When you think of assessment, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I started teaching before iPads came on the scene, and the introduction of technology had a profound effect on the way I think about formative assessment. Digital tools are more than a quick way to review quiz responses amid instruction, although that’s indeed a plus. Digital tools can help more students reach you and also enable you to gather higher-quality information.
Below are some tips to help you check for understanding in the middle of a lesson. You’ll notice how these strategies build upon traditional best practices. For example, while a turn-and-talk strategy doesn’t need to include technology, the benefit or value that tech adds to this interaction is that students can share more widely and let you hear from every partnership.
Check for Comprehension During a Lesson
In the middle of a lesson, pausing to check for student understanding can be a strategic and purposeful part of your goal to make sure instruction is meeting students’ needs. What might this look like in a tech-friendly classroom? Here are four options:
Turn-and-talk: Students chat with a classmate and then submit their responses to a shared space. This could include a discussion board like Schoology where students post their thoughts to a discussion thread. You might also try a collaborative board like Padlet that offers a few choices like adding a voice note, link, or several sentences to their post.
Stop-and-jot: With this strategy, students pause to capture their thinking in various ways—drawing a picture in a space like Seesaw or adding a virtual sticky note to a collaborative space such as Jamboard. During a stop-and-jot you can choose a space that gives students choice on how they’d like to capture their thinking. Options could include a text, sketch, or even audio recording.
Quick question: Students reply to an open-ended, short-response question, which can give you a sense of their current level of understanding. An interactive tool like Lumio, Nearpod, or Pear Deck lets teachers insert a question into a teacher-led or self-paced lesson to check for understanding with a quick response.
Pulse check: With a pulse check, students share their confidence level, how they’re feeling, or an indication of what more they might need to succeed with the lesson. You can use options such as a word cloud, a scale, or ranking with a free tool like Mentimeter). To set up students for a pulse check, you can ask a question of the entire class, with students responding anonymously. This can give you a read of the room. Alternatively, you can ask students to share a response tagged to their name so that you can follow up with them one-on-one.
Making a Formative Assessment Plan
When planning mid-lesson moments to check for understanding, first determine the direction and intended outcomes of the lesson. Know where you’re headed and what you’d like to see students accomplish by the end of the lesson or activity. Identifying success criteria is helpful during all phases of formative assessment, including in the middle of a lesson.
For example, if you poll the class and find that student confidence is low, or you ask students to post a response to a question in a collaborative space and their answers raise concerns, you might decide to pivot your instruction based on their responses. Mid-lesson checks offer an opportunity to bring the class together for a reset. The information you gather may lead you to take immediate action, such as asking a small group of students who have shown they need more support to review a concept or making you aware of what to look out for during the remainder of the lesson.
Putting Ideas Into Action
What’s the best way to put these strategies into action? Choose one of the tactics listed above to plug into your weekly routine. You might decide to use a tool that students are already familiar with to start. This way, you can easily shift how you use it during other parts of the day to gather actionable formative assessment data in the midst of a lesson. For example, if you already use a tool like Mentimeter to create word clouds when kicking off a new unit of study, try the scale feature in the middle of an upcoming lesson for a pulse check.
As you review the ways you currently check for understanding, choose just one idea from the list. Try it out and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t provide value or match your goals for formative assessment, switch it up, try another idea, and pick one to build into your routine.