How I Use “Check-ins” to Check for Understanding and Inform My Teaching

There are so many different strategies that teachers utilize on a daily basis for effective learning. Activating prior knowledge, scaffolding, vocabulary development, learning goals, graphic organizers, visuals, notetaking styles, facilitating discussions, academic language, pair sharing, collaborative group work, study skills, inquiry-based learning, backwards planning, and reteaching are just a few that come to mind. And don’t forget about classroom management strategies, classroom systems, and classroom routines. It’s honestly so much work. No wonder teaching can be so overwhelming, and teachers are leaving the field before the 5 year mark!

Because teaching is so complex, something I’ve learned is that when I find something that works, stick with it. Something I found that works for me are “Check-ins.” Check-ins are one of my favorite classroom routines that I depend on year after year.

A Check-in doesn’t need to come at the end of the period. It can go anywhere in the lesson where you want students to reflect on what they’ve learned. They are especially helpful when you are learning a complex topic, like Protein Synthesis, and when you need to build on information from a previous lesson.

What is a Check-in?

A Check-in is a type of formative assessment, usually one or a few questions, targeted towards the learning goal of the lesson. It tells me what students know and don’t know at the end of a lesson. It is important to gauge students’ understanding so that I can clear up any misunderstandings, and reteach if necessary. If I skip this step, students can be even more lost and confused when I try to move forward and build on the information from that lesson.

A Check-in is my own special spin on an Exit Ticket. I developed my arsenal of Check-ins over time, and I added a few special features of my own. What’s special about it? Students can take the Check-in as many times as they like, and their highest score is recorded. Another feature of my Check-ins is that I use Google Forms to provide feedback for incorrect answers. Why wait until the next lesson to clear up a misunderstanding when a student can leave my lesson with a firmer grasp on the learning goal?

Google Forms are a great assessment tool to check for understanding. I love to add diagrams and ask students questions about them.

Why I Use Check-ins

Check-ins are an effective way to measure and assess learning. I use Check-ins because they are fast to administer and easy to grade. When I set it up right, Google Forms does the grading and providing feedback for me! A Check-in allows students to learn from their mistakes, and also provides an opportunity to improve their grade (is there any Extra Credit?? No! But you can do your best on the Check-ins!) I love how a Check-in provides instant feedback so students also get to see if they really get it. It tells me who might need extra help, or if I need to re-teach a concept to the entire class.

How I Assign and Grade Check-ins

The fastest and easiest way to assign and grade Check-ins is to use Google Forms and post the Check-in as an assignment in Google Classroom. I make sure to save it as a draft, and then publish it when I’m ready. Otherwise, students can see it early, take it, and bug me about it when I’m trying to focus on other things. If there is a 1:1 relationship for devices at my school, then I have students take out their device at the end of the lesson to do the Check-in.

Feedback for incorrect answers is one of my favorite features of using Google Forms. The instant feedback to students and the opportunity to clear up misunderstandings immediately is invaluable in my lessons.

If I ask questions and provide the answer choices, I can design the Google Form to do the grading for me! Then all I have to do is download a spreadsheet of the responses, and plug them into my digital gradebook. I like to write explanations as feedback for incorrect answers, that way students can instantly learn from their mistakes. I like to write feedback for correct answers as well. Something like, “Great job working towards mastery on Mendelian Genetics!” or “Good job!” I usually allow for students to view their results and the feedback immediately after submission. The release of results can be delayed until later as well, and sometimes I do that as well.

I communicate clear expectations for the due dates. I make sure students have several opportunities to re-take and improve their score. For instance, if a student finishes their classwork early, they can go and improve all of their recent Check-in scores by retaking them.

It takes some work on the front end, but once you create a check-in you can use it and improve on it for many years to come! I utilize Google Forms for most of my Check-ins. They are easy to create, share, and grade!
Google Forms collects student responses and grades them for you. Once you create a spreadsheet of the responses, it will continue to update with new information. I like to highlight the responses once I have entered them in the gradebook. New responses show up unhighlighted. I teach so much better when I have clear evidence of what students know and still need to know.

Sometimes I Use Exit Tickets

You’ve probably heard of another type of formative assessment, the Exit Ticket. They are are also known as a Ticket out the Door. It’s usually on a little piece of paper, and students solve a problem or answer a question. “How are you feeling after today’s lesson?” “What questions do you have about today’s lesson?” It is supposed to be just a quick glance to let me know if my lesson and teaching were successful. I found several downsides to using Exit Tickets. For one, it is yet another thing I need to collect and review. That’s 150 extra little papers to go through and evaluate in one day. I know a lot of teachers don’t grade Exit Tickets, they review and sort them to get a big picture. But students want to know if they are getting it. They especially want the validation. So another downside is if I don’t grade them, then I am missing out on an opportunity to provide feedback, and I feel like it leaves students hanging.

Give Check-ins a Try!

Check-ins are super effective at assessing knowledge and providing instant feedback. They help me gauge what students got from the lesson and what they still need. I always teach better after checking-in. As an added bonus, Check-ins have a built-in incentive for students to try and retry until they get it right. They can improve their grade, and students love that! Many students are motivated to learn and improve their grade when the opportunity is there for them. As an extra added bonus, Check-ins also create a pool of questions that I can use later on a Quiz or Test.

Check out my Check-ins below, access my Google Drive folder to see more, and give them a try! Just make sure to make a copy so you can edit the form to your preferences and access the results yourself. I will share more Check-in’s like this as I create and share more of my lesson ideas!

If you have a super awesome strategy to check for understanding, I would love to hear about it! Let me know what you do to check for understanding in your classroom by leaving a comment! To read more about how I run my classroom, check out these blog posts:

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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