Frequent Assessments Guide Teaching: Part One

What assessment strategies work best for you? I use multiple checks for understanding to make sure my kids are building knowledge, not reinforcing mistakes.

By Stef Durr


assessment checklist

How do you know your kids are learning? How and when do you currently assess if your students are learning? A recent opportunity for professional development made me realize that the four to five ways I typically collect data are not enough to truly judge if individual learners are where they need to be. In this article, I’m going to share some of my go-to strategies to check the understanding of my class. Next week, I’ll use your strategies and suggestions to discuss which strategies to use at the beginning, middle, or end of the lesson.

Author Profile

My name is Stefanie Durr, and I currently teach in a sixth grade classroom in Denver’s urban area. I feel fortunate that my school provides extensive opportunities for professional development (PD), and the seminars often push me to reflect on my classroom happenings. After this particular PD session, I knew I wanted to expand the way I think about checks for understanding, show you all the strategies that currently work for me, and collect a variety strategies for our learning community here at Lesson Planet. Please contribute your successes and expertise by including your favorite strategies below. We’d love to hear what works for you! Below are eight assessments that worked well in my middle school classroom.

1. Do Nows or Pre-Assessments

These introductory activities help me gauge where my learners are at the beginning of the lesson, allowing me to tweak my lesson based on the results. For example, if we’re reviewing literary devices, and it’s clear that the class easily mastered similes and metaphors, those are two literary devices we won’t spend time covering during the lesson. Instead, I might bring in idioms, hyperboles, or other less-known literary devices.

2. Cold Calling

Posing a question to the group and calling on a class member, whether they have their hand raised or not, helps me understand who truly understands the concept. One suggestion that I got was to make sure I’m calling on learners from each of my leveled groups and to provide scaffolded questions based on the participant’s level.

3. Everybody Writes

Improve engagement and increase answer quality by asking everyone to write the answer to a question you give. This helps all kids prepare to answer the question, and it lends itself well to cold calling because everyone should have something to say after a brief period of writing. I often circulate to ensure kids are participating, and if I see something profound, I’ll let that student know he'll be one of the people I call on.

4. One-to-One Check-ins

Often difficult for me to achieve in my 33-person classroom, checking in one-on-one lets me use guiding questions to locate the area of confusion. Unfortunately, it’s so hard to check in with each individual, thus I usually aim to hit my lowest group first. These are my learners who can’t generally start an assignment without some guidance.

5. Differentiating Assignments

This is the first year that I decided to split my kids into groups based on their current levels. With three groups, it lets me create challenging, yet doable work for each group. So far, it's been pretty successful. Have any of you tried this strategy? Do you have tips?

6. Fist-to-Five

Sometimes the best way to check in with my class is to simply ask them how they’re doing. I conduct blind fist-to-fives (meaning they have to put their heads down, which typically avoids embarrassment for the kids who are really struggling), and I’ll make sure to immediately visit students who indicate their understanding is at either a zero or a one. Those with a three, four, or five can usually start the assignment independently and might not even need to check in with me.

7. White Boards

Sharing my classroom with one of the math teachers means I have 50 mini white boards at my disposal. I love asking my kids a question and having them record their answers on the boards. This lets me quickly look around the room to see who is struggling or who I can push to a deeper understanding.

8. Stretching the Correct Answer

This is a newer strategy for me, but I like that we get to sit on a correct answer for a while, encouraging those who are lost to find their way. Basically, if a student gives the correct answer, you don’t just applaud her and move on. Instead, you ask other classmates to explain why the answer is correct, how they got to the same answer, what advanced vocabulary they can use to answer the question again, or to find evidence that supports the correct answer.

What checks for understanding give you guidance in your classroom?