Think they understand? Ask ’em.

person-thinking-with-question-mark
Ask questions you don’t know the answer to so you can find out what they know.

 

Quizzes and tests are time-honored methods of finding out about student learning beyond what you think they know. But there is a quicker, informal, non-graded way to do that by asking them. Although it could be done every class session, I do it after I teach a certain skill and always at midterm so I can refine my teaching.  I give them half sheets of paper and ask to tell me:

1.      Something you have learned today/this week/so far this term.

2.      Something you need help with or don’t understand.

3.      Something you would like to learn (more) about.

Here are some student responses from an academic speaking class for international students:

1.      Something you have learned today/this week/so far this term.

— How to make small talk, especially with older people.

2.      Something you need help with or don’t understand.

–How to write my report summary better. (They interviewed a professor in their field.)

3.      Something you would like to learn (more) about.

–Gestures, casual talk.

In my academic reading and writing class (also for international students), I asked them to write two items for each question:

1.      Two things you have learned today/this week/this term.

–Writing a controlling idea.

–How to read a book and understand it by using the questions that the teacher gave us before reading the book. (Reading log)

2.      Two things you need help with or don’t understand.

–How often can I use a gerund and does it work on all verbs?

–I need help with writing supporting details. Sometimes it is difficult to write a lot of supporting details.

It is easy to think that a lack of questions from students means they understand what you are teaching. It also assumes that they will voice their lack of understanding. I often ask for responses anonymously, which encourages them to say what is on their minds, and helps me repair that before the end of the quarter.

These questions have the added benefit of having students reflect and analyze their knowledge base. What teacher doesn’t want their pupils to do that?

Published by Nancy Burkhalter

I am in love with words. Trained as a linguist, journalist and researcher, I write, teach writing, and research everything about writing, especially how writing aids critical thinking. I've taught around the world, including three years in Kazakhstan, and a year each in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany.

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