Checking Understanding, Providing Feedback, and Adapting

In this series of articles, we highlight research-based practices that are making a profound impact on student learning at 175 award-winning NCUST schools. We discovered 8 specific practices common in these schools. In this post, we shine a spotlight on the teaching practice of Checking Understanding, Providing Feedback, and Adapting.

On the Minds of Educators Striving to Produce Equity and Excellence:

How can I get each and every one of my students to believe, “My teacher knows how I am understanding this concept right now and is continuously giving me feedback to guide me toward mastery”? Checking understanding and providing feedback is high-quality formative assessment. It is not an event (such as giving a semester test) as much as it is a way of teaching. Effective teaching practices help teachers continuously know how their students are making sense of what they are teaching. Educators can use this practice tool from Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools to guide a PLC team in identifying strategies that enhance this practice.

Cindy Garcia from Concourse Village Elementary discusses constantly adapting teaching based upon the answers students provide.


Teaching Practices from Americas Best Urban Schools

Authors of Teaching Practices From America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez, 2019) write, “In high-performing urban schools, teachers checked student understanding not simply as a routine or a compliance behavior, but as a means to understand what students were thinking. Thus, we observed teachers asking frequent questions and taking time to listen carefully to student responses. In contrast, some teachers ask questions without listening intently to student responses (Black & Wiliam, 1998). For example, some teachers proceed to answer their own question after waiting only a few seconds for a student response. In other cases, the teacher fails to acknowledge a student’s appropriate response, because the teacher had a predetermined, more limited notion of the correct answer. Teachers we observed in high-performing urban schools were more likely to listen attentively in order to understand what their students were thinking. In high-performing urban schools, teachers try to ensure that all students have abundant opportunities to respond to questions. They want evidence that each and every student is making progress toward developing deeper levels of understanding. Teachers acquire such evidence through both their question-posing strategies and their careful attention to the responses of each student.

Authors of When Black Students Excel (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Stanley J. Munro, Jr.) found that teachers in high-performing schools frequently checked to determine what students understood, their depth of understanding, and the reasoning behind their understanding. Teachers used many strategies to check levels of understanding frequently, including asking students to work in pairs or in small groups to generate responses, calling upon students randomly, asking students to write answers on dry erase boards or whiteboards, or asking students to use technology to share their thinking. These strategies were used abundantly in the six featured schools. Continuously, teachers checked to determine what Black students understood and adapted their instruction accordingly.

Leadership in America's Best Urban Schools

Authors of Leadership Practices in America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez) write,”In the high-performing urban schools we studied, we observed teachers engaging in a wide range of practices to determine the level of active cognitive engagement of their students. Frequent questions prompted high levels of student engagement and also helped teachers determine what students understood. To acquire feedback from many students, teachers used a variety of strategies. For example, we rarely observed teachers asking one student to approach the front of the classroom to solve a problem at the board. This traditional classroom technique allows a teacher to determine one student’s level of understanding while 30 others sit dormant. Instead, in high-performing urban schools, we saw classrooms in which students used individual whiteboards so that each student could simultaneously solve the problem. Then, the teacher circulated around the room to watch students solve the problem and/or the teacher asked all students to raise their whiteboards simultaneously to show their answers. Not only was every child engaged in solving the problem, but the teacher also acquired useful information about each student’s ability to understand and solve the problem.

Concourse Village Elementary School
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