A 2010 Atlantic Monthly article discussed the test scores of students who were taught by Teach for America program teachers over a 20 year period. The incredible amount of data, tracked and complied by the Teach for America program itself, offers educators an invaluable opportunity to witness proven best practices in teaching. Interestingly, one of the habits of highly successful teachers was that they systematically checked for their students’ understanding.William Taylor

With IT as such a critical discipline for K-12 students, it’s more important than ever to ensure that our young people are mastering the concepts they need to succeed on their academic IT path.

As you work to nurture students with an interest in IT (and encourage those who are unsure about the field), we hope you might discover some insights or inspiration from these findings.

Ask Yourself Questions to Check for Student Understanding

Because students aren’t always the best judges of their own learning, you as a teacher must actively solicit their input about how well they’ve learned a certain concept. These assessment questions, taken from this Edutopia article, might be a helpful way for you to assess how well your students grasped key objectives:

How do you know that your students learned what you wanted them to learn?

  • How well did they learn the objective?
  • Who mastered it and who didn’t?
  • Which parts of the objective did students struggle with? What misconceptions did they have?

Utilize Formative Assessment

Formative Assessment (FA), as opposed to Summative Assessment, monitors student understanding and progress during the course of instruction. Its ultimate goal is to increase student comprehension by improving teaching methods. You teach a concept, you check for understanding using Formative Assessment, and then you adjust your next teaching plan based on your findings from the FA.

Formative Assessment also gives students the power to monitor their own progress— thereby leaving fewer surprises about grades at the end of a unit or semester.

Some ways to use Formative Assessments to check for understanding include:

  • Questioning strategies, used with the whole class or with individuals
  • Think-pair-share, during which you’ll circulate the classroom and listen to students sharing
  • Individual mini-white boards for sharing answers during a lesson
  • An “exit ticket,” in which a student reflects on their learning from the day, or answers a question or two
  • Specific hand-signals, as a quick and easy way to check for understanding


Teacher Profile: William Taylor

One teacher mentioned in the Atlantic Monthly article, William Taylor, is a math teacher at Kimball Elementary school. Kimball is located in a low-income area of Southeast Washington D.C., where 80% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Taylor has achieved some pretty impressive results. By the end of the 2008-2009 school year, 90% of his class was doing math above their grade level. Among other methods, he used interactive Formative Assessments during class. During one class, he called out questions such as “How many 5’s are in 45?” and then had students write their answers on index cards and silently display them. In this way, he could scan and mentally note which students needed extra help, without embarrassing them.

Checking for understanding can be a very simple process. When employed correctly, it will hopefully increase student comprehension and help you meet your objectives as an educator.