Checking for Understanding

In 2009, John Hattie published the book ‘Visible Learning’. It was the culmination of 15 years of research into what works in education based on over 800 meta-analyse of 50,000 research articles and about 240 million students. The impact of each intervention or strategy was shown by the use of effect sizes, which averaged out the combined results of the individual studies. Hattie identified 0.4 to be the hinge point, an effect size at which an initiative can be said to be having a greater impact than we would expect from a year’s schooling. So, in other words, ‘anything above such an effect size has more of an impact than just a typical year of academic experience and student growth’ (Wiggins). An effect-size of 1.0 is typically associated with advancing learners’ achievement by one year, or improving the rate of learning by 50%


Some of the interventions and strategies on Hattie’s list are identified in the following table. I have chosen ones that are more relevant to classroom teachers. Which do you think scored above the ‘hinge point’ of 0.4?

*Pause for card sort & discussion*


The Top Ten

  1. Classroom discussion – 0.82
  2. Teacher clarity – 0.75
  3. Reciprocal Teaching – 0.74
  4. Feedback – 0.73
  5. Meta-cognitive strategies – 0.69
  6. Direct instruction  – 0.60
  7. Spaced v massed practice – 0.60
  8. Mastery learning – 0.58
  9. Worked examples  – 0.53 
  10. Questioning – 0.48

Which of the above list have connections to ‘Checking for Understanding?

*Pause for discussion*

The following stand out as being strongly connected to ‘Checking for Understanding?

  1. Classroom discussion – 0.82
  2. Teacher clarity – 0.75
  3. Reciprocal Teaching – 0.74
  4. Feedback – 0.73
  5. Meta-cognitive strategies – 0.69
  6. Direct instruction  – 0.60
  7. Spaced v massed practice – 0.60
  8. Mastery learning – 0.58
  9. Worked examples  – 0.53
  10. Questioning – 0.48

I have identified seven from the list that have strong connections with ‘Checking for Understanding’. We might think we are doing many of these things however it is important to dig deeper into research to find out about how we can achieve these large effect sizes in our classrooms.

Before the lesson: ‘Backwards Design’.
Direct instruction, feedback and teacher clarity all emphasize the importance of the teacher having a clear idea of what exactly will be ‘checked’. For example, before the lesson is prepared the teacher should have a clear idea what the learning intentions are, as well as the success criteria of performance to be expected.

Wiggins & McTighe in their book ‘Understanding by Design’ explain that when it comes to planning we shouldn’t think about how to teach the content first. Instead, they advocate beginning with consideration of the outcomes or understandings you want the students to have by the end. Then you should determine acceptable evidence to check whether they are “getting it” before planning learning experiences & instruction. 

Here is John Hattie on Learning Outcomes & Success Criteria

Checking for Understanding Within lessons

Checking at the Start

Barak Rosenshine, professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois, has spent 40 years studying the ways in which more or less effective teachers differ. In his article ‘Research Based Strategies That all Teachers should Know’ he sets out 10 principles of effective instruction, number one of which deals with the beginning of lessons.

The most effective teachers in the studies of classroom instruction understood the importance of practice, and they began their lessons with a five- to eight-minute review of previously covered material….

Effective teacher activities also included reviewing the concepts and skills that were necessary to do the homework, having students corrects each others’ papers, and asking about points on which the students had difficulty or made errors

Doug Lemov, author of ‘Teach Like a Champion’, identified teachers who consistently were able to achieve high test scores amongst a wide range of abilities. He then spent hours observing the best teachers to isolate techniques that other people could adopt. One technique is a ‘Do-Now’ which is a task or activity designed to get students learning as soon as they walk through the door and maximise the time an instructor has with their class. Here is a short clip of one teacher who employs this technique:

Checking through the use of Questioning

Barak Rosenshine also says that the master teachers he studied asked a large number of questions. He says :

Questions allow a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction. The most effective teachers also ask students to explain the process they used to answer the question, to explain how the answer was found. Less successful teachers ask fewer questions and almost no process questions.

The most effective teachers also:

  • Attempted to involve all students in answering questions as much as possible
  • Encouraged thoughtful and extended responses
  • Made sure their students paid attention to other student’s answers/responses
  • Were adept at orchestrating and moderating discussion and debate

*Activity* This could either be a discussion with partner about how their questioning techniques in the classroom. Alternatively or additionally they could put their ideas onto a Google Form that could be shared

Some ideas:

  • Allow thinking time: before students have to answer in front of the class they could be given time to think and discuss with a partner. This raises the likelihood that their answer will be more analytical or evaluative
  • Ask probing questions: make it an expectation that all students all the time must fully justify or develop their answers.
  • ‘Bounce’ the question: This refers to a technique known as pose, pause, pounce, bounce. This involves posing a question, pausing to allow some thinking time, pouncing on someone for the question and then bouncing their answer to someone else to hear what they thought about the other student’s answer. This technique also has the advantage of keeping all students on their toes
  • ‘No opt out’: this is a strategy taken from Doug Lemov’s book. He explains that there should be an expectation that everyone should be ready to offer an answer
  • ‘Cold Call’: The teacher tells students to raise their hands only to ask questions, not to answer them, and calls on students at random. Dylan Wiliam says ‘a no-hands-up policy equalizes class participation, increases engagement, and gives the teacher a more accurate idea of the class’s understanding.’

During the lesson

Hinge Questions

Apart from the questions we might ask students at the beginning of a lesson to check understanding, there is also a need to test levels of understanding during the lesson and at the end. During a lesson you could employ a ‘Hinge Question’:

  • A hinge question is based on the important concept in a lesson that is critical for students to understand before you move on in the lesson.
  • They should be fairly quick checks
  • Not only do they tell you which students have some understanding of the idea…
  • …..they also give you some informationabout the ideas of those who do not understand
  • The teacher or student can then use that information to decide the next steps

Here’s an example


*Can get them to answer this on*

Other hinge questions for science

Hinge questions for different subjects

At the end of the lesson

 ….To finish

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