingly simple strategy may actually be one of the hardest to implement effectively in a classroom.
 
Targeted Questioning
 
We default to asking vague questions like, “Do you have any questions?” or “Does everyone understand?” because we have not pre-planned any other questions. Each time I asked a vague question like these, there would be no hands in the air and I would feel a wave of relief that everyone understood the new content!  However, I was often shocked later when I found that everyone did not understand. Vague questions don’t give us any helpful data.
 
TLAC 2.0 explores how we can pre-plan purposeful and targeted questions so that we can be more strategic in the ways and types of questions that we ask to really make the most of every question and gather accurate and informative data.
 
How do we do it?
 
Planning:
 

  • Create Objective-Driven Questions in Advance. Rather than asking Do we have any questions?, create questions centered around the specific content you have just taught. For example, if you are teaching how to combine like terms and you have just introduced the concept of “like terms” you could pose the following questions:

 

  • Are 2x and 3x2 an example of like terms…Student A?
  • Why not Student B?
  • What would be a like term I could combine with 2x…Student C?
  • How do you know…Student D?
  • What would I get if I combine these two like terms…Student E?
  • If you have 2x2 + 3x2 + 2x, why is the simplified form not 7x3?  How could you simplify this expression?

 
Centering your questions on the specific content you have taught can allow you, as well as your students, to see if they really understand the content.
 

  • Plan for and Expect an Incorrect Answer. As teachers, we WANT our students to answer questions correctly both because we want our student to learn and because we want self-validation that we have actually taught something well. We know that students are going to have misunderstandings and make mistakes, though. AND we know through brain research that when students make mistakes and then are able to correct them, their brain grows and they learn more! Because of this, we actually want to expect our students to answer incorrectly because if they do, then it is an exciting opportunity for us to correct a misunderstanding! (Check out our earlier post for more on this idea.) 

 
How to plan for misunderstandings: 
 

  • When planning your questions, consider one or two incorrect responses you could get from students and jot them down.
  • Then think about why students might make this mistake. What questions will you follow up with to ensure that you help students clarify this misunderstanding? How can you help students have a visual or something to anchor their understanding?

 
Execution:
 

  • Use Cold Call. We all know the students who usually have their hand in the air first and typically these students have the correct answer to share with us. While calling on them can make us feel good as teachers, it does not give us a good sampling of what all students in the class really know. I love having students names on popsicle sticks and using these to call on students whenever asking questions. Setting this up as a normal routine makes is important in order to make it effective. When we use cold call with our checks for understanding we can hear from a wider mix of students and get more reliable data. TLAC 1.0 and 2.0 go into great depth on how to use this routine regularly in class and we’ve also written a blog post on the topic

 

  • Use Quick Turn and Talks to Engage all Students and Allow for Processing Time. When a student has an incorrect answer, turn the question back around to the class and have them turn and talk to their neighbor to explain why the answer was incorrect and how you could correct it. These can be quick 15 second turn and talks. This allows everyone in the class to process the incorrect answer (that they may have been thinking themselves but may not admit) and think about how they can prove the correct answer. This strategy also normalizes error and lets students know that mistakes are important learning opportunities and something that we value in class!

 

  • Efficiency Counts. It is important to plan these points in your lesson where you will use questioning to CFU and to keep it short.  It is easy to spend too much time here if the questions aren’t planned in advance. If you can keep these checkpoints short, then you are able to incorporate more of these checkpoints in your lesson. 

 
 
Checking for Understanding is a complex strategy with many components. TLAC 2.0 explores this strategy in greater detail emphasizing the importance of continuously observing and questioning our students to see what they are thinking. What do our students truly understand and where do they fall on the road to mastery and deep understanding? Do they still need more practice with a concept or are they ready to move on? CFUs allow us to monitor this progress and ensure all students know where they are on their path towards mastery. 

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