Every teacher knows the importance of having students respond frequently and checking for understanding, as we need to be sure that the instruction we are providing is working, and that students are indeed learning.

When it comes to culturally and linguistically diverse students, it becomes especially critical as students are learning new content in a new language. There are many tools that teachers utilize, including looking over the shoulder of a student to see what they are writing, or walking around and listening in to conversation students are having in classrooms.

Yet, in our new era of virtual or hybrid teaching, we need to consider how we are assessing students and conducting checks for understanding through what is to many a new way of teaching and learning. Teachers have reported how challenging it can be to check for student understanding when students are in a virtual environment. Through the incorporation of scaffolded, comprehensible input, and utilizing a variety of strategies for ongoing checks for understanding, we can ensure that culturally and linguistically diverse students are making progress in learning content and language.

Using Physicality

Having students physically show understanding or confusion through physical means has long been employed in the classroom, and can continue to be used in hybrid classrooms, where students are in the physical classroom part of the time, and learning virtually the other part of the time. In addition, if students are able to utilize a camera on their digital device, they can also use the following strategies to demonstrate their level of understanding.

Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down: This classic response has students showing with their hands, wither a thumbs up for affirmative, thumbs down for negative, and potentially a fist for neutral or not sure. For a bit of added accountability when students are face-to-face, have students hold their hands close to their body so that their responses are semi-private.

Fist to Five: Similar to thumbs up/down, have students rate their understanding from zero (fist) to five. Explain the scale to students. For example:

Fist = Great confusion/No understanding

One = Significant confusion/Very little understanding

Two = Some confusion/Some understanding

Three = Little confusion/Fair understanding

Four = Very little confusion/Good understanding

Five = Almost no confusion/Great understanding

Show Me with Your Face: Students show their level of understanding or confusion by adjusting their facial expression. They might smile, frown, look surprised, or look confused. Note that it will be important to show examples to students of what these various facial expressions mean, as facial expressions can vary among cultures or may have differing meanings when demonstrated.

Exaggerated Nods or Head Shakes: Students can nod or shake their heads in varying degrees, from very slightly to very exaggerated, indicating their level of agreement or level of understanding. Again, be sure to indicate explicitly the meaning of nodding versus shaking your head as it may have differing meanings in other cultures.

Gestures: There are many, many hand signals that can also be used to demonstrate meaning of particular vocabulary and academic concepts. See the article “Using gestures to enhance language instruction” for a more detailed description of this topic.

Physical Tools

In a recent webinar, Dr. Anita Archer shared two tools that, while quite simple, show great promise in having students respond frequently.

Virtual Response Sheet: A response sheet can include a number of elements on it that students can use to indicate their response. A sheet may simply include the words yes and no, or may have additional responses such agree/disagree, as well as multiple=choice responses such as 1 2 3 4 5 or A B C D.

Homemade Response Boards: Response boards are used to write responses or make a quick sketch, just as you would have students do in the classroom with small whiteboards. A variety of household items can be used to make a response board, including a sheet protector with cardstock or paper inside, a paper plate, a small mirror, or a ceramic plate.

Stoplight Response Cards: Students can hold up a card, with the color indicating their level of understanding or agreement. Students can use red, yellow, or green cards to signify the stoplight response cards.

Quick-Write on Paper: The tried-and-true strategies of having students do a quick-write can also be done virtually, of course. Once students have completed their writing, they can hold it up to the camera, read it aloud, or take a picture and upload it or email it to the teacher.

Virtual Tools

Virtual Thumbs Up, Yes/No Buttons, etc.: Many virtual learning platforms used for synchronous learning include virtual response tools, such as yes or no buttons, a raise hand option, etc. Teach students how to use these and encourage students to utilize them during instruction.

Chat Box: Encourage students to respond frequently in the chat box by asking a variety of questions, from simple yes/no questions, to short answer questions, to more open-ended, higher-order thinking questions. One recent novel response prompt was “From egg to butterfly, what is your comfort level with this topic, and why?”

Quick-Write on a Shared Document: Just as students can complete a quick-write on a piece of paper, they can also engage in writing on a shared document. Set up the page so that each student has an assigned box or area on the sheet to write in. Give students a prompt to respond to and a short time frame to write.

Online Whiteboard: There are many online whiteboard platforms that can be utilized in a similar way to a homemade response board. Students can be asked to write a word; short response; add a sticky note; make a quick sketch; or even highlight, underline, or circle text.

Emoji Check-In: Have students add an emoji in the chat or on a shared document to respond with their level of understanding, agreement, or how they are feeling at a given moment.

Online Quiz Apps: There are multiple applications that can be used for both synchronous and asynchronous checks for understanding. Many allow students to play a quizzing game with classmates, creating a fun tool to assess students informally.

As we continue to engage in a variety of teaching formats, we should remember that the concepts of solid instructional practices are still in place. We still need to check understanding, provide comprehensible instruction, and provide multiple opportunities for students to respond. We will continue to learn new and innovative ways to adjust our teaching, as we find ways to continue to engage our culturally and linguistically diverse students.