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Instructional Strategies that Support Learning

Checking for Understanding

Sixth-grade language arts teacher, Jessica Wood, uses a variety of checking for understanding strategies to ensure that all of her students at the Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield, MA are meeting learning targets.

This video accompanies the book Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment.


- My goal for today was for students to understand what a simile is, and to experiment with making up their own. When class starts, we focus on the daily learning target. Daily learning target grounds students in exactly what it is that they need to learn for the day. All right clap twice if you can hear me! Clap twice. Thank you so much. DLT for today is what? Oh my goodness, Devron, yes, go ahead.

- I can use simile in my character sketch.

- Lovely. We check in on the daily learning target at least three times during class. What is it all about for big learning targets? If everybody wants, take a minute and look. Where does this go? Irina, what do you think?

- I can use effective language skills.

- We do an agenda walk so that the kids know what’s coming. Do now? Over. Activator poem is our next step. Mini lesson, then we’re gonna have workshop model. Eight minutes of work time, two minutes on, and then we’ll run through that three times. And when we have a workshop model like today, the students know from the get-go that the time they have to work is broken up into small segments. They also know that they’re responsible for setting a goal at the beginning of each of those. They’re able to check in on those goals and that builds their capacity to self-assess.

- Our goal for this character sketch is to get a simile in there to kinda describe what they’re like.

- What’s a good smart goal in terms of writing? What can you finish in 10 minutes? What do you think, Dominic?

- [Dominic] If you work hard enough, maybe a paragraph?

- Yeah, let’s shoot for a paragraph. One paragraph. Folks with drafts, come on up here. Everybody else, 10 minutes starts now.

- He was a hero ‘cause he saved a lady’s purse so you wanna say he’s a superhero?

- She’s old, but she looks like a 10 year old. She acts like a 10 year old.

- Oh!

- Today when I went around the class... Are you confused on how to do a simile ‘cause you gave me a fist. I noticed that a lot of students were struggling with how to come up with a simile. Where would they put it in their writing? Try and think of something that’s different, something from nature. I chose to stop the class to catch them all and say okay, we can focus on a character trait. We can focus on appearance. And walk them through the process of creating a simile in one of those two areas. Lots of people still writing. Pens and pencils down. So there are some folks in here who are really good at doing this simile thing. And there are a couple people who need to get refocused. So. I want somebody, in their own words, look up at the DLT... What are we trying to do today in class? Eddie Crumb.

- I can use simile in my character sketch.

- [Jessica] Yup. Who can challenge and add to what he just said. Evan?

- We’re trying to grab the reader’s attention.

- [Jessica] Mm hmm. Yup. Grab the reader’s attention, that’s part of it.

- To make them wanna read more. Yes. So hook ‘em in, make ‘em wanna read more. But what does a simile do for you when that happens? Kev, what do you think? What does a simile help you do in your head?

- Makes me think more.

- [Jessica] Okay, makes you think more.

- Like, let’s say you put her hair is smooth as like a flat rock.

- Checking for understanding drives the lesson. I always know the place I’m headed, but to make sure that everybody’s on that train, I have to be checking for understanding all the time. What do you think of when you think of brave? Go ahead.

- Kim is as brave as a hawk.

- Oooh, a hawk. I check for understanding by using cold call so that I’m sure that I’m getting everybody all the time. Okay. Here we go. I also like to use thumbs up, thumbs to the middle, thumbs down a lot. You hear it and it makes sense to you, but you didn’t find it, gimme a thumbs to the side. I do fist of five, students pairing up and then sharing out. Once they share with each other...

- His thinness make him look like a walking skeleton.

- Perfect. I prioritize ending all of my classes with a strong debrief. This rubric is gonna start our debrief. We are starting right now. Qualities of a strong debrief are students clearly understand the daily learning target and the steps that they took to get to that daily learning target. I need somebody to explain in their own words what a simile is. Modesto?

- A simile is using like or as in a sentence.

- Yup. Using like or as in a sentence, you’re absolutely right. There’s one other part to it. Yanni, help him out. It’s my job to be checking for understanding with every student in my class and adjusting my instruction so that I’m reaching every student in that class, meeting every student’s needs. We gotta long list so people are gonna have to listen ‘cause I’m coming back to all of you. Alynn. If I’m not checking for understanding with every student on a regular basis, then I’m not getting that job done. Modesto.

- A simile. Two unlike things.

- Very good. We have time for thrive. Define thrive. Jerial.

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