Be Careful Of This When Checking For Student Understanding

By Tony Kline, Ph.D.

simple truth:

The influence of peers can have a powerful impact on individual behaviors.

In classrooms across the country, one way we check students' understanding is by asking them to show us a sign (often thumbs-up, using red/green colors, etc.) to signal if they understand the content.  When we see an array of thumbs up throughout the classroom, we continue with our instruction.  However, as educators, we must understand and be proactive regarding just how powerful the behaviors of peers can be on individual students.  Do the vast majority of students using the signal truly comprehend the material or are they conforming to their peers? Understanding this dynamic can greatly impact our ability to formatively assess their learning.

research tells us:

Researchers acknowledge that many students are aware and can be influenced by the behaviors of their peers.  Brett Laursen, Ph.D., a fellow of the American Psychological Association, notes that peer pressure can be seen even in very young children.  It's important to understand that this pressure doesn't have to be negative.  As teachers, we can create a learning environment where peers can encourage and model positive behavior in the classroom.  We need to be proactive in creating this environment.  An environment where students (and teachers) are encouraged to take risks, make mistakes, and critically think to solve problems. 

try this:

  • Be deliberate in creating a learning environment where we as teachers model how to take risks and make mistakes to grow as learners 

  • When we take risks, explain this with students in a transparent manner so that students understand the importance of thinking independently

  • Acknowledge and celebrate when students think independently and take risks, regardless if they give the correct answer 

  • Instead of just asking students to show a sign to signal their understanding, have them share their thinking with a partner

  • After the class shares their learning with a partner, choose a few students to explain their thinking to class, which further reinforces the content

watch this:


review & share this:

Maximizing End of Lessons.png

What strategies do you use to check for understanding?  Share a thought in the Comments section below.

For additional reading and referenced research, click here.