Note: Much of my knowledge about comprehension checks has come from Betsy Paskvan, a Japanese teacher here in Anchorage, AK. Betsy has presented many times on checking for comprehension at state and national language conferences (she’ll be at NTPRS this summer), and she often travels to other school districts to offer them professional development on comprehension checks and other essential TPRS®/CI skills.
It is important for all teachers to informally assess students’ comprehension throughout any lesson. We use students’ answers to decide whether to move on to the next topic or to spend more time on whatever we are studying at the moment. Comprehension Checks are one of the essential tools in a TPRS®/CI teacher’s toolbox. When they are used effectively, the input provided by the teacher will remain comprehensible to all students, and therefore all students will further their language acquisition.
There are five keys to comprehension checks:
- Check for comprehension continually.
- Check for comprehension in English.
- Check for comprehension in different ways.
- Check for comprehension quickly.
- Modify instruction as needed based on students’ responses.
It is important to keep your finger on the pulse of your students’ comprehension so that you do not lose students (cognitively or emotionally) by venturing into incomprehensible territory. This requires continual checking for comprehension. It must be done in English so that a wrong answer can only be attributed to a lack of comprehension of the content in question and not a failure to understand the question itself. You must ask different kinds of questions to different populations (individuals and groups) in order to gather accurate data. Comprehension checks should be quick so that they do not distract from the content. Finally, comprehension checks are only valuable when you use the information gathered to inform your instruction–spending more time on a topic, backtracking, or moving forward based on your students’ needs.
Here are four basic meaning-based questions that can be used during storytelling, PQA and other discussions, and read-alouds. These questions can be asked to individuals or to the entire class. When asked to individuals, the teacher should try to match the difficulty level of the question to the students’ language ability:
Those four questions are all meaning-based and require an oral response. However, there are many other ways that students can give feedback (both general and specific) during instruction. Some are more accurate than others, so it is important that you do a variety in order to gain a complete, accurate picture of your class’s comprehension:
In addition to comprehension checks completed during instruction, there are many ways that teachers can informally assess comprehension after instruction: exit slips, post-it notes, pop quizzes, etc. These checks can be used to plan instruction for the next day, but they’ll have to wait for another day :)
What other comprehension checks do you use during instruction in your classes, and what strategies do you have to develop the habit of checking for comprehension?