When you are teaching your students, making sure they get the right answers to the questions you're asking them is obviously a huge part of your role, but is that enough? As well as making sure they get the answers correct, you also want to make sure that you are checking for full understanding of the material you are teaching them.

They may be coming to the right conclusion, but not a full understanding of how they got there, which could lead to problems when they try to apply their knowledge later, or perhaps when they have to sit an exam on the subject. It's always important to make sure people are showing their work of how they solved a problem, and you want to guarantee that your students have as full an understanding of your teaching as possible.

Withhold the Answers

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A very easy way to check how clearly your students have understood the work you've given them is to withhold the answers, as least at first. Try and do this instead of simply giving them the answers, or even asking them to share their answers and you tell them whether they are correct or not.

By withholding the answers, you can ask a student what their answer is, but also ask them to explain the reasoning behind why they picked that answer. This will let you see whether they fully understand the concept you're trying to teach them, and whether they got to the correct answer in the right way. With things like multiple choice quizzes, students may be able to determine the correct answer simply by guessing, even if it is an educated guess, but they won't really grasp why that answer is the right one, or why they made that decision. Getting them to explain themselves will let you see where any gaps in their knowledge may be, and what particular parts of your teaching you might have to go over again to make their understanding complete.

You can also use this opportunity to ask several students what their answers were and how they got there. This will let you see how students with the same answer may have taken a different route to get there, and then you can pinpoint any common confusion that may be appear among the class.

By not simply handing out the answers straight away, you are also forcing your students to continue to pay attention to you. If you give them the answers up front, chances are people who have the correct answers will shut off to any further explanation, as they feel they have the right answer and don't need to listen any more. However, this could lead to them missing vital information, and coming away from the class with a skewed understanding of the material. This methods forces them to continue listening while the class has a discussion about the other possible answers, and how they got them, which should further their understanding of not only the correct answer, but how to get there in the correct way.

Plan Your Questions

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Another simple way to check for understanding when you are teaching is to think about the sort of questions you ask your students. Whether this is something you pose to the whole class, or the actual questions to give to your students in assignments, you may want to go for questions which let your students answer in a more detailed way, instead of a simple yes or no answer.

A good way to test how detailed an answer a student is likely to give to a question is to try answering it yourself and see what sort of answer you come up with. If it leaves a gap, or doesn't full explain a particular topic, then you may want to have a go at rewriting the questions before you pose them to your students.

Consider the following two questions, and think which one would provide a more detailed answer:

  1. What was the Wall Street Crash?
  2. Explain what the causes and the consequences of the Wall Street Crash were. What impact did the crash have on the American economy?

The first question could provide a quite short answer about the Wall Street Crash, and only show a basic understand of the topic, whereas the more open second questions requires the student to display quite a bit of knowledge in order to answer the question fully. It also means that if they can answer part of the question, but not the rest, that it's quite easy to see where the gaps in their knowledge are. Not only will this let you address the problem, but it should also make it quite clear to the students which areas they need to work harder on. This will mean they can bring the problem up with you, or spend extra study time focussing on those points.

Mix it Up

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When you're asking students what the answer is to a particular question, chances are you get the same few people volunteering their answers every time. If you really want to check if the entire class has understood, it's important to randomly pick students and ask them to provide an answer. Chances are people who volunteer an answer are pretty confident they've got it completely right, and while this paints a great picture of how well you're teaching the material, it doesn't take into consideration all the other students who you haven't called upon.

Make a point of mixing it up when it comes to who you ask to present their work to the class, as this will give you a chance to get a better idea of how the whole class is progressing, as opposed to just the same people all the time.

Obviously it would be impossible to call on everyone in every class, but if you ask a few different people every time, it will give you a better insight into how your class is understanding your teaching.

This will also prevent students from becoming complacent, as they will know you don't just ask the same handful of students every time, and they may be called on during any class to present an answer. This will hopefully encourage everyone to produce the best work possible, or be ready to ask you about a particular topic if they don't fully understand it.

Conclusion

Having your students give the right answers may make it seem like you're doing the best job possible, but it really is important to check for understanding to make sure they have a proper grasp of the material.

This is the reason why it's so important to show your working out when completing a maths problem, as you may get the correct answer in the end, but if you're working out is wrong, that can cause problems later down the line. You want your students to leave your class with as full an understanding of the material as possible, and not just a basic grasp.

These methods should help you make sure you students are completely on the right track, and if they aren't, it will give you the opportunity to fix it before it turns into a real problem.