Checking Learning


planeDylan Wiliam once described a good teacher as being like a good pilot. The pilot knows their destination, but they will have to adjust the flight during the journey to respond to factors such as wind speed, turbulence etc.  With teachers, they know what they want their students to learn and will plan how to get there – but this plan will need to adapt and change during the lesson in response to how the students get on with the learning.  In order to do this, teachers need to be able to check the learning and then respond accordingly.  David Brading led the 15 minute forum tonight, sharing strategies that he uses to do this.

One of the key features of doing this well is knowing the starting points of the students.  Obviously our knowledge of the students through marking and formal assessments will inform this, but a simple strategy to ilicit prior knowledge such as a continuum line helps:

brading1So at the start of the lesson, students have to plot on the line their confidence with the learning objective.  They could do this by:

  • Simply drawing a line in their book and putting an X where they are.
  • Writing what they know on a post-it and sticking it on the line.
  • Standing in different areas of the room corresponding to their view.
  • Putting a hand up as the teacher moves their finger along the line – when it reaches their level.

Now if this is done in isolation, it has the potential to be less than useful! if it is to be very useful, students need to be interrogated about their ‘position on the line’ e.g. explain why you have put yourself there? Give me some examples of…….?  Over time, it’s important that students are made to realise that they won’t be able to get away with just putting a cross anywhere – they will be asked to justify it.

When questioning students, ABCD cards can be used by all students to repond to a question.  This could be following a class discussion, at the beginning of a lesson to elicit prior knowledge or another activity.  In this example, it was done after students had watched a brief video clip on squatter settlements:


Again this needs to be used with care, if it is to be purposeful. For example:

  • Count down, then everbody holds their card up with the correct answer. Otherwise, they’ll wait for the bright kid and hold up the same answer.
  • Again, interrogate them about their answer e.g. why do you think that? Can you explain in more detail?

When used effectively, it’s a very good way of getting feedback about how the whole class are doing.

When using this strategy, thought should also be given to ‘scaffolding’ the questions. So in geography the questions are planned to get more challenging, as they go on – and these are colour coded. So the question above is fairly straight forward.  The next questions in the sequence are more demanding:



Peer feedback is a highly effective way of checking the learning during lessons, but students need some direction about how to do it. The following simple slide makes this clear:


The key thing here is for students to be given DIRT (Directed Improvement & Reflction Time) to respond to the feedback and so close the feedback loop.


During a class discussion, if you want to get the view of the class on a particular issue, get them to stand in the room along an imaginary continuum, based on their viewpoint e.g. 1 on the left of the room, 5 in the middle, 10 on the right):

brading6Again though, for this to be truly effective – ask students to justify their position, or else they could have given no thought to their position at all.

At the end of the lesson students should come back to their continuum line and re-place themselves.  If this is done with a post-it to show what they know at the end of the lesson, they could use a different colour post it from the one they did at the start. This is a nice way of comparing what they knew at the start, to what they know at the end.

Finally, exit cards are a nice way of checking learning at the end of the lesson. But again, they need to be used. If students just slavishly write something on a card and hand it in – it’s usefulness is questionable.  They become useful when the teacher uses the information to plan what needs to be clarified ad dveleoped next lesson.  A good stool to plan the questions for the startof the next lesson.

A few examples follow:




And of course, plenary prefects .  Giving students the responsibility of thinking about and asking students to come up with some key questions at the end of the lesson – to check learning.

plenary prefect

Some great strategies here, that can be used – really usefully.  The key  thing is to think about how they will be used to inform your teaching and move on learning – so use them to interrogate and challenge the students about their learning, in order to move the learning on even more – or to find out what needs clarifying.

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One Response to Checking Learning

  1. Sue marooney says:

    Thanks David, really useful tips, they make such sense.
    Great work

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