CFU is NOT a Four-Letter Word!

Not according to John Hollingsworth and Silvia Ybarra anyway!  In their book, Explicit Direct Instruction, CFU stands for “Checking for Understanding”. When implemented properly, CFUs become the backbone of effective instruction because, like all good formative assessment, it helps “inform” your instruction.

So, how do we do this?  To check for understanding, teachers ask students questions that are interspersed throughout a lesson. This is to continually verify that students are learning what is being taught while it is being taught.  In this way, teachers can uncover any confusion that may exist and address those misconceptions right away during the lesson.  The pattern should look like this:   Teach and check.  Teach and check.  Teach and check.

Although this sounds quite simple, it can be hard to implement effectively.  That is because most teachers are not in the habit of following the “teach and check” pattern constantly throughout a lesson. However, if you wait to check only when looking a quiz grades, class projects, or state test scores in order to see if they have ‘learned’ what you ‘thought you had taught’, it may be too late to modify your instruction.  In the meantime, students may have been storing misinformation and practicing incorrect skills. Using CFUs will assist teachers in knowing when to speed up, slow down, or reteach a concept or strategy.  Your students’ success on CFUs, in essence, determines the pacing of your lesson.

Checking for understanding every few minutes throughout a lesson helps to guarantee high performance from your students. By continually doing CFUs throughout a lesson, you will have provided additional examples and reteaching in response to the students’ ability to answer your questions.  It also allows you to know that your students can master the homework (their practice) before you assign it. CFUs also help to break up a lesson and make it more engaging and interactive.

It is important that teachers plan what questions they will ask as CFUs.  When a teacher prepares their explicitly designed lesson, these CFUs are strategically placed within the lesson in order to let the teacher know if his or her students understand fully what is being taught.  Critical components of using CFUs effectively are:

  1. The question must be posed to the entire class.
  2. The teacher must provide wait time so that ALL students can think about the question and come up with an answer—even if they are not the ones called upon.
  3. The teacher should always call on a random non-volunteer (If one always calls on the ‘hand waiver’ this will give the teacher a false sense that the entire class is learning.  A teacher can only know if all students are learning by calling on several students in a random fashion).

TAPPLETo help teachers remember an easy way to check for understanding, DataWORKS came up with the acronym TAPPLE.  It stands for:

Teach First
Ask a Question (a specific question about what you just taught them)
Pause (wait time to engage all students so they are mentally preparing to answer)
Pick a Non-Volunteer (use data mining by picking on at least 3 students each time)
Listen to the Response (determine the student’s level of understanding)
Effective Feedback (Echo—when the student response is correct, Elaborate—when the student response is tentative or partially correct, Explain—actually, re-explain, when the student answer is incorrect)   *As a teacher, you always want each child to go away with saying and knowing the correct response!

In our next blog, we will share some examples…some very simple strategies for checking for understanding that teachers can immediately incorporate into tomorrow’s lesson!


2 thoughts on “CFU is NOT a Four-Letter Word!

  1. Cool blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand
    out. Plesase let me know where you got your design. With thanks

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