Have My Students Learned What I Taught Today?

Knowing How to Gather Evidence of Student Understanding is Key to Effective Classroom Instruction

Knowing How to Gather Evidence of Student Understanding is Key to Effective Classroom Instruction

How do teachers know what their students have learned? Especially when they do not want to wait for a formal test to gather that timely information. Effective classroom instruction and more importantly, improving student performance, can be realized when teachers know how to elicit evidence of students’ understanding on a daily basis.

Informal and formal methods of collecting evidence of student understanding have been shown to enable teachers to make positive instructional changes. In 1989, Thomas Carpenter, Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education, and some fellow researchers examined one informal method by randomly assigning 20 first-grade teachers to participate in a month-long workshop. During this workshop, teachers focused on posing problems, questioning students regarding their problem-solving strategies, and listening to those strategies. (Using knowledge of children’s mathematics thinking in classroom teaching: An experimental study. American Educational Research Journal, 26(4), 499–531.)

When compared to teachers in the control groups, these teachers had a better understanding of their students’ abilities and were better able to predict performance. In addition, students in these classes outperformed their peers on a mathematics achievement test. The researchers hypothesized that the teachers’ ability to understand the processes that students were using may have helped them to adapt instruction; they would try different activities, resulting in higher achievement.

In 1991, Douglas Fuchs, Head of Special Education at Vanderbilt University, and some of his research colleagues investigated a more formal method of collecting information of student learning. These researchers trained teachers to use a set of curriculum-based formative assessments to systematically collect and use evidence of student proficiency. The researchers randomly assigned 33 teachers to a treatment and control group and found that teachers using the program made more instructional adjustments than those teachers who relied on informal classroom observations. (Effects of curriculum-based measurement and consultation on teacher planning and student achievement in mathematics operations. American Educational Research Journal, 28(3), 617–641.)

Changing daily teaching practice is hard. One way that teachers can learn how to leverage classroom questions, discussions, and learning tasks is with a teacher-sustained program like NWEA’s Keeping Learning on Track (KLT). KLT is a research-based program that can provide teachers with practical and effective classroom instruction techniques that help systematically elicit evidence of student learning. By highlighting student thinking and misconceptions, and eliciting information from more students, all teachers can collect more representative evidence and can therefore better plan instruction based on the current understanding of the entire class.

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