Monitoring Student Learning
Has this ever happened to you?
You have taught your students a new skill – say, for example, multiplying fractions. The lesson seems to go pretty well. You hand out a worksheet of 20 problems for them to complete and hand in to you before they leave. You pack the papers into your briefcase, and that evening, in front of a Seinfeld rerun, you start to correct them – and find, much to your horror, that there are mistakes – LOTS of mistakes…
You know that new learning is like wet cement, and that it will take many repetitions now for students to both block out the wrong methods and learn the correct ones. So…
How might you prevent this from happening again?
In your teaching, you need to gather evidence:
- from all learners (not just a few who raise their hands)
- during the lesson (not later, when you aren’t with your students)
- on the key points being taught, so that an informed decision can be made about what to do next.
This skill is known as “Monitor and Adjust,” or “Check for Understanding.” There are two parts to it, each with two steps.
Elicit an observable behavior (see “Active Participation Techniques - Overt”) that proves the learning – from all learners, during the lesson.
- Example: You taught students how to tell if a subtraction problem requires regrouping. As you point to a problem on the overhead, they put thumbs up if it needs regrouping, thumbs down if not.
- Example: You taught students how to write transitions in their essays. You put a paragraph on the overhead, and ask students to write a transition for the next paragraph.
- Example: You taught students the correct batting stance for softball. You say, “Okay, everyone assume the batting position!”
Observe all learners – Walk around the room to check everyone, or observe everyone’s overt signal.
NOTE: This is not the time to tutor individual students. It takes too long, and you may find that many students have the same question – one that you can answer more efficiently with the whole group at once. You are simply “dip-sticking;” you’re checking your teaching, to see what students learned and what they did not.
Interpret the results. There are three kinds of answers you can see:
- Partially correct
If all or part is incorrect, you need to figure out why. In this order, ask yourself:
- Is it the content? (Is it too hard, or incomplete?)
- Is it the teaching? (Do I need to try another strategy?)
- Is it the learners? (Is there a distraction? Is a student sick, hungry, or depressed?)
Act on your interpretation.
If all students successfully learned, you can either:
- Go on with the lesson, OR
- Assign practice
If many were unsuccessful and you know why, you can:
If many were unsuccessful and you don’t know why, you should quit (the lesson, not teaching!) and go on to something else until you can figure it out.
- Reteach (perhaps trying a new strategy), OR
- Back up and review
What if some students “got it,” while others did not? You might team up a student who learned correctly with one who needs some help.
- You could work with a small group of those who need more instruction while the others practice.
- You could tutor individuals while the others practice.
- You could have an educational assistant work with individuals or a small group.
Why is this skill important?
- It keeps you teaching to the correct level of difficulty.
- It allows you to make decisions about what to do next based upon data, rather than upon the clock or your “feeling” about how the lesson went.
- It allows you to correct wrong learning immediately. This saves a tremendous amount of time.