As you are teaching, what tools do you use to determine if students are following you and understand the concepts you teach? We may check for understanding informally by scanning the room for students who seem to be engaged: eyes looking at us, following directions, quiet attentiveness etc., but how do we really know that our students are comprehending the language and content that we hope to impart to them? Do we wait until they have completed their homework to check for understanding? Do we wait until the end of class when the boldest of students may be willing to say that they do not understand? I argue that it's too late to wait until you are "done teaching." It is true that about half of the time I see teachers scanning student papers or circulating in class watching what students are doing when it is independent practice time, but even this is not enough.
One of the most crucial times to check for understanding is when you are delivering instruction. We need to make sure that, for example, every student understands how to multiply using the lattice method; which is the verb in the sentence; or brainstorm two types of animals to compare and contrast using a Venn diagram before we set them to practice on their own. How many students do we send off to work without first being sure they are ready to work independently? One of the most powerful tools to make sure you are checking for understanding is an individual whiteboard and dry erase marker. Stop every 1-5 minutes when giving students comprehensible input and ask them to answer a question on their whiteboard and hold up their answer. For example, "What is a factor?" "Make a list of 3 verbs you have heard in class today." "Write the name of an amphibian and 2 of their characteristics." Ongoing assessment and the feedback that it provides is essential for all students but indispensable for teaching ELLs. Using individual whiteboards as a tool for constant assessment saves time, increases your ability to guide instruction effectively, and helps us to not leave ELLs behind!
If you have whiteboards in your classroom, dust them off and check out this video with lots of ideas for ways to use them!
Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.