One of the things I’m struggling with the most as a teacher is checking for comprehension. It is very difficult to know whether or not students understand what I’m teaching when only a few of them want to talk (and the vocal ones are not always the ones that know the most English). If I only pay attention to who is shouting things out in class I get a skewed idea of the students reading, writing, and even speaking levels.
My students are low level. So low level that they don’t understand the 5 finger rule (I say “show me your fingers:” if they understand everything they put up 5, if they understand nothing they don’t put up any fingers, if they understand some they put up 3, etc), and some of them don’t understand the question “do you understand?”. Those that do understand almost invariably say “yes.”
What I’ve been doing is checking for comprehension during class, as we go, by making individual students accountable for answering questions. I introduce the material then during the review I throw a soft ball at students and if they catch it they have to answer. Of course this means many students duck, and as my aim is pretty bad I can’t pull a Josh Brown and chuck it at their heads (though believe me, I really want to – I tried once and hit a different kid in the face… whoops), so what I’ve been doing is walking up to the students who refuse to catch it and lightly tossing it at them, making the ball fall in their lap. However many times the students either can’t or refuse to answer the questions still, even though I’ve introduced the material. Many times it’s because they’re not paying attention. Thus I’m also trying to balance student accountability (i.e. the students expect to be called on so they pay attention) and the idea of “losing face” (a student is not able to answer so becomes incredibly embarrassed in front of his or her peers – the peer mentality is very strong here) and I still don’t know where to draw the line.
I would also really like to develop a system for checking comprehension at the end of the class. Many people have been doing “Exit Slips” i.e. having the students take 5 minutes at the end of class to answer a question or reflect on a topic, and then they collect this slip. I would love to do something like this, and it would definitely work for almost of of the members of 4 of my classes and maybe some of my other higher-level or more motivated students in the remaining 8 classes, but the rest are so low level that I don’t know if this would work. Many of them cannot write well (or at all) and at least 3 of my students can’t read. Doing an exit slip I feel might just continue to isolate the really low level kids. How then do I make the exit slip concept work in my classroom? Do I scrap the concept completely and try to come up with another method for checking comprehension at the end of the lesson? If anyone has any ideas or advice I would greatly appreciate it.