Monday, November 17, 2014

Checking For Student Comprehension


Checking for Student Comprehension

How do you get students to show you what they know? 


The number one job that a teacher has is to assess his/her students. It is knowing what the students know and what they don’t that gives teachers the information they need to set their students up for success.  Comprehension checks are invaluable assessment tools

The trick is always, ‘how do I get them to show me what they know?’  Once we figure this out, we can give students an opportunity to demonstrate their level of understanding and adapt our instruction according to their needs.

There are both effective and not-so effective ways to check for comprehension.  Here are five typical ways teachers check student understanding:
Checking for Comprehension and TESOL Trainers - John Kongsvik K-23 teacher training in working with ELLs
  1. The Look:  This instructor looks at the students’ faces and thinks, They all seemed to understand.”
  2. The Feeling:  This teacher scans the classroom with his/her intuition and says, “It really felt like they were getting it.”
  3. The Question:  This educator asks the class if they understand and states, “I asked them and they all nodded, yes.”
  4. The Test:  This instructor uses formal test, reviews it and considers, “It looks like they’re getting this but not that.”
  5. The Show & Tell:  This teacher gets the students to show they understand and considers, “What is this telling me about the students’ needs?”

Checking for comprehension is not only vital, but it can be a wonderful way to engage students when done effectively.

 More on Comprehension Checking Strategies...


Checking for Comprehension in the Classroom

As TESOL instructors or content-area instructors, we are constantly searching for ways to determine when learning is or isn’t taking place.  We have undoubtedly used a host of different ways of checking for comprehension, and have gotten useful and not-so useful feedback on learning progress.

Let’s examine each of these comp checking ways to uncover the benefits and challenges that each presents.


The Look:  Looking at our students for signals of whether or not they are getting it is, in and of itself, not a bad strategy.  After all, when students are totally lost, it’s hard to hide the global confusion.  

The challenge is weeding out those who aren’t from those who are.  It doesn’t feel good to ‘look’ foolish, and some people tend to veil this more than others.  

Gauging student learning by looking at the students’ faces gives us a surface level understanding, but it’s not always accurate and rarely complete.

The Feeling:  Intuition is a good thing; the effective teachers that I’ve known always seemed to sense exactly when we got off track.  The more experience that we have teaching, the more honed this skill becomes.  It is perhaps how we use this that matters most.

The challenge comes in putting so much trust in intuition alone.  Some students may feel like they are getting it but aren’t getting it at all.  Other students may sense they aren’t getting but may do their best to hide this.  

Using our sixth sense gives us a piece of the puzzle, not much else.


The Question:  There are some cases in which ‘do you understand?’ and ‘any questions?’ work.  Confident, out-going students may voice their lack of comprehension, but most may not.  

Think about your experience as a student.  How many times has a teacher asked your class this question only to receive silent answers?  For a variety of reasons (fear, boredom, proficiency) we respond, ‘yes’ when we really want to say, ‘No’.  

Asking students if they get it may be the easiest way, but it rarely gives us really useful clues.

The Test:  Formal tests whether on one lesson or a unit provide key information on where learning is happening.  Armed with this data, we can make decisions on what to students have mastered and what they need more of.  

The challenge is that we often receive this data after the fact.  Waiting until after the teaching is over to assess student learning inhibits us from adjusting our teaching in real time, according to their needs.  

Formal assessments are powerful comprehension checking tools but often come too late.

The Show & Tell:  Getting students to show what they know in the moment gives a teacher summative data in real time about learning.  Showing and telling is simply providing students with opportunities to demonstrate comprehension non-verbally, verbally, or in writing at any point in the lesson. 

The challenge is to do this effectively and efficiently.  Asking each individual student to show comprehension eats up a lot of time.  

Getting students to demonstrate their understanding is the ticket to understanding their needs. 

There are many ways to check for student comprehension.  

Each comprehension checking strategy has its advantages and disadvantages.  Effective teachers use a combination of comprehension checking tools to measure student learning.  Effective teachers also rely heavily on informal assessments (formative) throughout the lesson to monitor how the content and delivery of the lesson is supporting student learning.

In the next post, we’ll unpack the show and tell ticket to supporting student learning...and one of the easiest ways to engage students.

I’m tempted to ask you if you understand and dying to know if there are any questions.

So, come on; show me what you know about checking for comprehension strategies.

If your educational institution who like professional development on effective comprehension checking strategies, please contact us or visit our website.  

John Kongsvik and TESOL Trainers Set all students up for success

TESOL Trainers


TESOL Trainers is an education consulting company that sets every student up for success, one teacher at a time.

We work with all types of educational institutions (K-12, Higher Ed) that support excellence in teaching and excellence in learning.

TESOL Trainers, Inc. offers Professional Development on SIOP (Sheltered Instruction) that is experiential, educational, and empowering.  


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