Formative Assessment

A Metacognitive Strategy to Help High School Students See Their Progress in Learning

These activities, with adaptable worksheets, help high school students check their understanding of course content quickly.

March 8, 2024
SDI Productions / iStock

Sometimes the changes that we as educators must implement to improve student learning, ownership, and outcomes involve systemic, paradigm-shifting, brain-straining efforts. Other times, a small tweak to what we’re already doing can provide some valuable improvements.

What follows are three variations on such an easy to implement activity—having students check their understanding of what they’re learning—that even in the hectic pace of midyear teacher life, it’s possible to pull them off.

Let’s set the stage by comparing the typical ebb and flow of learning in many courses and classrooms to something like an athletic endeavor or performing arts experience. Students start off encountering new opportunities for learning through class activities, formative assessments, and assorted assignments similar to regular practices or rehearsals. They then often encounter some variation of review or additional practice to reinforce their new knowledge, similar to an intrasquad scrimmage or a dress rehearsal.

This often leads to students having the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in some type of summative assessment like a test or a presentation, similar to a league game or public performance.

The three variations below guide students to check their understanding and are intended to help students be even more intentionally cognizant of how well they’re progressing during each level of these learning opportunities.

Scenario 1: Practice or Rehearsal  

Typical classwork, homework, or formative assessments: In a wide variety of classes, students often engage in work on their own or in small groups. They develop or practice their learning through classwork, homework, guided readings, labs, simulations, and a variety of other experiences that are formative and often have right or wrong answers associated with them.

There’s value in having students check their own work because of the immediacy of knowing whether they understand the content at that point in time rather than waiting for feedback from the teacher.

In this activity, the student uses a classwork understanding tracking table to record how successful they were in their first attempt at learning. Whether they got the question right or wrong, the next part prompts them to identify how well they comprehend the answer once they know what it should be.

The last section of the tracking sheet is where they jot down what they might need clarification about or assistance with when the opportunity presents itself—asking a classmate, asking the teacher, coming in for a study session. This is important because it captures that need in the moment instead of letting time pass without knowing that they were wrong.

A benefit of this kind of form is that the teacher can look through a class set of them and quickly identify and re-teach problematic questions or topics. Although the table linked above is from an AP Statistics course, it could easily be adapted for a variety of courses and levels.

Scenario 2: Scrimmage or Dress Rehearsal  

Review in preparation for an assessment: The review confidence tracking table is similar to the previous one in that students check their answers and identify where they may need help as they complete assigned questions. They may also make notes as reminders to themselves as they prepare for an assessment. The primary difference with this table is that students identify how confident they are in their answers before they check them. This gets to the heart of answering the following questions: 

  • Do students know what they know? (The student is confident in an answer that turned out to be correct.) 
  • Do students know what they don’t know? (The student is not confident in an answer and now knows to work on it more, even if they guessed right.)
  • Can we help students correct what they mistakenly think they know? (The student is problematically confident because unfortunately they’re wrong.)

The last of these is especially important in that misunderstandings that students are mistakenly confident about are much more likely to be remedied if the student is involved in identifying their confusion and then seeking clarification and correction. The review confidence tracking table linked to above is used with a review or prep book but can easily be modified for other types of print and digital review resources.

Scenario 3: Competition or Performance

A major assessment: This last table is nearly identical to the previous one except that students use it as an answer sheet while completing an assessment like a unit test. It tackles the same questions identified in Scenario 2 and provides students and teachers with the same kind of information. This allows students and the teacher to better focus on understanding missed material that might be foundational in future learning or may show up in future assessments. This last table, the test confidence answer sheet, can also help students prepare for retakes or credit recovery if the teacher uses such practices.

In less objective assessments, students can predict their score on an assessment or an open-ended question or preassess themselves with a more typical rubric to again see how well their perception of understanding matches the reality of what they’re able to demonstrate and communicate. 

These three approaches provide specific data to teachers that can help them fine-tune their support of most commonly missed questions or concepts and tackle persistent misconceptions that students continue to think are correct. The biggest difference from more traditional practices is the timing of the student thinking about how well they know or understand something. This is the most important time, when they’re as close to the moment as possible.

We want our students to get as much from their practicing and rehearsing along the way as they can, so that when the game whistle blows or the curtains come up, they are confident that they’re ready to perform. These tweaks should help understanding outcompete misunderstanding among students and should also help further their skills and growth as lifelong learners.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Formative Assessment
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 9-12 High School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.