Wednesday, May 18, 2016

About learning checks #MTBoS30 - 18

After my last post, a couple of colleagues said they wanted to know more about learning checks. I hope this helps ...

About learning checks …

I am using Unit 3: Graphs and Equations of Quadratic Functions to provide a concrete example.  The standards we address in this unit include:
  • Write the quadratic function given three specified points in the plane
  • Write the equation of a parabola using given attributes, including vertex, focus, directrix, axis of symmetry, and direction of opening
  • Transform a quadratic function f(x) = ax2+ bx + c to the form f(x) = a(x - h)2 + k to identify the different attributes of f(x)
  • Formulate quadratic and square root equations using technology given a table of data

We have a separate unit following this one for solving quadratic equations, using the discriminant, and applications.  

We spent four class days on Unit 3.  We tested on the fifth day.

You can see the outline and most activities here.  You’ll see that I borrowed heavily from MTBoS colleagues in this unit and included references for the activities.

Back to learning checks …

On Day 1 there was no learning check which was typical for the start of new units.  On those days I might highlight the most missed question on the previous unit test as a warm-up or I might use the warm-up time for to introduce the new unit.

On Day 2, students took a learning check on basic attributes of a quadratic function.  Here is the Google Form  I used.  Students did well on it - total average being a 91.  The most missed question was #4.  We discussed that question in the next lesson.

On Day 3, students took a learning check on completing the square.  Here is the Google Form I used.  Again, most students did well, the class average was 88.  The most missed questions were #4 and 5 which told me that while they understood some of the steps in completing the square, they had difficulty following through on those steps.  I wasn’t surprised that we needed more practice.

On Day 4, students took a quiz. Because this unit was  short, the quiz was given after a lesson and was short.  (Our district provides a calendar for units, and in our school we are expected to stick very close to the calendar.)  Here is what the quiz looked like on that day.  The results were not as good as I hoped - overall average at a 70.  The test was scheduled for the next class day.  So I sent students email offering a study session before and after school.  (We are on an A/B day so students had time to get their quiz results in email, ask questions before/after school, and attend a study session if they wanted to do so).

On day 5, students took a test over this unit.  The overall average was in the mid 80s.

So about learning checks …

While I said I do them daily, we don't typically take a learning check on the first or last day of a unit. We don't take a learning check on a day when I give a quiz. So in most units of five to seven days, there are 2 to 4 learning checks.

They are most often multiple choice.  Sometimes I require students to show work and turn in that work when they submit their Google Form.  Other times, I only use their a,b,c,d responses to make judgments about their understanding.

Learning checks are short on purpose.  Most days I don’t allow more than 10 minutes, sometimes 15, for completing the learning check.  

I use Google Form because I can use Flubaroo to grade and email feedback instantaneously.  Students know which ones they missed.  They can go back to the Google Form to look at those questions.  With instant feedback on what’s incorrect, they can then determine if/when they want to attend tutorials.

Because of our limited time in class I depend on tutorials heavily. I rarely spend time in class discussing previous assessments except for one or two most missed questions.  Instead, I invite students to meet with me before/after school or at lunch to go over their work.   I offer 5 standard tutorial times each week (administration requires at least four) and more if needed.

My administrator asked me if I spiraled previously learned content in the learning checks.  I didn’t this year.  Currently a learning check is only about the previous lesson.  If I do learning checks again, I might do 3 - 4 questions on current content and 1 - 2 questions on previously learned content.  That would not be difficult and might improve the use of learning checks.

My personal opinion is that learning checks were helpful this year for a couple of reasons.  One they “normalized” assessment.  Once students realized it was an everyday thing, they no longer stressed over the idea of assessment.  Second, the learning checks became a part of our learning … instead of just a way to get a grade.

Learning checks are only a small part of the big picture of assessment.  Learning checks work for me in combination with the informal checks for understanding in the classroom (whiteboards, observation, questioning/discussion) and classwork in which students show/explain their work.

I’m sure there are ways to improve … how do you check for understanding in your classroom?


  1. Hi Beth! This is a really good idea. I think I might try this next year. We are going to Chromebooks and GAFE, so I plan on using Google Forms next year. Thanks for sharing your examples as well.

    1. You are welcome! I believe the learning checks were useful.

  2. Does Flubaroo only grade multiple choice items?

    1. It will grade numerical answers, answers within a specified range, multiple answers, and word answers.