Sunday, April 8, 2012

Checking for Understanding

Fisher, Douglas & Frey, Nancy. (2007). Checking for Understanding. Formative

Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom. Alexandria: ASCD publications.


I found this book to be a good resource for helping me understand and define what I mean by self-assessment. In this book, there were many examples of how a teacher can check for understanding, not in a summative way, but in a formative manner. "Checking for understanding," according to Fisher and Frey “is not the final exam or the state achievement tests…. Checking for understanding is a systematic approach to formative assessment.”(p.3). Formative assessments are ongoing assessments that improve a teacher’s instructional practice and one that gives constant feedback to students in the process of their learning. Through thorough observations, teachers are informally assessing student progress minute to minute. That is to say that the teacher is really paying attention which leads me to my action research in which listening to students and their own assessment of their learning will develop self-directed learners. The set of tools for formative assessments given in this resource will help a teacher get to really know their students and will help guide instruction. If students know that they are being heard, then students will develop into self-regulated learners.


“Close observations, deep knowledge of developmental processes, and content expertise had yielded a critical path analysis that anticipated the permutations a learner might take in learning…Checking for understanding should do the following:

  • Align with enduring understandings (Wiggins & Mc Tighe, 1998)
  • Allow for differentiation (Tomlinson, 1999)
  • Focus on gap analysis (Bennett et al., 2004)
  • Lead to precise teaching (Fullan, et al., 2006)” (p.12)

“Oral language development is not simply teaching children to speak. Oral language development must focus on student’s ability to communicate more effectively. Oral language involves thinking, knowledge, and skills that develop across the life span.”(p17)


When I think of self-assessment, I think of how a student looks at their own learning, their own work. The student evaluates their own progress, sets personal learning goals, and strives to either improve or challenge himself or herself in what they are learning. . I think focusing on formative type of assessments will help students reflect on their own practices and understandings, and will in turn guide them to be life-long learners.

There were many quotes that struck me and drew me in to read further. The first quote above has made me really hone in on what I specifically want to do as a teacher and how to really listen to students. As the educator, I must create lessons that teach for essential understandings, that are differentiated, that look at closing achievement gaps between groups, and that help me personalize instruction.

Understanding that oral language is an important element in checking for understanding will help me create a culture of dialogue in my classroom. What I saw in the classrooms that I peer coached in was the “initiate-respond-evaluate model’ which is basically when the teacher asks a question, students answer the question, and then the teacher evaluates the response.”(p.22). This type of questioning is apparently typical in most classrooms. The teacher is the central figure in the learning environment. I want to build a classroom of self-directed learners and if this is the typical model, then this model will not work. In the chapter on checking for understanding using oral language, I found several ideas that will help create a culture of dialogue. One example was called “Accountable Talk.” “Accountable Talk is a framework for teaching students about discourse in order to enrich interaction.”(p.23) I like the guidelines of: staying on topic, using information that is true and appropriate, and thinking deeply about what the other person has to say. I have posted on my whiteboard at school ways to engage in scholarly conversations, but I want to add to those posted dialogue stems. This may push student conversations forward. I think I want to add another indicator that includes evaluative/reflective comments or phrases such as: “I want to further pursue this because…. I want to get clarification because I don’t understand…..I feel I know this, and I want to get back to you with evidence to support….”are a few examples.

No comments:

Post a Comment