“Checking for Understanding” has become a misunderstood educational catch phrase. The one thing that can be agreed upon is that “CFU” is checking if there is understanding of what has been taught. The misunderstanding lies in the relationship between the intention, the response, and the conclusion.
First, there seems to be a disconnect between the purpose of asking Checking for Understanding questions and the manner in which the questions are posed. Many teachers believe if they are posing questions they are checking for understanding.
One purpose of checking for understanding is to determine which students do not know specific information and to determine exactly what they do not know. Calling on a single student to answer a single question will not give a teacher the necessary data to determine which students do not know the information and what exactly the students do not know.
A comment and question I have for teachers to help clarify the intent of checking for understanding is, “That is a great question. Which students in your class need to know the answer to that question?”
Inevitably the teacher answers, “Everyone needs to know the answer.”
Second, there is a deficit in the usual training associated with Checking for Understanding as it relates to the intent and purpose. Most trainings focus on mechanics, i.e., selecting random students through the employment of playing cards, dice, popsicle sticks, equity cards, etc. And of course, now there are apps available for tablets and smart phones that teachers can use to randomize the selection of students to call on to answer a Checking for Understanding question.
Mechanics are helpful, but using one of the above randomizing strategies does not guarantee the teacher is collecting the necessary data on who does not know, and what don’t they know.
Here is checklist to help teachers become better at Checking for Understanding:
Write your Checking for Understanding questions in advance. (Creating targeted questions and higher-level questions are difficult to think of during a lesson.)
Pose the question to the entire class before you call on any student to answer and know that if you call on one student, you’re only getting data on that ONE student.
Give think time before calling on a student. You can allow silent think time, partner think-pair-share, group think time, etc.
Recognize what understanding is essential for all students to know in order to do the independent work and what understanding will need to be synthesized and developed over time.
Remember, which students need to know the information in the lesson? ALL OF THEM!