Today we are continuing our discussion of simple strategies for checking for understanding (CFU) and engaging ALL learners. If you read the last Special Education entry in this blog, you know that eliciting frequent responses from students by asking them to say, write, or do something to process the information they are learning is the most essential skill required for effective delivery of explicit instruction. This prevents students from “checking out” of instruction, what Anita Archer calls cognitive “floating.” More specifically, according to Rowe’s 10:2 Theory, students should engage in a maximum of 10 minutes of instruction followed by a two minute pause to process the learned information. In our last blog post, we discussed the use of whiteboard paddles as one strategy to accomplish this. Today, we introduce a few more easy-to-implement techniques that focus on eliciting responses from ALL learners rather than the traditional practice of calling on individual students to answer questions.
So, what are some quick, low-prep techniques to engage ALL students? There are several verbal response options. Try incorporating choral responses for short, simple, factual answers. When there are many possible answers to a question, a Whip Around works well with students quickly providing answers as you wind your way through the rows. For more divergent answers, try a think-pair-share where students have the opportunity to think about and discuss their ideas with a partner before sampling answers from the whole class.
If you like the idea of incorporating a small written component, then think-write-pair-share may do the trick. Other written response options include response slates or response cards. For simple true/false questions, have students hold up index cards with the word “True” printed on one side and “False” printed on the back. Or use the fronts and backs of two cards for multiple choice answers A, B, C, and D. Response cards can be used in any content area, using cards with mathematical operation signs, vocabulary terms, or graphemes (sh, wh, ch, th), for example.
Ready to try a bit more physical activity? Try one of these action responses. Thumbs up/thumbs down works really well for yes/no, true/false, agree/disagree type answers. Gestures or facial expressions such as “Show me glum” and “Show me not glum” are another option. How about getting kids up and moving with “Stand on your right foot if the answer is this, or stand on your left if the answer is that.” Or “Touch your head if this and touch your knees if that.”
Using unison response (saying an answer together, writing an answer on a response slate, holding up a response card, etc.) has two major benefits for struggling learners including students with disabilities and English Language Learners. First, students are practicing retrieving new information which has been linked to increased retention. Second, scaffolding is built in for reluctant learners as they have the opportunity to see and hear the answers from their peers before joining in and receiving immediate feedback on the accuracy of their responses.
Regardless of grade level or content area you are teaching, don’t send your students cognitive “floating” down that fast and furious river to nowhere. Instead, elicit frequent responses from your students to promote rehearsal and retention of information, to check for understanding, and to determine any necessary adjustments to the lesson pacing. So what are your thoughts? Which are your favorite techniques for checking understanding and eliciting responses from ALL students?