Today I was reading through Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey. In this book the authors outline six methods for checking for understanding, using:
- oral language
- projects and performances
- tests, and
- common formative assessments.
A few lines in the book stood out to me, which I thought would be very helpful for teachers and administrators in the field. In the first chapter, the authors discuss the need for checking for understanding (CFU), and make the argument that asking questions like, “Do you get it?” or “Who is having trouble understanding?”, is not good enough. They make the point: “… students aren’t always self-regulated learners. They may not be aware of what they do or do not understand. They sometimes think they get it, when they really don’t.” This stood out to me because it reminded me of many of my former students. At times I was amazed that they often didn’t really know whether they understood something — they couldn’t “put it together”. Checking for understanding is one way to accurately check whether they understood what you have taught. CFU gives the teacher real time information and allows the teacher to make real-time decisions. In order to do this effectively, the authors tell us we need to: clarify the purpose with specific goals that are achievable in the lesson; respond to student work in terms that are directly related to the objective; and modify instruction based on data gathered.
The book goes in to much more detail on how to know why the student has made a mistake (e.g., did they know how to solve the problem but lost focus, or do they not know how to solve the problem?), and what we need to do to problem solve each. It also has a chapter devoted to each of the six techniques above. The authors do a nice job of outlining what each practice is and is not, and use evidence from research to support each. They also do a really nice job of giving real-world examples for each. Overall I thought this book would be helpful for new and experienced teachers alike, who are looking for some new ways, and some old tried-and-true ways, of knowing what your students have and haven’t mastered.
Full citation: Fischer, D. & Frey, N. (2014). Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom: 2nd Edition, ASCD.