Problem (Tech) Solved: Comprehension Checks 1

For as long as I have been teaching, I have witnessed a similar pattern occurring time and time again in my various classrooms. Regardless of whether it was 40 Japanese high school students, 20 Chinese university students, or even just 5 ESL students from different countries in my classroom, when a question is posed to the entire class, the comprehensible response comes from just a small portion of students.

Sometimes students who want to answer will raise their hands and wait to be called on, or I may even call on students to answer. Then I have one response. Other times, the whole class more or less answers at the same time, and I have a majority or perhaps simply the loudest response. Sound familiar? The traditional call and response format cannot give educators a clear picture of what each individual student understands. After making it through a whole class review session where every single question was answered correctly, it may be surprising when some students score poorly on an assessment. Depending on the type of review, that could be due, at least in part, to the call and response format presenting an inaccurate representation of student understanding and knowledge. This is a problem that I have struggled with in the past but have now solved with the help of a student response system.

Student response systems, which used to be characterize by infrared clickers, have come quite a long way in recent years. There are many options to choose from, with Socrative and Kahoot! being two that I would recommend for one-to-one classrooms, where each teacher and student has a device, and Plickers being the best option I have seen for one-device classrooms. All three of these and many others are free and easy to use for both teachers and students.

Personally, I have used Socrative the most because it was the first one I stumbled upon and I have not found a reason to switch to another yet. In Socrative, I primarily use the multiple-choice or true/false questions in the “Quick Question” feature. With each student on his or her own device, I open up a quick question and ask every student to respond. I can watch the percentages change and see how many students have responded in real time. With this information, I can immediately determine if students need more practice or are ready to move on to the next topic. It is truly eye-opening to see a true/false question I perceived to be an easy question divide a class right down the middle. Other features like the Quiz can also be useful for gathering information about student comprehension, and Socrative’s reporting format makes it easy to see patterns in the data, too.

If you have ever wondered what your introverted, shy, off-task, quiet, or lower-level learners are really comprehending, start using a student response system. The 10–15 minutes it might take for students to adjust to whatever resource you choose is well worth the investment. Honestly, they will probably catch on even faster than you do, and that is 100% okay! You may even find other instructors at your school start using it, too—and why not? As teachers, don’t we want to know how ALL of our students are doing?

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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2 Responses to Problem (Tech) Solved: Comprehension Checks 1

  1. Leanne Brady says:

    Hello Ms. Arntsen, I really enjoyed reading your post. I current teach third grade and have had similar problems regarding comprehension formative assessments. I have an EL student in my class as well and they are very reserved in the classroom when it comes to participating. I learned about Kahoot this summer, it is such an excellent tool! I do not like the time aspect of Kahoot though, sometimes my EL student will feel pressured into answering quickly instead of thinking through and reading the problem. I will have to check out Socrative as an alternative. I have also found a strategy that I have found effective when it comes to checking fro comprehension quickly. I use reporting back, it bridges the gap between spoken and written language. How it works is that students describe their experience using vocabulary that is connected with the experience, so that the rest of the class has an understanding of the materials and sequence of actions that were used. Students can write their reporting back summary down as a reference for later use. This helps the teacher informally check they know how to do the math problem or know the main idea of the story that was read. There are so many different ways of informally checking student’s comprehension. Thank you for your Socrative insights!

  2. Taylor Carwile says:

    I can too agree that call and response type activities don’t give teachers an accurate reading of each students’ understanding. I, at first, used that method for checking for understanding during lessons, but then was puzzled with my test data when it showed that not all students were scoring as high as I expected them to. I have now found that “exit Tickets” are giving me more effective and reliable information to go by when checking for student’s individual understanding! I use my “exit Tickets” to progress monitor as well as adjust instruct to meet all needs of my students.

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