Checking for Understanding

Checking for Understanding (CFU) is the backbone of effective instruction. Checking for Understanding is the teacher continually verifying that students are learning what is being taught while it is being taught. CFU provides the teacher the opportunity to improve learning based on student responses throughout the teaching and learning process. Using CFU in “real-time” allows teachers to make crucial instructional decisions as necessary (like re-teaching) during lesson delivery.

The National Research Council recommends implementing formative (on-going) assessments, such as checking for understanding, in order to improve instruction. The National Research Council frames such assessment as the process of teaching scientifically:

Teachers collect information about students’ understanding almost continuously, and make adjustments to their teaching on the basis of their interpretation of that information. They observe critical incidents in the classroom, formulate hypotheses about the causes of those incidents, question students to test their hypotheses, interpret students’ responses, and adjust their teaching plans.

Research behind Checking for Understanding

According to the article Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies that All Teachers Should Know by emeritus professor of education Barak Rosenshine (American Educator, Spring 2012), effective instruction asks questions and checks responses of all students in order to help students practice new information and connect new material to their prior knowledge.

The article suggests that to practice new information, teachers must ask students questions while they are teaching. In a classroom-based experiment, a group of teachers was asked to increase the number of factual questions and process questions during guided practice. The results of this experiment showed that students who had these teachers achieved higher scores than students whose teachers did not ask multiple questions. Also, teachers who asked a large number of questions had higher student participation. Furthermore, teachers were able to assess if the students understood the content, which allowed the teachers to make modifications to the lesson or reteach when necessary.

Rosenshine observed that successful teachers found ways to involve all students in answering questions. Examples include having all students:
  • Tell the answer to a neighbor
  • Summarize the main idea in one or two sentences, writing the summary on a piece of paper and sharing this with a neighbor
  • Writing an answer on a card and then holding it up
  • Raising their hands if they agree with the answer that someone else has given

Why is Checking for Understanding so beneficial?

Using research-based strategies, the DataWORKS Explicit Direct Instruction model incorporates Checking for Understanding during a lesson because:
  • It allows the teacher to make instructional decisions during the lesson. It informs the teacher when to speed up, slow down, or re-teach. CFU helps pace the lesson.
  • When teachers look at independent work, homework, quizzes, or state test results to see if students learned…it’s too late to modify instruction.
  • CFU is the back bone of effective instruction and Explicit Direct Instruction… because you measure and monitor student learning in real time.
  • CFU guarantees high student success (80-100%)… because you revise teaching in direct response to student learning.
  • CFU ensures that your students will not be practicing and reinforcing their mistakes. Practice makes permanent, not perfect!

In EDI, when Checking for Understanding, you always teach first. Remember, the purpose of CFU is to verify that your students are learning what you are teaching while you are teaching. By teaching before you ask a question, the students are equipped to respond. You have to present the content first, then your students should be able to answer the Checking for Understanding correctly. We will cover what to do when they do not have the correct answer when we get to the “E” in TAPPLE.

During Checking for Understanding, always ask specific questions about what you are teaching. Don’t ask students if they understand the content. Often, students’ opinions of their learning do not match reality.

When you ask a Checking for Understanding question, always ask the question first, then pause for several seconds before selecting a student to respond. The pause, also known as wait time or think time, provides an opportunity to all students to think of an answer even if they aren’t called upon. If you call on a student prior to asking the question, the other students are free to tune out. By presenting the question to the whole class, everyone stays engaged because no one knows who will be selected to give a response. If you also have the students discuss the question and answer in a pair-share then student engagement increases. It gives students a chance to practice and correct their answers.

The only way you can truly find out if students are learning the information you’re teaching is to randomly select three non-volunteers to answer your CFU questions. When you call on volunteers, you are being validated by your brightest learners and could be getting a false impression that every student is learning.

Listening carefully, you will need to determine the level of student understanding. Based on this determination, you will be making an instructional decision. Ideally, students will always have the correct answer to your CFU questions, but sometimes they won’t. What you do next depends on what you hear when the student responds. Is it correct, partially correct, or just plain wrong?

Based on the accuracy of the student’s response, you can do one of three things: echo, elaborate, or explain. If the student is correct, you echo the correct response back. Restating the correct answer provides an affirmation to the student who just answered. When the response is tentative or partially correct, you should elaborate. Elaborating and/or paraphrasing will reinforce the correct answer to the student who was called on and will also benefit the rest of the class. Finally, if two students in a row cannot answer, then you will need to explain, or reteach.