After writing my previous blog on the best method for checking understanding, I carried on thinking about how we can check for understanding effectively. We know we want to check all pupils during a lesson, but we realise that this can be a rather challenging task. At best, we get a cursory glance of everyone’s work, as we frantically scuttle around the room.
The solution? Enable pupils to check their own understanding through instant feedback. As a profession, we regularly commend ‘instant feedback’, because it can provide immediacy in correcting misunderstanding. So, how can we deliver instant feedback to all, if we can’t get round to every pupil during the lesson?
This blog was inspired in part by Peps McCrea’s researchED national talk on ‘Developing Expert Teaching’. Peps spoke of how playing darts provides you with instant feedback. He said, and I am paraphrasing loosely here, “If you aim for a bullseye and you miss, you know straight away that you have not hit the bullseye. You have instant feedback”. Know what failure looks like.
So, if we provide pupils with the general idea of what failure looks like, they can tell if they have gone wrong and therefore actively seek out teacher help sooner. Seems a far more economic and efficient way of getting to the children that need help, doesn’t it? Now, I admit this may not be possible in every lesson in every subject, but it can travel some distance in helping us occasionally.
What does this actually look like in the classroom?
Here is an example I have used in maths recently, while teaching long multiplication to a group of struggling year 6 children. In particular, they struggled with remembering to put a placeholder in the second row of multiplication. I would give them a question like 64 x 23 and I would say to them, “Your answer must end in a 2”. I wouldn’t tell them how I knew this, because I wanted them to think for themselves how I knew this to be the case without solving the question. Yet, with me telling them the parameters their answer must fall within, they had instant feedback when they got an answer wrong.
This was providing them with an idea of what failure looks like. If they don’t get an answer ending in 2, then they must have made a mistake. They could then put their hand up and seek out my help more quickly. You’ll notice that I was giving them just enough information to focus on what it was I was trying to teach them about: the placeholder. The learners were provided with something to check their understanding against – “I didn’t get an answer ending in 2. Why not? What have I missed? And why must it end in 2?”
Through telling students what failure looked like, it enabled them to focus more readily on how to avoid it.
Above: the answer to the question with the placeholder explicitly shown, so that students understand why the answer had to end with a 2. As the placeholder is 0, the answer will always end in the same amount of ones as the product of the two ones digits in the question multiplied together. In this case, 3 x 4 made 12, so the final answer must end in 2.