For the handful who check this blog out, just wanted to justify why I was absent last week…It was Chuseok…so I was in Andong with my family eating and checking out the Mask festival, so I decided to postpone my weekly reflection…
With uninspired consistency, I decided to focus again on a reflective question found in Richards and Lockheart’s seminal text: Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms. Today’s question: “How will I check on student understanding?”
Looking through my recent lesson plans and presentations I noted that I make ample consideration for checking student comprehension. My lesson plans are heavily power point directed. There’s ample room for criticism here, but in my experience in an EFL classroom, especially with middle school students, and especially in South Korea, students need the cueing and scaffolding which a power point can provide. Be that as it may, here is the list of comprehension checks I use in a typical lesson:
a) Cloze reminders of the target language (TL) items and key features.
b) Fading of reminders attached to worked examples (such as speech bubbles elaborating on the descriptive features of the TL item)
c) Students complete sentence stems utilizing the TL item. This could be considered practice, but it also serves as a comprehension check.
d) Students complete speech bubbles on the power point. I will typically place a speech bubble next to an image of a person and students will complete as they see fit. This is usually my final activity during a “TL segment.” It is the least scaffolded aspect of my lesson plan, and I reserve it for my higher level students.
e) Self-Reports. After explaining and practicing a TL item I ask students to indicate how well they understand the content, judging on a scale of one to ten.
f) Objective questions. Of course, this means things such as multiple choice, true/false, etc. This is interspersed throughout my lesson. I’ll begin a lesson with a review of previous material. After a variety of activities focusing on the TL item(s) of the day, I will have two objective questions just checking if students have comprehended the basic idea. Finally, during the final two minutes students will answer 5 objective questions in a whole-class format.
Ranking these items, I would see cloze activities as the least valuable, and the use of the sentence stems and speech bubbles as the most valuable items in my “comprehension check” toolbox. Cloze assesses the scantest level of student comprehension: assisted recognition. Though weak, it allows lower level students opportunities to participate in class; whereas without such an activity, there would be a higher proportion of students with blank faces in my class room. I am fan of sentence stems. It gives students guidance, while at the same time permitting a small degree of creativity. This is very appropriate in a Korean middle school context.
Looking through this list, I can see two major lacks: First, there is no paper and pencil component. Even at a rote level, if used judiciously, writing down key points can help to further encode knowledge. The main reason I don’t use a handout, which I have in other environments, is because students are not graded in my classroom—thus the vast majority of students will not bother to complete it. Secondly, there is no out of class component to check if students comprehended the material. See, the first point…
I feel I make a good use of comprehension checks in my class. I make accommodations for different levels and am constantly monitoring student understanding. Though, this is in my class. Outside of the class little assessment takes place. Of course it goes without saying that checking comprehension is not equivalent to evaluating student performance. That’s a discussion for another day.