Checking for Understanding

CFU is really important in the I stage and the We stage of  a lesson. Students should be able to do independent practice (You stage) with minimal support and for this to happen, you need to use CFU properly.

The table below gives an overview of the different stages of the I-We-You continuum as well as how it matches ideas from Cognitive Load Theory and Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction.

I stage

You will either be explaining information or demonstrating a skill or process. CFU is important here to ensure that kids understand what you are doing.

Here is an overview of what this might look like when reading a text:

Here is an overview of what this might look like when you are modelling:

We Stage (Guided Practice)

Here is an overview of guided practice:

Features of Guided Practice:

  1. High Frequency of Questions and Overt Student Practice
  • Teachers should ask questions that are directly relevant to the new content or skill, ensuring that they choose the correct category of questions: procedural questions for processes and skill; declarative questions for content and knowledge.
  • Practice activities should be ‘overt’ in that it should be simple for the teacher to ascertain whether the student is performing correctly or not. Written work is ideal here as the teacher can move around the class to check all student responses.
  • Teachers should regularly check for understanding. This could be through oral questions or through checking written work as students are completing it.
  • If it is clear that a student or students do not understand something, the teacher should offer a repeated or additional explanation or relevant feedback as necessary
  • If it is clear that lots of students do not understand, it may be necessary to stop the guided practice and then reteach the whole class.

2) Ask lots of questions and check the responses of all students

Asking questions is an important part of teaching but if questions are to be useful, we need to think about why we are asking them. Questions can be asked to check understanding, to push students to develop or improve their answer, to consider alternative viewpoints or to help them make links between ideas. Questions also provide pupils with vital practice on what is being taught.

Most of the time it is far more efficient to teach stuff, then ask students questions about what you have taught.  Beginning with eliciting questions like ‘Who knows what The Great Chain of Being is?’  or ‘What do you think ‘hubris’ means?’ before teaching them anything is probably not that useful. The worst example of this is ‘guess what’s in my head’ where a teacher asks a question with a specific answer in mind, hoping to elicit that specific answer from the class. This guessing game can go on for ages and is almost certainly a waste of time.

What should be the focus of Questioning?

Successful teachers ask more useful questions to as many students as possible. Their questions will focus on declarative knowledge (the content that is being taught) as well as procedural knowledge (the processes that students need to follow if they are to complete tasks properly.)

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Declarative Questions:

  1. What is the subject of the first sentence?
  2. What is the noun form of ‘benevolence’?
  3. If the audience knows something that the character does not, what is this technique called?
  4. Why does Macbeth want to kill Duncan?
  5. Who is responsible for Macbeth’s demise?

Procedural Questions:

  1. How did you find the answer to that question?
  2. What are the 5 steps you should follow when answering the examination question?
  3. Explain how to write an analytical introduction
  4. What you should include in your first paragraph and why it is important?
  5. How do you know that?

Asking procedural questions is really important. Not only does it provide additional practice as students are asked to explain how they have done something, but it allows other students to understand the process that the student used to complete the task.

Here are some useful strategies:

Using Mini-White Boards

Mini-white boards are ideal for checking an entire class’ answers at once. They are especially useful for lower order, closed and factual questions, their size prohibiting answers that are anything more than a few sentences.

Cold Call

This technique helps to ensure that all students are engaged and thinking about what you have asked. Assuming you have taught them what they need in order to answer the question, this can be an equitable and appropriate means of ensuring everyone thinks of an answer, an outcome that is more difficult to achieve with traditional ‘hands up’ style questioning.

Let’s have a look at an example.

Teacher: How do you know that Ozymandias was arrogant?

The teacher should then pause, allowing everyone the opportunity to think of answer

Teacher: Abimbola……………what do you think?

Choral Response

Asking an entire class to respond at the same time means that everyone answers the question. This allows for far more practice as well as providing the teacher with more comprehensive information about whether their students have understood. Choral response questions are ideally suited to lower order, closed and factual questions. For this approach to be successful, students need to respond at the same time. If some students are faster than others, the slower students can just copy the answer they hear instead of thinking for themselves. If you are thinking that this approach sounds weird or won’t work with teenagers, you may be pleasantly surprised: typically, they enjoy choral response, especially if the teacher is enthusiastic.

Let’s have a look at an example:

Teacher: Which rhetorical technique involves three ideas in succession?

The teacher then needs to give a cue: clicking fingers, saying ‘Go’, or dropping a raised arm all work well.

Whole class: Tricolon


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