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How do you know? Part 2: Checking for Understanding

By: Joe Willmann

In the previous post, we laid out the Backwards Design process and covered step 1: Identifying Desired Results. Now we move on to step 2:Determining Acceptable Evidence.

As we go through the Backwards Design process, we first identify what we want our students (parishioners) to know at the end of the unit. The fun part comes next—how will we know that students have learned and retained what we want them to know?

Now, I know that most of our experience when it comes to showing our knowledge comes in the classroom setting. Our thoughts almost immediately turn to a test. I also realize that in the parish setting, we are not going to follow the devotional time in our Bible study by saying, “Now that we have finished preparing our hearts and minds for the lesson today, put away all your materials and get out a number-two pencil. You will have twenty minutes to finish the test for Chapter 2.” (I really hope you are laughing out loud at your screen right now, imagining saying that during Bible study. It makes me chuckle at least.)

Not every check for understanding is a test in the way we usually think of it. In fact, if we are deliberate, we can create experiences for our class that both assess and teach at the same time.

Let’s revisit our learning objectives and driving question from the last post.

Learning Objectives*:

Students will be able to (SWBAT)

  • SWBAT confess and understand that they cannot by their own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, their Lord, or come to Him.
  • SWBAT explain that original sin has brought guilt and condemnation to all people.
  • SWBAT explain that original sin has left everyone without true fear and love of God, that is, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God.
  • SWBAT confess and understand that by Christ’s death, He made satisfaction for our sins and God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight.
  • SWBAT confess and understand that the Holy Spirit sanctifies them in the true faith and has prepared good works beforehand that we may walk in them.

Possible Driving Questions

  • Ephesians 2:1–10: What is the work of the Holy Spirit?
  • Why do we need the Holy Spirit and what does He do?

As we look at our learning objectives, we have to move onto step 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence. Here are some examples of how you might gather the evidence you need to know that your students (parishioners) learned what you taught.

Think, Pair, Share

This can be used to gather evidence of what students have learned and also as a way to get a sense of what students already know coming into your class. Here is how it works:

  • Come up with a query that will give you information about a student’s knowledge of a learning objective. For instance, if we look at the objective “SWBAT explain that original sin has brought guilt and condemnation to all people,” our question might be, “As we learn about the Holy Spirit and His work and His imparting of faith on us, we learn about Christ’s death and resurrection. Why did Christ have to go to the cross for our salvation?”
  • Think—After you pose the question, give everyone in your class time to reflect on this question on his or her own before conversing with a partner or group.
  • Pair—After giving individuals time to think about a response, have each person share his or her response with either a partner or a group. Choose whichever option is more conducive in your classroom layout.
  • Share—Once you have given the partners or groups enough time to discuss their thoughts, have a few people report how they are answering the question.

By going through the entire Think, Pair, Share process, you are allowing people to engage their own thoughts, share them with a partner or group, and learn from others. It also gives you the ability to clarify any misconceptions at the end in the Sharing section. You will quickly see if the group understands the concept, or if you need to spend more time covering content that represents that objective.

Play a Game

I’m serious! Play a game with your class. This will take some prior planning on your part as a teacher, but if you follow through with it, your class will love you for it. Plus, they will learn something or have their learning reinforced, which are both great things.

It’s likely that almost all of your parishioners will have a smartphone; if so, try using a program such as Kahoot! or Socrative to deliver a quick check for understanding. In this example, Kahoot! would be more appropriate. Create five to six questions that will help you gauge your students’ understanding of a learning objective and load them into a Kahoot! quiz. Have your class pull out their smartphones and jump in on the quiz. They can create a fake name if they don’t want everyone to see how they are doing in the quiz. Because Kahoot! is a game as well as a quiz, you will get quick feedback for what your class knows and doesn’t know. You will also be able to give specific feedback to your class without individually pointing out any student.

Exit Ticket

Before you release your class, administer a quick exit ticket (questions to answer before leaving) using either a handout or an online format, such as Google Forms. Your exit ticket should have the following two questions and can be anonymous.

1. How well did you understand today’s material?

a. I understand it completely.

b. I have a good understanding of the material.

c. I had a hard time grasping some of the concepts.

d. I didn’t understand the material at all.

2. What did you learn in today’s class?

By collecting responses to the two questions, you will be able to get a sense of what your class learned and what you may need to reteach in the next lesson.

In the next post, we will move on to step 3 in the Backwards Design process: Planning Learning Experiences and Instruction.

*Learning objectives adapted from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, copyright © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House.

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